Who: Oklahoma Sooners (23-9) vs. North Dakota State Bison (25-6)
What: 2014 NCAA Tournament Second Round
When: Thursday, March 20th, 6:27 p.m. CST
Where: Spokane Arena - Spokane, Wash.
TV/Radio: TruTV (Cox 48/760 HD, DirecTV 246, Dish 149/242 HD, U-Verse 164/1164 HD)/ 107.7 KRXO - The Franchise
Your Oklahoma Sooners have returned to the NCAA tournament for the second straight years. What head coach Lon Kruger has done at the University of Oklahoma cannot be understated and must continued to be applauded. The veteran coach is the only head coach to take five different schools to the big dance. He's taken two to the final four and all five have been ranked at some point during his tenures.
After winning 23 games, the most for the Sooners since 2008-09, Blake Griffin's last season at Oklahoma, they were rewarded with a 5th seed in the West Regional. All that, and they get one of the best shooting teams in the tournament.
The Bison shoot the ball at a 50.9 percent clip. That's the best in the entire NCAA. Their strength of schedule helps with that. North Dakota State, playing in the Summit conference, do not exactly play the most intimidating schedule. They played just two power conference opponents, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and then ranked #3 Ohio State Buckeyes. They beat Notre Dame 73-69, then three nights later were lit up by Ohio State 79-62.
While they shoot the ball very well, they don't shoot it very well from beyond the arc. The Bison are shooting it at 36.7 percent from deep. However, they've only taken 458 attempts. That ranks them at just 315th nationally (out of 351 teams). So, expect a lot of paint play for North Dakota State.
That'll start with Taylor Braun, the Summit Conference Player of the Year this season. The 6'7, 210 lb., power forward is a monster in the post. He'll keep Ryan Spangler busy all evening. He does a little bit of everything for North Dakota State. He leads the team with 18.2 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and at 3.9 assists per game. So, the offensive runs through Braun. He can also step out and sink a three-pointer if needed, leads the team at 44.1 percent from deep.
Marshall Bjorklund is second on the team in scoring at 13.4 ppg and TrayVonn Wright with 11.5 PPG are the other scorers. Both players are forwards, so don't expect too much scoring from the guards tonight. Those three players make up 58.3 percent of all the scoring for the Bison. It's imperative that you can limit what they can do in the paint.
KenPom.com gives North Dakota State a 37 percent chance to win this game. It seems like the entire country is picking the Bison to win. Even President Barack Obama picked the Bison to advance past Oklahoma. The Sooners though, keeping their nose to the grind will not over look this team, even with a possible re-match with San Diego State Aztecs on the horizon with a victory.
Ryan Spangler and Cameron Clark will be come very vital in this contest. Both will spend a majority of their time defending Bjorklund and Braun. While the Sooners defense hasn't been very good all season, they've been improved over the last 10 games. That's where you want to see the improvement. It's much better since early in the season when Oklahoma's defense dropped into the bottom 50th of the country.
North Dakota State's pace is slow and they're not a big transition team, so this may help the Sooners in defending the "vaunted' Bison offense. Bjorklund had 26 in their win over Notre Dame earlier this season, but has been limited in recent match ups. In their last four games decided by eight points or less, Bjorklund was in foul trouble and limited to his shot attempts. While the team averages 74.3 PPG for the season, when Bjorklund can't score or is in foul trouble, they're averaging just 62.2 PPG. He's fouled out five times this year, most recently in their championship win in the Summit Conference. 12 times he's received at least four fouls.
If the Sooners can come out and play their game, they should win this easily and move on. There is a reason why the Sooners were second in the Big 12 this season, the toughest conference in the NCAA. If you look passed this North Dakota Team or you let them find a way to hang around, this could turn into a scary game. Stay to the game plan, trust your coach, win the game.
The Sooners games against North Dakota State will be the second NCAA tournament game in the state of Washington for the program. They last played here in 1987, a 93-91 loss to Iowa. This will also be the 15th game for Oklahoma in the West Regional, they have an even 7-7 record in the regional.
Here's an SB Nation exclusive video on North Dakota State: