The North Dakota State University men’s basketball team takes on the University of Oklahoma in both teams opening game of the 2014 NCAA tournament on Thursday, March 20. Tip-off for the game is approximately 6:27 CT in Spokane, Washington. The Sooners are the 5-seed while NDSU has grabbed a 12-seed.
The Bison have been, to quote Ryan Aber of the Oklahoman, the sexy upset pick by many experts. One reason is there seems to be at least one 12 over a 5 upset in the NCAA tournament every year. The other reason is that NDSU has a solid, veteran squad, poised to take advantage of their one shot in the Big Dance.
This game could go either way. That is why I am going to pick out one reason why NDSU will win this game and one reason as to why OU will win this game.
Why The Bison Will Beat The Sooners
TrayVonn Wright will have a good game offensively. More than any player on the offense, the Bison need Wright to have a solid game on the offensive side of the ball. We saw what Wright did for the Bison against Fort Wayne in the Summit League title game, carrying the team for 35 minutes with 19 points before fellow senior Taylor Braun took over.
Watching some of Oklahoma play against Baylor, I noticed that halfway through the first half, they started to double team the post player. I don’t think it will take them that long to do this against NDSU. That means players are going to have open outside shots and they need to knock them down. This is where Wright becomes vitally important.
All season long, when Wright is going offensively, the Bison are extremely hard to stop. There is no doubt that he is the x-factor for NDSU in this game. He is a match-up problem for the Sooners and they need to hope his offensive game is still somewhere at the Bison Sports Arena. NDSU will beat OU if Wright’s offensive game decided to make the trip.
Why The Sooners Will Beat The Bison
OU will make their three pointers. NDSU’s three point defense was one of the worst in the Summit League this season, allowing opponents to knock down 37 percent of their three pointers. OU took the second most threes in the Big 12 this season, 722, and where third in three point percentage, making 38 percent of their threes.
The Sooners have six players on their roster that have hoisted 70 or more three pointers this season. Frank Booker (41-111, 37%), Cameron Clark (34-80, 43%), Isaiah Cousins (34-89, 38%), Buddy Heild (89-224, 40%), Tyler Neal (32-76, 42%) and Jordan Woodward (25-70, 36%) are all legitimate threats from deep.
OU will spread you out around the perimeter, drive and dish, allowing one of their numerous outside shooters to have an open look at the basket. NDSU is known for their help defense but if the Sooners start knocking down threes, this will open lanes for drivers to get to the basket. OU will beat NDSU if they make their three-pointers.
Prediction: NDSU 71 OU 70
It is really hard to predict a score for this game. NDSU will want to slow the game down but judging on what I saw last night, the Bison will have plenty of open shots and not only from the outside.
OU lost plenty of players when not calling out switches and were generally lazy on the defensive end against Baylor. I don’t expect that same kind of effort, but I still expect lapses defensively from the Sooners. They were the worst defensive team in the Big 12 this season, allowing a league worst 75.9 points per game.
Both teams can score, but the pace of the game will depend on how much. NDSU wants to use shot clock and find the right shot while OU just wants to shoot. I think the first five minutes will go a long way in determining who is going to dictate tempo.
The Bison will not be intimidated. They belong and they know they belong. They will not be star struck by the big stage or playing a Big 12 team. If the Bison play their game, this will end up being a historic victory for NDSU.
You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.