Two of the NCAA’s most seasoned coaches battle again once more in The Big Dance, as the No. 10 seed Oklahoma Sooners (20-11) take on the No. 7 seed San Diego State Aztecs (22-7) at 9:20 p.m. ET in Philadelphia. This South Region battle will stage the 21st meeting between Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger and San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher, with Fisher having taken 16 out of the first 20 meetings.
Friday’s winner advances to play the Georgetown-Florida Gulf Coast victor on Sunday.
What to watch for:
Oklahoma possesses a wealth of young talent and some key senior leaders, but has the look of a team that might be a year or two away from making a deep tourney run. Freshmen guards Je’lon Hornbreak and Buddy Hield have seen reduced playing time recently while Kruger has leaned on his seniors. First-team All-Big 12 forward Romero Osby will be the key for the Sooners down low on both defense and offense. Junior forward Amath M’Baye and senior guard Steven Pledger have also stepped up big down the stretch as Oklahoma knocked off Kansas, signature to win helping them to make The Big Dance as the the fifth team out of the Big 12.
Conversely, San Diego State’s key strength will be in the backcourt. Guard Jamaal Franklin averaged 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds on his way to a first-team All-Mountain West selection. His scoring will be supplemented by guard Chase Tapley‘s 13.5 points per game. The Aztecs struggled a little down the stretch, you could make the argument, dropping three of its last five games. Those all came against tournament teams in Boise State and New Mexico — who are already out.
It seems like 10-vs-7 is pretty much a crap-shoot every year, so I’ll assume that the MWC’s struggles in the tournament thus far continue with this game and take Oklahoma.