After two early NCAA tournament exits in 2013 and 2014, No. 3-seeded Oklahoma (24-10; 12-6) has surged this year into the Sweet 16 to face perennial contenders and No.7-seeded Michigan State (25-11; 12-6) on Friday in Syracuse. The Sooners will hope to push through to its first Elite Eight appearance since 2009.
Coach Lon Kruger’s squad advanced after beating the Dayton, 72-66, in Columbus in front of what was almost a home crowd for the Flyers. Oklahoma plays a solid all-around game, and came up with a series of important stops in the high-tempo game. When asked what type of game the Sooners will play on Friday, opposing Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had a specific, if simple, answer.
“Run, run, run, run, run, man,” Izzo said in a press conference. “I think we could have a test run for the 20‑second shot clock in this game. It will be just the reverse opposite of what we just went through.”
Kruger’s team pushes the pace, and play relatively well on both sides of the ball. They score 71.9 points per game, while allowing 62.8 points per game. A good portion of Oklahoma’s offense is run through junior Buddy Hield, who averages 17.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. The Big 12 Player of the Year is aggressive, perhaps to fault at times, but still shoots 41.2 percent from the field.
Oklahoma hasn’t made it past the second round of the tournament since the 2009, when future NBA star Blake Griffin headlined a squad that lost in the Elite Eight to North Carolina. While this roster doesn’t feature a star of Griffin’s caliber, the squad seems to be in good form, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
"We were all speaking up and we just trusted each other," Hield said in a press conference after the game. "Shows a good sign for our team, trusting each other."
That trust led to a late run that sealed the victory in a Dayton-friendly environment. The next challenge might be even more difficult, as the Sooners face a Spartans team that seems to hit its stride every March. Despite being the higher seed, the Sooners are a 2.5-point underdog in Friday’s matchup against Michigan State, according to bovada.lv. Oklahoma is getting 13/5 odds to win the East region, and 25/1 odds to win the championships, according to bovada.lv.
If Oklahoma advances they’ll face the winner of NC State and Louisville in the Elite Eight and a chance at the Final Four. The Sooners haven’t made the Final Four since 2002.
When: Friday, March 10:07 p.m. ET
Line: Michigan State by 2.5 points
Over/Under: 134 points