It’s been a pretty amazing NCAA Tournament. The season of parity of disheveled polls has yielded one of the highest quality Elite Eight rounds since the tournament’s expansion to 68 teams. Six of the eight games featured #1 or #2 seeds matched up against the best possible opponent the brackets allotted for; and each one of those teams won by a whopping double-digit total. In fact, even the two games that had “Cinderella” teams really didn’t. Victorious Syracuse and Notre Dame and vanquished Wisconsin and Gonzaga certainly don’t fit the “little program that could” description.
We are left with four regional finals that include a #1 seed and a major conference, big time opponent.
No Final Four has ever featured all four #1 seeds. Wouldn’t it be crazy that if in the season of craziness that mark was finally toppled?
We took a beating yesterday going with some lower-seeded teams. Let’s see if we can rebound today in a pair of fascinating, very even, matchups.
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Today’s Free Pick:
#2 Oklahoma Sooners vs. #1 Oregon Ducks -2
Both teams knocked off their chalk matchups against good teams by winning in stunningly easy fashion. Now they face a stern test in the other; teams that match up both physically and talent-wise. Oregon stormed to a surprising #1 seed by winning both the Pac 12 regular season and tournament. Oklahoma slumped a little bit down to a #2 seed after being ranked #1 in the country as late as late January.
Oklahoma is led by the insane shot making of Buddy Hield who has been amazing in the NCAA Tournament, putting up Steph-like shooting splits in the 50/40/90 range. But he is certainly not alone. Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins can score and lead a team and they get good toughness and contributions from Ryan Spangler. This is a deep and balanced team despite the attention that National POY front-runner Hield garners. They also have a huge experience edge – this is the 104th game these four have started together. That’s pretty insane for a major conference program with a National POY front runner. You occasionally see this at a nice Missouri Valley upstart team. You don’t see it in the Big Twelve.
Oregon enters tonight on an eleven game winning streak including wins over Arizona, Utah, UCLA, and of course, the dominating win over Duke on Thursday night. They are a little more athletic than Oklahoma, but it is hard to argue with the Sooners experience should this game remain tight – and I think it will.
Both teams have eerily similar stats. Both have around a 10+ ppg differential. Both shoot in the 46% range from the floor. Both shoot around 71.5% from the line. They have similar rebounding rates and margins, both offensively and defensively and both are comfortable in an up tempo game and can also execute in a half court set. Simply put, this is about as even a matchup as one could possibly draw up and we are in store for a potentially epic Regional Final.
In a tight game like this, I’ll give the edge to the team with more experience; both playing together and more experience period. And one other BIG differentiator: Oklahoma has the best shot-maker in the country in Hield and a guy who can GO GET a basket completely on his own. Oregon has tons of talent in Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, but no one like Buddy Love.
I’ll take Buddy making a few more buckets and getting Oklahoma to the Final Four.