As the No. 5 seed playing a No. 12, Oklahoma is the favorite to advance past North Dakota State in Thursday’s second round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
But the Sooners were well aware when the Bison were the consensus pick to upset OU when ESPN personalities made their predictions Sunday evening.
“They’re not favoring us,” sophomore guard Buddy Hield said. “We just gotta go out there and fight. We can’t worry about what they say, because they’re not playing. Go out there and do our job and prove them wrong.”
Maybe that’s the mentality that the Sooners need.
OU coach Lon Kruger said his team performed better when playing the spoiler.
“No question, when you look at our play we haven’t handled the favorites role as well as we have the underdogs role,” Kruger said. “We need to prepare as if we’re the underdog I guess. That’s always safer.
“Our guys understand how good North Dakota State is.”
NEAL TAKES ON ROLE OF BRAUN
Oklahoma senior forward Tyler Neal is playing the role of North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun in practice this week.
“They’re similar,” Kruger said. “Tyler’s maybe a similar size, if not a little bigger and thicker.”
Braun is the Bison’s leading scorer, averaging 18.2 points per game.
Neal also figures to spend some time guarding Braun.
“When you’re on that scout time, you kind of get a first-hand of seeing their plays drawn up on the board as opposed to just seeing it on film,” Neal said. “You kind of get to experience it and be in it. That’s definitely helpful, too.”
North Dakota State is the best shooting team in the NCAA, hitting better than 50 percent from the field.
The Bison put up such good percentages by being patient, waiting for the right opportunity to attack.
“They run the shot clock down, then get shots they want,” Sooners sophomore forward Ryan Spangler said. “They run the offense well, so they get open shots. They’re getting close to the rim. They’re getting good shots and easy shots.”
The Sooners can’t get lulled into complacency by the sometimes deliberate pace of the Bison.
“The biggest thing is, when they get inside 10 seconds on the shot clock, we can’t just give up,” Spangler said. “That’s when we’ve gotta buckle down and not let them get easy shots.”
SPANGLER BREAKS DOWN OSU-GONZAGA
Spangler will be talking to some of his old friends at Gonzaga this week, even spending some time with them in Spokane before the Bulldogs leave for San Diego on Wednesday.
“(Kevin) Pangos texted me last night. I’m going to call him back today,” Spangler said after Monday’s practice. “I was asleep. He forgets the time change.”
Spangler played his freshman season at Gonzaga before transferring to Oklahoma.
The Bulldogs open the tournament against Oklahoma State on Friday.
“I think it will be good,” Spangler said. “I think Gonzaga’s got the bigs, but I think OSU has the guards. Gonzaga has good guards, but I think OSU is a little more physical at the guard position. It’ll be a good game.”