Oral Roberts hopes for a continuation on its Cinderella ride in the NCAA Tournament come Saturday with yet another chance to knock off a higher seed when the Golden Eagles square off against Arkansas. For the Razorbacks, there will be zero shock and awe in what ORU brings to the court after taking down the No. 15 seed 87-76 on Dec. 20.
Whatever one wants to make of Oral Roberts' pre-Tournament body of work as the automatic bid out of the Summit League, the Golden Eagles have written off their doubters by defeating No. 2 seed Ohio State 75-72 in overtime and earning a thrilling 81-78 win over No. 7 seed Florida to get to the Sweet 16. How does Oral Roberts do it? There is not a shot on the court these Eagles don't like, as evidenced by their season average of 81.5 points per game.
Arkansas is in its first Sweet 16 since 1996 after two iffy performances against Colgate and Texas Tech. Colgate held a 14-point lead in the first half against the Razorbacks before Arkansas stormed back for an 85-68 win. A repeat performance took place against the Red Raiders, falling down double digits early before taking a 13-point lead midway through the second half. Texas Tech battled back but eventually succumbed, 68-66.
South Region: No. 15 Oral Roberts (18-10) vs. No. 3 Arkansas (24-6)
Time: Saturday, March 27, at 7:25 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Arkansas -11
Keys for Oral Roberts
Back in December, Arkansas played the same way against Oral Roberts as it has thus far in the NCAA Tournament, jacking up a bunch of 3-point shots in the first half without success. The Razorbacks trailed ORU by 12 in the first half after hitting just two of 18 attempts (11.1 percent) from beyond the arc. The second half was a different story, as Arkansas attacked the rim and was rewarded with easy layups and dunks. If the Golden Eagles can pack the paint and keep the Hogs off the offensive glass, this Arkansas team might not be able to shoot its way to a victory.
For Oral Roberts, the game plan is simple — get point guard Max Abmas going. The Razorbacks were physical with Abmas, who led Division I with 24.2 points per game, in the first meeting, holding him to 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. The Eagles' second-leading scorer, forward Kevin Obanor, produced a double-double, grabbing 10 boards while pouring in 21 points. Both players have come up huge for ORU in the NCAA Tournament, with Abmas pouring in a total of 55 points (on 16-of-38 shooting, including 7-for-17 from 3-point range) and Obanor averaging 29 points and 11 rebounds in the two wins.
Keys for Arkansas
It may be too little too late, but if someone can send a memo to the Razorbacks that they are shooting 33.6 percent from 3-point land, that would help. Moses Moody is Arkansas' most consistent 3-point threat. JD Notae has four fewer made 3-pointers (54) on the season than Moody but has jacked it up eight more times (163). If Arkansas continues to rely on the 3-point shot, at some point the Hogs will not be able to recover in the second half.
Oral Roberts is not as deep or athletic as Arkansas. The Golden Eagles allowed the Hogs into the paint in the first meeting, not challenging shots in fear of getting into foul trouble. Obanor is a threat on the offensive end and on the boards but does not force the issue defensively. Taking it to Obanor and getting him into early foul trouble will completely clear the lane for Arkansas.
If Oral Roberts comes out hot hitting from downtown — the Golden Eagles are 21-for-65 (32.3 percent) during the NCAA Tournament) — Arkansas could panic. Max Abmas poured in 29 points for ORU against Ohio State and 26 against Florida. If he maintains his scoring touch, that could lead to more troubles for the Razorbacks.
The plan from Oral Roberts head coach Paul Mills is to live and die by the efforts of Abmas and Obanor in the Big Dance. The dynamic duo took 30 of the team's 57 shots against Florida (including 14 of the 3-point attempts). Arkansas' Elite Eight hopes depend on stopping (or at least slowing down) either of the Golden Eagles' top two.
Prediction: Arkansas 84, Oral Roberts 79
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.