Seeking a sixth straight opening round victory in the NCAA tournament, No. 8 seed Gonzaga (28-6) takes on No. 9 seed Oklahoma State (21-12) on Friday afternoon in San Diego.
The Midwest Region second-round matchup pits two teams hoping to erase bad memories of earlier-than-expected exits in last year’s tournament.
Gonzaga entered last year’s tournament ranked No. 1 in the country but the Bulldogs were stunned 76-70 in the third round by No. 9 seed Wichita State, which went on to the Final Four. Meanwhile, No. 5-seeded Oklahoma State was upset by No. 12-seeded Oregon in its first game last year.
But entering this year’s matchup, both teams have been playing well recently, as Oklahoma State has won five of its last seven games, with both losses coming in overtime, while Gonzaga easily defeated BYU in the WCC tournament title game.
Back in mid-February, Oklahoma State was in danger of missing the NCAA tournament, as they had lost seven straight games, including all three during preseason All-American guard Marcus Smart’s suspension after he shoved a Texas Tech fan, to drop to 16-10. But when Smart, who leads Oklahoma State with 17.8 points per game, returned, the Cowboys went on a four-game winning streak, and are 5-2 since then.
“We came together as a team,” Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown said. “We put all of our egos aside and we came together as one.”
Meanwhile, Gonzaga is led by 6-foot-9 inch forward Sam Dower Jr., who leads the team with 15 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Because of Dower’s size, Gonzaga has become increasingly more inside-oriented and will likely be a major part of the gameplan against Oklahoma State, which has an undersized frontcourt.
The two teams faced each other last season, when Gonzaga beat Oklahoma State, 69-68, to run its overall record against the Cowboys to 5-0.
Gonzaga is in the NCAA tournament for the 16th straight year and the 17th time in school history. They last advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. The Zags' lone appearance in the Elite Eight was in 1999, when their current streak of NCAA appearances began.
The winner faces either No. 1-seed Arizona or No. 16-seed Weber State in the third round.
Time: 4:40 p.m. EST
TV Channel: TNT
Online Stream Info: A live online stream can be viewed at NCAA March Madness Live here.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 81, Gonzaga 74