How Oral Roberts & Oregon State Went From Fringe NCAA Tournament To Sweet 16 Teams

Soobum Im/Getty Images. Pictured: Ethan Thompson.

Oral Roberts and Oregon State were never supposed to be in the Sweet 16. Heck, they weren’t even supposed to be in the NCAA Tournament.

But that’s what makes March great.

With their backs against the wall, the Golden Eagles captured a Summit League Tournament Championship, while the Beavers went on a wild run to secure the Pac-12 Tournament title.

Now, they’ve upset their way past the first two rounds all the way to the Sweet 16.

But how exactly did they get here? Let’s take a look.

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(15) Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

What to Know

Oral Roberts is not known for its defense. In fact, this is probably the worst defense in the field from an advanced-metrics standpoint.

The Golden Eagles are also extremely vulnerable on the glass on both ends. However, they have an absolutely explosive offense that ranks in the 98th percentile in the half-court, per Synergy.

ORU prefers to play fast, doesn’t turn it over, takes and makes a lot of 3s (38.8%) and is automatic from the free-throw line (82.6%).

Almost all of that firepower comes from two players who will play professionally in some capacity: Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor. Those two will try their best to put up a combined 70 points each game moving forward.

How They Got Here

  • Record: 18-10 (10-5 Summit)
  • Summit League Tournament Championship: def. (3) North Dakota State, 75-72
  • NCAA Tournament Round of 64: def. (2) Ohio State, 75-72
  • NCAA Tournament Round of 32: def. (7) Florida, 81-78

The Golden Eagles absolutely needed to win its conference tournament from the one-bid Summit League to make it to the Big Dance.

A huge key for Oral Roberts has been sophomore guard Max Abmas, who paces the country at 24.5 points per game.

Abmas has played every minute of every game since the Summit League Tournament quarterfinals on March 7, and it’s paid off in a big way. He dropped 26 over NDSU to secure a bid for his Golden Eagles before pouring in 29 (including a 5-of-10 mark from 3) against Ohio State and another 26 to topple Florida.

Abmas is potentially the most explosive scorer in the country, as evidenced by his nation-pacing mark. He has two 40-point efforts, in addition to scoring 30 points in six contests earlier this season.

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This Golden Eagles team can flat-out score, primarily thanks to Abmas and Kevin Obanor, who form a deadly pick-and-roll duo that has carried the team all season. They rank in the 98th percentile in half-court offense, per Synergy.

It works because Abmas is capable of going for 40 points on any given night, while Obanor is a walking double-double who averages 18.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG.

Obanor also played a huge role in Oral Roberts’ victory over South Dakota State in the conference tournament semifinals, hitting a tip-in at the buzzer to propel the Golden Eagles to the title game.

This offense, which ranks in the 98th percentile in terms of points per possession (per Synergy), can keep up with the big boys.

Now, Abmas has another monumental challenge in front of him against No. 3 seed Arkansas. The Razorbacks are easily the best defense the Golden Eagles have seen in Indianapolis up to this point.

Arkansas ranks 10th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency at 89.3, per KenPom, a vast improvement over the marks of Florida at 92.3 (29th) and Ohio State at 96.9 (81st).

It’ll take another superhero-like performance from Abmas — and potentially Obanor — to help

(12) Oregon State Beavers

What to Know

The Beavers entered the Pac-12 Tournament as a 5-seed, winning three straight to become conference champions despite having some of the longest odds to do so. The Beavers beat UCLA, Oregon and Colorado to bring their combined Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 record to 7-9.

Oregon State shot 29-of-66 from beyond the arc in the Pac-12 Tournament, a stark contrast from 33% in conference play for a rank of 10th in the conference. This will be coach Wayne Tinkle’s second trip to the dance with Oregon State since taking over in 2015, and the coach had three other trips with Montana.

Oregon State plays a unique shifting zone, giving opponents multiple looks and potential problems. One area the Beavers struggle in is defensive free-throw rate, as they own a national rank of 303rd.

The Beavers do defend the perimeter with a defensive 3-point percentage that ranks 58th nationally, but a lack of presence in the paint could be problematic against opponents that are dominant on the block.

Still, this is a team with a decent offensive free-throw rate and a top-40 free-throw shooting percentage. The Beavers are getting hot offensively during the right time of year.

How They Got Here

  • Record: 19-12 (10-10 Pac-12)
  • Pac-12 Tournament Championship: def. (3) Colorado, 70-68
  • NCAA Tournament Round of 64: def. (5) Tennessee, 70-56
  • NCAA Tournament Round of 32: def. (4) Oklahoma State, 80-70

Like Oral Roberts, Oregon State absolutely needed to win its conference tournament in order to make it to Indianapolis. It did just that over a solid Colorado squad to steal a bid.

The Beavers also had to down other capable teams in the conference tourney, including UCLA and Oregon, which now find themselves in the Sweet 16 as well.

Oregon State’s conference tournament run was predicated on one of the great equalizers an underdog college team can have. The Beavers’ run happened because they shooting an impressive percentage from 3-point range.

Guards Jarod Lucas and Ethan Thompson have been leading the charge in that category. Against UCLA, Lucas was 5-of-10 from deep, and Thompson got the hot hand against the Ducks to hit five of his eight long-range shots.

Oregon State was decent from 2-point range in its win over Tennessee (48.6%), but it was lethal from beyond the arc (47.6%). The Cowboys were the best team in the Big 12 at limiting their opponents from deep, allowing only 32%.

Head coach Wayne Tinkle mixes up defenses, and his players have responded with remarkable flexibility. They have no trouble transitioning from man-to-man to an aggressive zone defense that allows fewer 3-point attempts than you would expect.

The defense did its job against the Pokes, keeping them to 27.7% shooting and 27.6% from deep.

Thompson also went toe-to-toe with Cade Cunningham, the potential No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Thompson dropped 26 points, making 15 of his 16 free-throw attempts, while Cunningham poured in 24.

It’ll be difficult for Thompson — or anyone, for that matter — to find a similar groove against No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16. The Ramblers lead the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency at 86.1, per KenPom.

Stuckey, Kyle Remillard, Collin Wilson, Mike Randle, Hasani Grayson, and Pete Ruden contributed to this article.

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