At first glance it may seem as if the West Region has been the least exciting corner of the bracket so far in the NCAA Tournament. But oh how wrong that assessment would be, as the West is the only region in which each of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet 16.
Particularly when you remember that No. 3 Texas A&M trailed No. 11 Northern Iowa by 12 points with 35 seconds remaining in regulation on Sunday night before the Aggies pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in the history of college basketball. Win probability calculators gave the underdog Panthers a greater than 99.99 percent chance to win, proving once and for all that in March anything is possible.
No. 3 Texas A&M Aggies (28-8) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (27-7)
When: 7:37 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Honda Center (Anaheim, California)
Line: Oklahoma -2
Keys for Texas A&M
The Aggies had to pinch themselves on Monday morning just to make sure the previous night’s events were not a dream. However, they have no time to celebrate, as a huge matchup with Buddy Hield and the Sooners looms. Danuel House and the Aggies will get buried if they resort to three-point jump shots again (7-for-31, 22.6 percent vs. Northern Iowa). Freshman center Tyler Davis will be the difference in this contest, and Sunday’s hero Alex Caruso needs to penetrate to collapse the Oklahoma defense and find his big man early and often. If Texas A&M can slow the pace of this game down and keep Hield from exploding the Aggies have a chance to advance to their first Elite Eight in program history.
Keys for Oklahoma
The Sooners also had a four-point victory on Sunday, but it was far less thrilling compared to their Sweet 16 opponent. Hield propelled his team to victory with 29 points in the second half, 19 of which game in the final eight minutes. The senior guard elevates his game in the biggest moments, and he will have to do that again in the most important game of his college career to date. The key for Oklahoma in this matchup will be its defensive pressure. Northern Iowa was able to keep Texas A&M’s top scorers in check for most of the game Sunday. Jalen Jones and House became frustrated and started to force the issue on offense. If Oklahoma can pester them again it will help the Sooners advance to the Elite Eight.
There may be no team more confident in their abilities right now than the Aggies, who proved on Sunday that they are capable of pulling off the impossible. On the other side, there may be no individual player more trusting of his skill set than Oklahoma’s Hield. You won’t hear about it now because Oklahoma got the win, but Hield had two ugly air balls during his second-half scoring burst. Only an exceptional talent with zero doubt in his game can miss everything twice and just keep jacking up shots. Texas A&M went 4-0 against the Big 12 (wins vs. Kansas State, Texas, Iowa State and Baylor) with an average margin of victory of 13 points. Can the Aggies make it 5-0?