Surging Beavers take on Cougars with Final Four berth at stake
The Oregon State Beavers have become one of the top stories of this year's NCAA Tournament and their Sweet 16 win over 8-seed Loyola Chicago has them one win away from the program's first Final Four berth in nearly 50 years. Standing in their way are the Houston Cougars, who took down the similarly upset-minded Syracuse Orange to set up this battle for the Midwest Region crown.
These two programs have met twice, with Oregon State winning both matchups by a combined total of seven points. The Beavers captured the first matchup — a Sweet 16 showdown in Los Angeles — with a 63-60 win in 1966, before a lower-scoring battle in 2009 saw the Beavers come away with a 49-45 win in Corvallis.
Midwest Region: No. 12 Oregon State (20-12) vs. No. 2 Houston (27-3)
Time: Monday, March 29 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
Spread: Houston -7.5
Keys for Oregon State
The Beavers are far from the most prolific team on the offensive side of the floor — Oregon State finished in the middle of the Pac-12 in scoring offense — but one of the calling cards for this team is its ability to control and share the basketball. The Beavers entered the NCAA Tournament atop the conference and among the top 25 in Division I in assists. That combined with their ability to limit turnovers (11.3 per game, 4th in Pac-12, and 50th in Division I) Oregon State has found a way to control the game thanks to quality possessions.
Senior guard Ethan Thompson, who secured the win against Loyola Chicago with a pair of late free throws in the final minute, is the catalyst for this Oregon State offense. Among the top 15 nationally in total minutes played entering the NCAA Tournament, Thompson opened the Big Dance with 13 points and 10 rebounds against 5-seed Tennessee before leading the way with a 26-point, seven-rebound effort against 4-seed Oklahoma State. He led all scorers for the second time in as many games on Saturday, scoring 22 points while playing all 40 minutes while junior forward Warith Alatishe notched 10 points and 11 rebounds against the Ramblers to post his first double-double since the Beavers' March 12 win in the Pac-12 Tournament over top-seeded Oregon.
Keys for Houston
Houston trailed only Loyola Chicago across all of Division I in scoring defense entering the Big Dance, and the Cougars put that upper-echelon defense on display against Syracuse on Saturday with the Orange mustering a season-low 46 points (previous low: 58). The Cougars now have held each of their last three opponents — and six of their last eight — to 60 or fewer points while topping 75 in five of those eight, continuing a stretch of dominance coming into this NCAA Tournament that saw Houston win its games by nearly 20 points per contest.
Junior guard Quentin Grimes has been leading the way for the Cougars throughout the season, and with 14 points against the Orange on Saturday he spearheaded a balanced attack that saw eight different Cougars get on the board with a trio — Grimes, redshirt senior forward Justin Gorham (13 points) and sophomore guard Marcus Sasser (12 points) — finishing in double figures. Grimes has proven to be a threat from anywhere on the floor, but he's especially dangerous from downtown, where he enters the Elite Eight shooting 41.3 percent clip from 3-point range.
Oregon State has won seven of its last eight games, with five of those wins coming by 10 or fewer points. If the Beavers can keep this game close, keep an eye on the foul line: both Houston and Oregon State were among the top teams in their respective conferences in free-throw percentage and total trips to the line, a spot that will likely be a key factor down the stretch.
Prediction: Oregon State 63, Houston 61
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.