Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

March 21, 2013

Oklahoma State opens NCAA tourney against Oregon

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A Pac-12 tournament title, a second-place finish in the regular season and a ranking in the final AP poll added up to very little for Oregon when it came time for NCAA tournament seeding.

The Ducks (26-8) ended up with the 12th seed in the Midwest Region in what was one of the more questioned decisions made by the tournament selection committee.

“It definitely is motivation with the seed,” said point guard Dominic Artis, who is happy for a homecoming to his native Bay Area. “But we still have to play a good team. Everybody in the tournament is a good team. The seed doesn’t really matter.”

For Oregon, the slight wasn’t all bad as they get to stay on the West Coast this weekend in San Jose when they take on fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (24-8) in their tournament opener Thursday.

The Cowboys might have more to be upset about. The draw gave them a tougher-than-expected opening game against a team that is on a roll following three straight wins in the Pac-12 tournament.

“They don’t look like it. The record doesn’t look like it. Nothing about them looks like a 12 seed,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “If you’re playing at this time of year, you’re going to have a very difficult first game. They’re all tough. ... They’re playing great basketball right now. But, no, they don’t look like your kind of typical 12 seed, absolutely, positively not.”

The Cowboys aren’t complaining much as they are happy to be back in the tournament a year after suffering their first losing record in 24 years. Oklahoma State missed the tournament entirely the past three seasons and has no player who has ever played in the NCAAs.

Led by star freshman and Big 12 player of the year Marcus Smart, the Cowboys are back with their highest seed in eight years. They won 11 of their last 13 regular-season games and finished third in the Big 12 before losing to Kansas State in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

Smart averaged 15.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game to lead Oklahoma State’s resurgence. But with Smart considered one of the top NBA prospects in all of college, this could be the Cowboys’ only tournament chance with him.

“He’s the ultimate competitor and wants to win every game,” teammate Le’Bryan Nash said. “He showed that in high school with two state championships. He’s stepped up his level and loves to play. I think it makes him a Player of the Year type candidate. I’m glad I don’t have to play against him. I love that he’s on my team.”

Smart teams with scorer Markel Brown to form a dynamic backcourt for the Cowboys who also have deadeye outside shooter Phil Forte coming off the bench.

“They really complement each other very well,” Ducks coach Dana Altman said. “One is a tremendous shooter, one has the mid-range game, and Smart makes them all a little bit better by his penetration and by the fact that he’s physically imposing. He just physically can take games over.”

Oregon is also glad to be back in the tournament after missing it the past four seasons. The Ducks were ranked as high as 10th this season before a foot injury to point guard Dominic Artis sent their season into a spiral.

Oregon went just 5-4 with Artis sidelined and then lost back-to-back games to Colorado and Utah with Artis back in the lineup to miss a chance to finish first in the Pac-12. But the Ducks rolled through the conference tournament, beating UCLA 78-69 in the final for the Pac-12 tournament title even if that didn’t lead to a better seeding. Oregon was slated to be an 11 seed by the committee but was moved down one spot for scheduling reasons.

Oregon wasn’t alone among Pac-12 teams getting a lack of respect from the tournament committee with regular season champion UCLA seeded sixth and shipped out of the West and Colorado and California also getting double-digit seeds.

“I think the Pac-12 had a really good year this year, but, I’m not sure how we stacked up against other conferences,” forward E.J. Singler said. “All that matters is how we do right now in the tournament. We have the opportunity to make a name for ourselves and for our conference in the tournament and that’s what we should do.”

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