March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (5) Oklahoma vs. (12) North Dakota State

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Oklahoma Sooners 23-9, 12-6

The Sooners are entering the NCAA Tournament for the second time under head coach Lon Kruger and the 28th time in program history. They’re in search of their first win since 2009, when they went on a run to the Elite Eight behind the stellar play of then sophomore big man Blake Griffin, now a multi-time NBA All-Star. The Sooners finished second to Kansas in the regular season of play in the Big 12, but were upset by Baylor in the opening round of the Big 12 tourney. They played the 12th most difficult schedule in the country and in the midst of that went 8-6 against the RPI top 50, picking up quality wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma State (twice). In sophomore guard Buddy Hield the Sooners have a rising star who has really come into his own this year, averaging 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Senior forward Cameron Clark has exploded in his own right this year as he’s second on the team in scoring with 15.3 points a game and rebounding at 5.5 a contest. Ryan Spangler does a great job of manning the interior for the Sooners, coming just shy of averaging a double-double at 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, but he’s listed generously at 6’8. The Sooners have a top 10 offense that scores 82.5 a night, but their defense allows 75.8. They can’t afford to have a cold night offensively because their defense won’t be able to take them far.

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North Dakota State Bison 25-6, 12-2

Winners of 14 of their last 15 to close out the year, the Bison won both the regular season and conference tournament championship in the Summit League and are now dancing for just the second time in program history. Their top wins came against RPI top 50 teams Western Michigan, Delaware and Towson, while they fell to Southern Miss, Ohio State and Saint Mary’s, also members of the top 50. They have one of the most effective offenses in the country, averaging 76 points a contest on 50 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent from deep. They outrebounded their opponents by nearly five a contest. They don’t defend the three particularly well; their opponents shot 37 percent from distance on the year. In Taylor Braun, they have one of the true underappreciated stars in college basketball. The senior is putting up 18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.6 steals a contest. Expect him to flourish under the bright lights as he plays the final games of his career along with Marshall Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright. Together those three seniors will help make the Bison a tough out for whoever they face.