The Oklahoma Sooners will face the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday in Indiana. Here is a preview of the game.
No. 8 Oklahoma (16-10) vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (27-0), 1:40 p.m. CT, Monday, TV: CBS
Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
National rankings: Oklahoma: No ranking; Gonzaga: No. 1 (AP), No. 1 (USA Today).
Path to March Madness: Oklahoma: At-large berth (lost in Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals); Gonzaga: Automatic bid (won West Coast Conference tournament championship).
2021 NCAA Tournament Results: Oklahoma: def. Missouri, 72-68; Gonzaga: def. Norfolk State, 98-55.
NCAA Tournament history: Oklahoma and Gonzaga have never met in the NCAA Tournament.
Winner faces: Creighton or Ohio in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament next weekend.
Projected starting lineups
Oklahoma: G Austin Reaves, G Umoja Gibson, G Elijah Harkless, F Jalen Hill, F Brady Manek.
Gonzaga: G Jalen Suggs, G Andrew Nembhard, G Joel Ajayi, F Drew Timme, F Corey Kispert.
Player to watch
Oklahoma: Brady Manek and Austin Reaves. The Sooners have four seniors, but these two seniors are the ones that have to play great in order for OU to score this upset. Manek is the four-year starter who now owns several places in the Sooners’ record book. Against Missouri he had a big 3-pointer late, and finished with 19 points. Reaves transferred to OU, sat for a year, and has been a starter for the last two years. He had 23 points against Missouri and hit 10 straight free throws down the stretch to help the Sooners maintain their late lead. They’ve both missed games due to COVID-19 protocols, and Manek needed more time to regain his form. Now that both have, in combination they’re one of the hardest duos to deal with in the Big 12. The realization is that Monday’s game could be their final one in crimson and cream. But, with the extra year of eligibility the NCAA has afforded to all players due to COVID-19, it’s possible both could return. Sooners head coach Lon Kruger would LOVE that.
Oklahoma: Jalen Suggs: You could pick anyone in this starting five to highlight here. That’s how good Gonzaga is. Suggs is a freshman, like Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, who appears to be on his way to the NBA after this season. He was the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year, averaging 13.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Like his teammates, Corey Kispert and Drew Timme, he’s on several national awards lists. Suggs didn’t have a great game against Norfolk State (just six points on 2-of-8 shooting). But he’s more than capable of turning it on and scoring 20 or more points, as he did against BYU, scoring 23 points in the West Coast Conference championship game. The Bulldogs will need that later in this tournament.
Right now in the NCAA Tournament
Oklahoma: The Sooners had to gut out their four-point win over the Missouri Tigers, and they did it with a great run coming out of the under-4 time out of the second half, which included a Brady Manek 3-pointer, a jumper from Elijah Harkless and a pair of free throws from Austin Reaves. That gave the Sooners an 8-point lead with about two minutes left and they were able to hang on from there. Without De’Vion Harmon the Sooners are a different team, but OU manufactured enough offense on Saturday to get the win. Manek and Reaves, as we’ve already outlined, had great games. Harkless had a double-double — 16 points, 10 rebounds — along with one assist and two steals. What the Sooners didn’t have was a fourth option, and that’s something they’re going to need against Gonzaga. The Sooners would love that to be Umoja Gibson, who has given them some great games this year. But he only had two points while taking five shots against the Tigers. In fact, Gibson hasn’t hit double digits in his last four games. If you’re projecting a way to beat Gonzaga, and you assume that Harkless, Manek and Reaves can replicate what they did against Missouri, then you need Gibson to contribute.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have been the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 all season long, and for good reason. This is probably head coach Mark Few’s best team. Their collection of guards — Jalen Suggs, Andrew Nembhard, and Joel Ajayi — rivals Baylor as the best in the country. Put the forwards are what sets the Zags apart, specifically Corey Kispert, who was averaging 19.2 points per game coming into the NCAA Tournament and scored 23 on Norfolk State. The 6-foot-7 senior is just hard to deal with. But among this constellation of stars, everyone knows their roles. Kispert and Drew Timme give the Zags that inside presence, though Timme is the better rebounder (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds per game). Ajayi, despite being a guard, averages 7.0 rebounds per game, along with 11.8 points per game. Nembhard and Suggs are the facilitators, as both average more than four assists per game. The Zags have a couple of talented bench players in Anton Watson (he had 17 points and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor vs. Norfolk State) and Aaron Cook, and both pull double-digit minutes. But this core five will be the group that will carry the Zags to the Final Four, presuming they continue to play like this.
I’ll take Gonzaga. Too many weapons for OU to deal with. Now, how CAN Oklahoma win this game. First, shoot a great game. Against Gonzaga you need a 50-40-80 kind of night as a team, and that’s hard to pull off. As I mentioned, you need Manek, Harkless and Reaves to replicate what they did against Missouri. You also need Gibson, or Jalen Hill, or Alondes Williams, to give the Sooners a reliable fourth option. That will stretch Gonzaga’s defense. And, you need the Zags to be a little off. We’re not talking about the Sooners playing ‘the perfect game.’ But, this is the NCAA Tournament and anything can happen.
Find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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