While the first two rounds for the Sooners wasn't as easy as they'd hope it would be, Oklahoma still advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. They did so by holding off a relentless Albany team and a scrappy Dayton squad that essentially had the home court advantage. Both games ended with Sooner victories, placing the Sooners as only one of two Big 12 teams in the Sweet 16 this season.
After a pair of upsets in the East region, Oklahoma is now the top remaining seed in the region. That guarantees that Buddy Hield and the Sooners will be the higher seed until the Final Four, if they can make it out of their region unbeaten. In their path however, are a couple of really dangerous teams waiting for them in Syracuse.
Sweet 16 - #7 seed Michigan State (25-11)
Most teams would be ecstatic about their chances of playing a seven seed in the Sweet 16. But when that seven seed is led by legendary head coach Tom Izzo, there's reason to worry. Sparty actually faced the Sooners last season when they were the top ranked team in the country. They won by 11 points in that match up and you can be sure that the four of five starters from that game that play for Oklahoma remember the game vividly. The edge was given to Michigan State after dominating the paint in that game.
This time around the Spartans are the ones who are looking to upset the higher ranked team. All while Oklahoma is the team with the inside presence and star player in this year's match up, making this game all the more exciting to watch. Funny how much of a difference a year makes isn't it?
Michigan State can beat Oklahoma if the Sooners stall offensively as they did in their first two games for a period of time, but in both games the Sooners came back and made clutch plays in the second half to overpower their opponents. Oklahoma has also been very impressive defensively the past two games, even holding Dayton scoreless for nine minutes in the second half.
Travis Trice of the Spartans had 23 points against a stout Virginia defense, dominating the first 10 minutes of play. If the Sooners have Elite Eight aspirations, then limiting the senior guard will be a must.
Oklahoma has more of a balanced team this year than Michigan State and match up well against the seventh seeded Spartans.
Elite Eight - #4 Louisville or #8 North-Carolina State
This is where it gets interesting. There is a possible chance that Oklahoma's highest seeded opponent before reaching the Final Four is seventh seed Michigan State. Now there's no such thing as an easy path to the Final Four, but in terms of seeding this region couldn't of gone better for Oklahoma. Granted, Albany, Dayton, and Sparty all could have been seeded higher and no one would of blinked an eye. But in the Elite 8, the Oklahoma/Michigan State winner should be favored in the next round.
Louisville is 28-6 with a couple of losses from really good teams. They lost one non-conference game, to the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. They lost to North Carolina three times, Duke, Notre Dame, along with upsets from Syracuse and NC State. The same NC State team they have to play on Friday.
The Wolfpack only had four wins over top 50 RPI teams before the NCAA Tournament, but there's no doubt they can compete with the best after beating one seed Villanova in the Round of 32. With that victory, they now have wins over Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina.
Oklahoma doesn't have a clear advantage over either team, but both schools have losing records against teams in the RPI Top 25, making it difficult to decide if either school are as good as their tournament wins say they are.
The Cardinals are 14-0 when they score at least 72 points, but are just 12-8 when they score less than that. With the way Oklahoma's been playing defensively in the second half, they might just grind it out with Rick Pitino's team and come away with the win.
That would place the Sooners in the Final Four, which could have an effect on the Oklahoma basketball program for years to come. Lon Kruger has done an outstanding job with this team and a Final Four appearance could help solidify Kruger as one of the best coaches in the country.