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March 20, 2014

Oklahoma faces tough match-up in NDSU

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Fifth-seeded Oklahoma will face a tough foe in the West Region to begin the NCAA tournament in No. 12 seed North Dakota State. On Thursday night, the Sooners battle a team that's nearly as efficient at scoring as they are.

Statistically, NDSU is one of the more intimidating squads OU has played all year.

"They're a good team, as you'd expect this time of year," said OU coach Lon Kruger. "They've won their conference, playing with a lot of confidence, a very veteran group."

The Bison rank among the 20 best teams in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and rank No. 11 in Division I in effective shooting percentage. In traditional shooting percentage, they are the top dog -- No. 1.

NCAA TOURNAMENT: NO. 5-SEEDED OKLAHOMA TAKES ON NO. 12-SEEDED NDSU THURSDAY

video by Eddie Radosevich

They also rank No. 1 in block percentage, No. 4 in 2-point shot percentage and 18th in free throw shooting percentage. That's a lot of numbers to tell you what senior Tyler Neal saw on film.

"They're good at being patient for the shot that they want," he said. "They're pretty good at not letting teams rush them into things, and they're good at getting what they want."

"When we're on defense, we can't get bored with that. They're gonna wait for a good shot. We just gotta stay low and stay ready and be ready to guard them."

No doubt many teams have tried that strategy against the Bison in the Summit League, and many have come up short. NDSU (25-6) hasn't lost a game since Feb. 1.

6-foot-7 senior Taylor Braun scored 14 points or more in eight of the Bison's last nine games, including one outing against Nebraska-Omaha where he scored 31 points, grabbed 15 boards and dropped five dimes. He's scored 30 points or more four times this year.

By now, you've probably figured out Braun is the Bison's leading scorer, averaging 18.2 points a game. He's also good for 5.5 boards and 3.9 assists per game. He leads NDSU in all three categories.

"Terrific player," said Kruger of Braun. "He can score in so many different ways. Good off the dribble, shoots 3s, makes plays for others, good size inside -- just a very, very good all-around player. He's one of the guys they go to when they need to score."

Oklahoma will have more than Braun and his teammates to contend with in Spokane, Wash. The Sooners will have an unflattering postseason record peeking over their shoulder.

OU is winless in postseason play under Kruger, having not even secured a win in the Big 12 tournament let alone the NCAA tournament. But after being beaten by a surging Baylor team last week, they're favored to win their opening round game against NDSU.

Vegas makes OU a 3.5-point favorite to defeat the Bison. KenPom gives OU a 62 percent chance of making it to the second round. But being favored to win might not be such a good thing for the Sooners.

"Quite frankly, we've played much better as the underdog this year," Kruger said. "No question when you look at our play we haven't handled the favorite's role as well as we have the underdog's role. We need to prepare like we're the underdog I guess."

That might not be a bad idea.

The Sooners were underdogs when they dropped a top 10 Iowa State team at Lloyd Noble last January. They weren't a prohibitive favorite when they dropped then No. 8-ranked Oklahoma State team.

But they should've had the edge against a West Virginia team that didn't make the big dance and a Texas Tech squad that finished ninth in a 10-team league. The Sooners lost one game to each of those opponents.

So, yes, maybe they should think of NDSU not as a mid-major in a conference that's home to directional schools like Western Illinois and South Dakota State or tongue twisters like Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Instead, maybe they should think of NDSU as Goliath. After all, did it ever hurt anyone's psyche to think of his or herself as David?



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