Oral Roberts has become the second No.15 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen. While the Arkansas Razorbacks are in their first Sweet Sixteen since 1996. For either program, an Elite Eight birth would be huge. What factors will determine this Sweet Sixteen matchup?
First off, Arkansas’ 17 point win against Colgate is deceiving. They were down by as much as 14, and did not control the game until the last 10 minutes of the game. In addition, they barely survived their Round of 32 matchup against Texas Tech. Several areas need improved upon for the Razorbacks if they want to advance in the tournament.
The Arkansas ball movement has simply not been good enough. This season, Arkansas averages a solid 14.7 assists per contest. However, they are only averaging 10.5 assists in the NCAA Tournament. If Arkansas wants to make the Elite Eight or even a Final Four, they need to share the ball better.
In addition, the major issue for Arkansas against Oral Roberts is their recent three point defense. In the first two rounds, Arkansas opponents are shooting 47.2% from three. Oral Roberts lives and dies by the three. They lead the country making 10.8 threes per game and shoot an impressive 38.2% from three. Also, Oral Roberts is averaging 10.5 made threes in March Madness. Clearly, Oral Roberts is a great three-point shooting team. If Arkansas does not improve their perimeter defense, they will be playing with fire.
Arkansas has a clear advantage over Oral Roberts when it comes to rebounding. To explain, Arkansas ranks 17th averaging 39.7 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Oral Roberts ranks 268th corralling 32.9 rebounds per contest. Also, Oral Roberts was outrebounded by 17 against Ohio State and 13 versus Florida. Surprisingly, Arkansas was outrebounded by five against Colgate and by two against Texas Tech. Arkansas needs to attack the glass against Oral Roberts. If they rebound well, Arkansas could get more shot attempts and control the pace of the game.
Oral Roberts’ Keys
The obvious key for Oral Roberts is their three point shooting. As previously mentioned, Arkansas has struggled defending the three recently. Oral Roberts ranks eighth with 28.4 three point attempts per game. They need to continue this trend and test Arkansas’ ability to defend the three.
Another huge key for Oral Roberts is the turnover battle. Oral Roberts forced 16 turnovers against Ohio State and 20 versus Florida. This allowed the Golden Eagles to win despite shooting worse than their opponents. For example, Oral Roberts shot 45.6% against Florida, but Florida shot 55.6%. Oral Roberts stole extra possessions via turnovers and ended up winning. They must take care of the ball as well. Arkansas had 13 steals and forced 22 turnovers against Colgate. Also, Arkansas is 33rd in the country averaging eight steals. Oral Roberts has to win the turnover battle if they are to win this game.
Players to Watch
For Arkansas, the 6-foot-7 forward Justin Smith has been on a tear. Smith posted 29 points and 13 rebounds versus Colgate. In addition, Smith scored 20 points shooting 9/11 against Texas Tech. He will have a tough matchup against the Oral Roberts’ forward Kevin Obanor. Obanor is averaging an astounding 29 points in the NCAA Tournament. Whoever wins the matchup between Smith and Obanor could very well lead their team to the Elite Eight.
Moses Moody is the leading-scorer for Arkansas averaging 17.1 points. In the first two rounds, Moody is only averaging 13.5 points while shooting 30% from three. This season, Moody shoots 37.4% from three. Arkansas has managed to win with their star player performing below his averages. If Moody erupts against Oral Roberts, Arkansas should win handily.
Obanor and Max Abmas make up Oral Roberts’ dynamic duo. The two are averaging a combined 56.5 points in March Madness. Abmas leads the country averaging 24.5 points, and Obanor has been on fire. The duo has already proven they can carry their team to victory. If Oral Roberts wins, Obanor and Abmas will likely have monster performances yet again.
Arkansas clearly has an advantage in the rebounding battle. Also, the Razorbacks typically hold opponents to 33.5% from three. Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament opponents shooting 47.2% from three could very well be an anomaly. It is evident Oral Roberts relies on the three, Arkansas will try to limit this.
Also, Arkansas will be the most athletic team Oral Roberts has played up to this point. The Razorbacks are killer in transition, and Oral Roberts loves to play at a high pace. Further, Oral Roberts cannot afford to completely change their style of play. They need to play fast to they can get plenty of threes up. Arkansas’ transition scoring may come back to bite Oral Roberts.
In the end, Arkansas will likely get plenty of transition or fast break points against an up-tempo Oral Roberts. Between this and likely dominating the glass, Arkansas will be the heavy favorite. Currently, Arkansas is an eleven point favorite. The Sweet Sixteen matchup is Saturday at 7:25 PM on TBS.
Prediction: 86-68 Arkansas
All stats courtesy of ESPN and Team Rankings.