Bison take on Sooners: NDSUopponent Oklahoma one of 7 teams from Big 12 Conference
FARGO — The legions of people filling out their NCAA men’s basketball tournament brackets this week will certainly be familiar with the Big 12 Conference. Seven teams made it.
That includes Oklahoma, which plays North Dakota State in a West Region second-round game Thursday in Spokane, Wash. The Sooners finished second in the regular season, but lost in the first round of the conference tournament.
“I think the depth of the league this year is better than I ever remember,” said OU head coach Lon Kruger.
A testament to the depth: The league had a 70 percent NCAA success rate with seven of the 10 league teams making the field. West Virginia did not, instead making the NIT at 17-15. Texas Tech and TCU were the bottom two teams in the league.
The 23-9 Sooners got a No. 5 seed. Other Big 12 seeds are Kansas (No. 2 South), Iowa State (No. 3 East), Baylor (No. 6 West), Texas (No. 7 Midwest), Oklahoma State (No. 9 West) and Kansas State (No. 9 Midwest).
The NCAA tournament committee is instructed to avoid rematches in early round games if at all possible. In the case of Oklahoma, the Sooners could see Baylor in the Sweet 16 if both win two games. Baylor is a possibility in the Elite Eight.
“It doesn’t matter,” Kruger said. “I’d rather not play conference people until as late as possible because that meant everyone in the conference would win, but it’s not something I’m going to worry about.”
The seven league teams from the tournament all had at least 20 wins. Oklahoma’s signature wins all came in conference play like a road wins at Texas and Baylor and home wins over Texas, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State.
In all, the NCAA field has a good representation from teams in the middle of the country. You can also count Nebraska, Creighton, Tulsa, Wichita State, Saint Louis, Iowa and Stephen F. Austin in that group.
“You have the best 68 in the country, and a lot of them come from the Midwest and the heartland,” Kruger said. “The basketball in these leagues is outstanding.”
NDSU’s heartland league, the Summit, is a mid-major that annually gets only its tournament champion selected to the field. Still, the Bison were No. 35 in the RPI rankings on Monday — second-best since an appearance in the mid-20s earlier this year. A few national sports figures jumped on the Bison bandwagon, including analyst Digger Phelps, who gave NDSU the second-round nod.
The Bison lead the country in field-goal percentage at 50.9 percent and have the top individual in that category in center Marshall Bjorklund, who has made 63.6 percent of his shots.
“They’re good on both ends of the floor,” Kruger said. “They’re a veteran group, and they appear to do what they want offensively. Defensively they’re very similar. They’re fundamentally sound, they trust each other and do a good job all the way around. We’ll have to execute well on both ends.”