By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Oklahoma, making its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, hopes to perform better than last year's one-and-done team. The Sooners were a surprise, finishing second in the Big 12 after having to replace their top three scorers from last season's team.
And the Sooners are hoping that after finishing behind regular-season champion Kansas and surviving the Big 12's challenging 18-game schedule that they're prepared for the challenges of March Madness.
"I think it also got us ready for every great team in the country. We've faced little lineups. We've faced big lineups," said Oklahoma's Ryan Spangler, the team's top rebounder. "I think it's got us ready."
Coach Lon Kruger's team has adapted to a lack of depth and size around the basket with a perimeter attack. The Sooners make an average of 8.5 3-pointers per game and are seventh in the nation in scoring at 82.2 points per game. For much of the season, all five of OU's starters were averaging in double figures.
Sophomore guard Buddy Hield leads the Sooners in scoring at 16.8 points per game and he makes nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Sophomore Ryan Spangler averages 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
North Dakota State won the NCAA automatic bid from the Summit League. The Bison are led by Taylor Braun, a 6-7 senior guard, who was the Summit League player of the year. He averages 18 points per game but scored 30 or more points four times. He shoots 41.2 percent from 3-point range.
"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."
No. 5 Oklahoma (23-9) vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (25-6)
6:27 p.m., Thursday, Spokane, Wash., truTV.
Oklahoma probable starters: Isaiah Cousins, 6-4 Soph. G; Buddy Hield, 6-4 Soph. G; Jordan Woodard, 6-0 Fr. G; Cameron Clark, 6-7 Sr. F; Ryan Spangler 6-8 Soph. F.
North Dakota State probable starters: F Marshall Bjorklund, 6-8 Sr. F; TrayVonn Wright, 6-7 Sr. F; Taylor Braun, 6-7 Sr. G; Lawrence Alexander, 6-3 Jr. G; Kory Brown, 6-4 Soph. G.
Fast breaks: When OU made the NCAA Tournament last season, Lon Kruger became the first coach to lead five different schools (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma) to the Big Dance. … Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team and one of just eight teams in Division I to start the same lineup every game this season. … The Sooners are the only team in the Big 12 with six players who have each made at least 25 3-pointers. … The last time North Dakota State made the NCAA Tournament was 2009 and the Bison lost to Kansas, the defending national champion, in the first round. … North Dakota State's football team has won three consecutive FCS national championships and defeated Kansas State in the 2013 season opener. … The Bison lead the nation in field goal shooting at 50.9 percent.
What's next: The winner of Oklahoma-North Dakota State plays on Saturday against the winner of No. 4 San Diego State and No. 13 New Mexico State.