Getting To Know The Opponent: No. 5 OSU vs. No. 12 Oregon
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma State Cowboys are back in the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus and the Pokes received their highest seed since 2005 in the process.
However, the selection committee didn't make things easy for a deep tourney run.
Travis Ford's team received the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Bracket, which appears on paper to be the toughest of the four regions in this year's tournament. The Midwest portion of the bracket is loaded at the top with No. 1-overall seed Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, St. Louis, OSU, Memphis, etc.
But it is also frighteningly deep in quality in the lower-seeded teams.
Take OSU's first-round matchup for example – the Oregon Ducks.
Yes, the Oregon team that was projected to do no worse than a 10 seed got shifted to a 12 despite winning the PAC 12 Tournament against UCLA on Saturday. And it is also the same Oregon team that was ranked No. 19 in the country in last week's AP poll.
It is a brutal first-round draw for the Pokes.
Ford seemed to be expecting the seed his team got but the high-caliber first-round opponent came as a bit of a surprise.
"A lot of it went like I thought it would," Ford said in a press release. "I thought we would be a five seed and I thought we were going to be in San Jose. That was kind of my gut feeling. Obviously we are playing a very tough Oregon team, which is playing its best basketball right now, and coming off a Pac-12 championship victory. They've won five of their last six games so it should be a great first round game."
After wrapping up the regular season with two-straight losses, the Ducks (26-8, 12-6 PAC 12) responded with conference tournament wins over Washington, Utah and No. 21 UCLA for the title.
Oregon is a balanced team with six rotation players averaging at least 8.5 point and none average more than 11.6. The team's leading scorer is senior forward E.J. Singler, the brother of former Duke standout Kyle Singler.
Singler averages 11.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He's also a tough cover at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, where he is also the team's top 3-point threat.
And one of the things that really sets this up as a difficult matchup is that four of the five Oregon starters are seniors. It's an experienced, deep and athletic team. And perhaps one overlooked item will be the size of the chip on Oregon's shoulder after receiving a perceived disrespectful seed in the tourney. The Ducks won't lack motivation.
The second-leading scorer is Carlos Emory, who averages 11 per game and dropped 20 against the Bruins on Saturday. Freshman Damyean Dotson has been an impact player with 10.8 points and 3.8 boards per contest but is at times inconsistent.
Iranian forward Arsalan Kazemi could also prove extremely difficult for OSU to handle. The Pokes' rebounding woes are well documented and the 6-foot-7 big man is a load on the glass, averaging nearly 10 rebounds per game.
Should OSU get past the under-seeded Ducks, it is the winner of St. Louis and New Mexico State who awaits for the chance to earn a Sweet Sixteen berth.
It would be, in all likelihood, the fourth-seeded St. Louis Billikens are one of the biggest sleepers in this year's tournament and considered a dark horse Final Four threat after winning the vastly underrated Atlantic 10 Conference this season en route to a 27-6 record.
Then would likely await No. 1 seed Louisville, the top-seeded team in the entire tournament. If OSU should beat Oregon and St. Louis, Louisville would be the third consecutive conference champion it will have faced in the first three rounds.
The Marcus Smart-led Cowboys will have every opportunity to make ripples in this year's Big Dance but it would be hard to imagine the path being more difficult.