Who: 5 Oklahoma State (24-8) vs. 12 Oregon (26-8)
When: Thursday 4:40 p.m. PT
Where: Midwest region, San Jose, CA
The Ducks have to feel incredibly slighted about getting a 12 seed after winning the Pac-12 Tournament and coming just a game short of sharing the regular season title and it's likely that they will come out with a chip on their shoulder against a very talented team that has three potential first round draft picks in its backcourt, including one who might go number one this June in freshman point guard Marcus Smart.
The Ducks thrive off playing team ball and don't really have any superstars, while the trio of Smart, junior guard Markel Brown and sophomore G/F LeBryan Nash like to isolate and play individual ball more than just about any team in the country. This will truly be a battle between too very contrasting styles and it will be very interesting to see which prevails.
Who are the stars?
Marcus Smart Fr. G Oklahoma State 6'4 225
Smart, is a strong, combo guard that is a pure scorer in the mold of Dwyane Wade or James Harden and it's the reason that he may be the first guy to go in this year's NBA Draft. He averages 15 a game and isn't afraid to shoot at every opportunity he is given and is very adept at using his strength to get to the basket and finish or draw the foul.
E.J. Singler Sr. F Oregon 6'6 215
It is really hard to single out one player on the Ducks, since they have about five or six guys who really are interlocking pieces that form a great team, but Singler leads the team in scoring and is the senior leader. A crafty scorer who likes to shoot threes, Singler might actually be most valuable as a defender as he was quietly one of the best in the Pac-12 and will assuredly be tasked with taking on the Cowboys' skilled scorers.
Markel Brown Jr. G Oklahoma State 6'3 190
Keep an eye on this guy at all times, as he is a freak athlete and one of the most exciting players in the country, capable of throwing down a monstrous dunk at any moment. Brown likes to shoot just as much as Smart and is a little bit more accurate, especially from the outside. His skills combined with Smart at guard is the primary reason that the Cowboys were one of the best teams in the country all season long.
Can Oregon's guards contain Oklahoma State's scorers?
As mentioned earlier, Singler will likely take one of Oklahoma State's three dynamic scorers, but who is going to contain the other two? The Ducks starting guards Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis aren't known for their defense, and Artis is still recovering from an ankle injury that has kept him severely limited. The Ducks also don't have any options off the bench, as their only guard who sees extensive minutes, Johnathan Loyd, is only 5'8. The Ducks could probably either try to slow the game down and force the Cowboys' trio to shoot from the outside as it is unlikely that they could go toe-to-toe with them in a shootout.
Can the Oklahoma State frontcourt keep Arsalan Kazemi off the boards?
Even though he averages less than 10 points per game, senior forward Arsalan Kazemi might be the most important player on the Ducks' roster. Among the leaders in the Pac-12 in rebounding, Kazemi averages nearly 10 a game, and is particularly effective when he grabs offensive rebounds and gives Oregon's efficient offense more chances to score.
The Cowboys are an average rebounding team and get a lot of help from their bigger guards, but probably don't have anyone who can outfight Kazemi to get offensive boards or keep him from getting the Ducks second chances. The problem for Oregon though is that they don't have any other good rebounders outside of Kazemi, so it will be very tough for them to win if he gets into foul trouble or has a bad game.
You're a Pac-12 fan, why do you want Oregon to win?
The Ducks got screwed in seeding as much as any team I think I have ever seen since I started following the NCAA Tournament. The Pac-12 Tournament champions easily could have gotten a 6 or a 7 seed, but are instead stuck with a 12 and facing a Top 20 team in the opening round. A Ducks win here would say a lot about the strength of the conference and prove that the committee disrespected the Ducks and the conference.
I think that the first matchup that I highlighted will end up being the difference as the Ducks just don't have the perimeter defenders to handle Smart, Nash and Brown, especially with a still-hobbled Artis. The Ducks will be able to trade punches with the Cowboys on offense though, as their shooters get hot and they also go inside to get scoring from Kazemi and center Tony Woods, but I think that the trio of Cowboys scorers will score too much for the Ducks to keep up in the second half.
Oklahoma State 88 Oregon 79