Nothing has gone to plan. Well, at least not everything. A one-seed left Indianapolis after the first weekend, as did two two-seeds and three three-seeds. By that logic, all four four-seeds should have been home by now as well. Thanks a lot, Florida State. It’s been an unprecedented NCAA Tournament in many regards, but no Cinderella is prettier than Oral Roberts.
Oral Roberts Looks to Make Tournament History
Clouds blanket the Midwestern plains and rain splashes down on Tulsa, Oklahoma. With the uncertainty of storm and tornado season looming, many residents are preparing for Sweet 16 basketball rather than fluctuating weather.
The small student body will walk across the beautiful campus of Oral Roberts University, between the famed Prayer Tower and Learning Resources Center, and gather at Mabee Center on Saturday. A watch party will be held as the Golden Eagles take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in the South regional semifinal of the NCAA Tournament. Not many thought this event would land on the schedule.
How Oral Roberts Got Here
Oral Roberts is a good basketball team. You could contact Ohio State and Florida just to ask how good. The program became the second 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16 and the third Summit League representative to do so. Florida Gulf Coast made their run as a 15-seed in 2013, and Summit brethren Cleveland State and Valparaiso reached the second weekend in 1986 and 1998, respectively.
Though it may be shocking to many, Oral Roberts wasn’t just an ordinary 15-seed happy to be playing. They were dangerous entering the tournament.
March 19: Defeated Ohio State 75-72 (OT)
Ohio State had one weakness on defense: defending the 3-point shot. Oral Roberts ranked third in 3-point attempts (843), second in 3-pointers made (315), and first in 3-pointers per game (11.2). They were also 12th in the nation in 3-point efficiency at 38.46%. The matchup didn’t bode well for the Buckeyes to begin with.
The other factor in this game, which ultimately decided the outcome, was free throws. Oral Roberts led the country, shooting an impressive 82.19% from the foul line. Against Ohio State, the Golden Eagles shot 77.8% while the Buckeyes just made 50% of their freebies. In regulation, this was most apparent, as All-American E.J. Liddell blew an opportunity to ice the game for Ohio State from the free-throw line. Following his miss, Oral Roberts’ Kevin Obanor buried his two shots at the opposite end to force overtime. A chance was all the Golden Eagles needed, and they took advantage.
March 21: Defeated Florida 81-78
Obanor was yet again a difference-maker in Oral Roberts’ contest with the Gators. In an encore to his 30-point performance against Ohio State, he scored another 28 against Florida. Obanor again made a late free throw which forced the Gators to attempt a three instead of a two to tie.
Though Obanor’s play has been outstanding, it’s his teammate who gained the most regular-season recognition. Standout Max Abmas led the nation in scoring with 24.5 points per game. The 6’1” sophomore guard went for 29 against the Buckeyes and posted another 26 in the Florida match. The two stars of the Golden Eagles were just too much in the end for both Power-5 schools.
On the other hand, their combined 113 of Oral Roberts’ 156 total points so far may be an issue.
March 27: Arkansas Awaits
If Oral Roberts is to beat Arkansas, they’re going to need more contribution from other starters and bench players. The Razorbacks match up much better against the strengths of the Golden Eagles than the Buckeyes and Gators.
Arkansas ranks 24th in defensive efficiency. Florida and Ohio State rank 106th and 233rd, respectively. The Razorbacks are average against the three, allowing opponents to make 33.5% of long-range shots, but they force 15.4 turnovers a game. They are especially busy with their hands, earning eight steals per contest. Junior guard JD Notae, who is the same height as Abmas but 30 pounds heavier, leads the team with 1.5 steals a game. This will be a key matchup to watch closely on Saturday.
Offensively, Moses Moody and Justin Smith will provide issues for the Oral Roberts’ defense. On the contrary, Obanor will give Smith trouble. Obanor averages 19 points and 9.6 rebounds a game compared to Smith’s 13.9 points and 7.1 boards.
Statistically, Arkansas is the better team. The main stat the Razorbacks don’t hold over the Golden Eagles is 3-point shooting percentage and attempts. However, Arkansas can catch fire from long range and they like to let them fly; they rank 29th in 3-pointers attempted with 682.
Ultimately, this game is going to come down to individual matchups and containment. Abmas is going to have to prove he’s the nation’s best scorer against a great defender in Notae. Obanor is going to have to display how dominant he can be in his bout with Smith. Lastly, the Golden Eagles will have to contain Moody if they want a chance to win.
If Arkansas can’t control Abmas and Obanor, the Golden Eagles are destined to make history by becoming the first 15-seed to reach the Elite Eight.
Game Time: (15) Oral Roberts vs. (3) Arkansas: Saturday, March 27, 7:25 p.m. ET
Prediction: Arkansas, but this year, anything can happen.
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