By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
SPOKANE, Wash. — The 10-week string of brutal games against very familiar opponents haas finally ended for Oklahoma.
The loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals still stings. But it enters Thursday’s meeting with North Dakota State comforted by the knowledge it’s playing a team for the first time since facing West Virginia Feb. 5.
“I think it also got us ready for every great team in the country. We’ve faced little lineups. We’ve faced big lineups,” OU forward Ryan Spangler said. “I think it’s got us ready.”
The Bison (25-6) won’t offer a unique challenge to OU. It’s faced elite scorers, premier rebounders and dominant shot blockers multiple times this season.
However, taking North Dakota State lightly simply would be akin to slicing your finger before swimming with sharks.
Toss out the fact it won both the Summit League regular season and tournament titles. It was No. 35 in the final Ratings Percentage Index this season. Even without the conference tournament title and the automatic bid they had secured, the Bison likely did enough to land an at-large bid.
“They’re a good team, which you expect this time of year. They won their conference and are playing with a lot of confidence,” OU coach Lon Kruger said.
The Bison possess multiple traits of teams that score upsets in the NCAA tournament.
They have a legitimate scorer with forward Taylor Braun. The 6-foot-7 senior averaged 18.2 points a game during the regular season and was the Summit League Player of the Year.
“Terrific player,” Kruger said of Braun. “He can score in so many different ways. He’s good off the dribble, can shoot the three and makes plays for others. Good size. Just a very good all around player. He’s the guy you go to when you need something.”
Translation: the Sooners won’t try to lock him down with one guy. It will require a team effort.
The Bison are loaded with rookies when it comes to the NCAA tournament. This is their first appearance since 2009 and just second overall. In terms of career games under their belt, they have OU whipped. Braun is one of three seniors in the starting lineup and one of six on North Dakota State’s roster. Combined, they’ve played 660 career games.
The Sooners have two seniors on their entire roster.
Don’t expect North Dakota State to go into an offensive tailspin Thursday. It led Division I in field-goal shooting at 50.9 percent. Braun averaged 10.8 shots a game and still averaged 49.1 percent from the field. That didn’t even put him in the top half of the starting five. Center Marshall Bjorklund shot a nation’s best 63.6 percent this season. Forward Kory Brown shot 58.3.
Several of OU’s players said the Bison remind them of Iowa State because of their ability to score with all five players.
“North Dakota State is a great team and we’ll have to fight our butts off to keep our season going,” OU guard Buddy Hield said.
OU just spent January, February and the first two weeks of March in 40-minute scraps two nights a week. The expectation is it will have to do the same to advance in the NCAA tournament.
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