Brackets have been filled, wagers have been made, and now the tournament is on. Two of the four play in games have been played, and the full slate of games tips off on Thursday and Friday.
In the first part of this series, I examined the most intriguing matchups in the East and South regions. Today, I’ll take a look at the West and Midwest regions.
The game: Ohio State (5) vs. South Dakota State (12)
The skinny: Ohio State finished the season ranked 17th sporting a 24-8 record, 15-3 in the Big 10. South Dakota State wrapped up at 28-6, 13-1 in the Summit conference. The Jackrabbits won the Summit league tournament, clinching their third straight tournament appearance.
Analysis: Ohio State had an uneven finish to the season, going 2-2 with an ugly loss to Penn State and a loss to arch rival Michigan. The Buckeyes then lost their first game of the Big 10 tourney, again to Penn State. The Buckeyes play good defense under Chris Holtmann and are led by outstanding junior forward Keita Bates-Diop. To get back on track and survive the first round, the Buckeyes first have to go through the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Jacks can put points up with ease, averaging 84.9 per game, 6th best in the nation. Mike Daum leads the attack for the Jacks, averaging a double double with 23.8 PPG and 10.4 RPG. Clearly, the two best players on the floor, Bates-Diop and Daum, will be the pivotal matchup to watch. Whichever forward is able to get the upper hand will likely propel his team to victory. One concerning thing of note about SDSU is that they average just 13 assists as a team, 183rd in the country. If the Buckeyes are able to shut down Daum and David Jenkins Jr, the Jacks may not be enough of a true “team” to overcome.
Prediction: A 12 seed always upsets a 5 right? The trend continues here. I’m taking South Dakota State in a very tight game.
The game: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)
The skinny: Rhode Island finished with a 25-7 record, 15-3 in the Atlantic 10. The Rams suffered a disappointing upset in the A10 tournament at the hands of Davidson. Oklahoma’s season is well documented, the Sooners finished 18-13, 6th in the Big 12 with a serious backslide coming at the end of the season.
Analysis: Oklahoma’s season has been well documented: with polarizing guard Trae Young at the center of it all. If you had told anyone in mid January that come tournament time Rhode Island would have been a higher seed than Oklahoma, you would’ve been examined for head injuries. However, due to Trae Young’s inefficiencies and the lack of supporting cast around him, Oklahoma stumbled. More than half of Oklahoma’s 15 assists a game come at the hands of Young, further proving that not only is he their only real scoring threat, but also without him on the court, the offense just simply doesn’t go. Meanwhile, Rhode Island is led by a two pronged attack at guard in Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews. The Rams have 5 players that average over 9 PPG. The Secret weapon for the Rams comes in the form of Cyril Langevine. The sophomore forward averages just 6 PPG but is tied for the team lead in rebounds while shooting a blistering 64% from the field. Langevine also energizes his teammates with his thunderous dunks.
Prediction: Rhode Island will prove to be too much for the Sooners, likely bringing Trae Young’s college career to an end. A likely date with Duke will await the Rams.