For the first time in five years, the Oregon Ducks are dancing today in the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State is a scary matchup for Oregon in many ways. The Cowboys have a legitimate All-American candidate in Big 12 POY Marcus Smart. They don't have a bad loss on the schedule--they beat Kansas in Lawrence, and lost to them in double OT at home.
The two teams play very similar styles. Both are among the nation's best defenses. The Ducks rank 16th in the country in defensive efficiency (90.8 points/100 possessions), while Oklahoma State ranks 28th (91.7). Conversely, both of these teams are pretty awful on the offensive end, especially in the half court. The both try to make up for that on the defensive end by pressing and trapping and causing general mayhem. They both want to push the tempo and get easy transition buckets, so the pace of the game should be up and down, but it will be a real slog when a team is forced to set up in the half court.
Smart is a big point guard at 6'4", and Johnny Loyd is going to have some trouble with his size. I'm more worried about this defensively, where Smart averages three steals a game, as Loyd and Artis have been turnover prone at times this season (though have seemed to clean a lot of that up as of late). Smart isn't a great shooter, hovering under 30% from three and right around 40% overall, but he's and excellent penetrate and finish guy, or he can kick it out to Markel Brown (37% from three) or Phil Forte (34%). Overall, however, Oklahoma State is even worse at the three-ball Oregon is (32% for UO vs. 31% from OSU), and nobody outside of those two has any business shooting any.
One place where the Ducks should have an advantage is rebounding. Oregon ranks 16th in the nation in rebounding, getting 55% of rebounds in any given game. Oklahoma State barely gets 50%, good for 146th in the nation. The Cowboys force a lot of turnovers, so its important that Oregon dominate on the glass to maintain extra possessions and get easy points. Arsalan Kazemi is a big key for Oregon, and he needs to take over the game with his rebounding.
We know it's going to be an uptempo affair with two really good defenses. The keys are going to be to take care of the ball and have a big advantage on the glass. If the Ducks do both of those things, they win. I feel good about the rebounding part, not as good about the avoiding turnovers part. I think the likely scenario is that the two cancel each other out, and we are left with a game that goes down to the wire.
Time: 1:40 p.m. PT