If you asked a majority of the population, Oregon State wouldn’t be here based on the gauntlet they’ve endured, taking down 5-seed Tennessee, 4-seed Oklahoma State & 8-seed Loyola Chicago. In each of those games, the Beavers closed as a 6.5 or better underdog, a true underdog story for Wayne Tinkle’s Beavs.
This run could’ve been a figment of fans in Corvallis if UCLA’s Jules Bernard hadn’t missed a free-throw with 0:03 seconds remaining in the P12 tournament quarterfinal. And including that one, they’ve hauled in six consecutive victories in win-or-go-home situations. In those six successive wins, OSU’s KenPom ranking went from 93rd to 48th. That’s a remarkable transformation we don’t typically see at this point in the season.
Oregon State stifled Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16, not allowing them to get looks inside, forcing them to air-it-out from deep, and Loyola didn’t hit them. Oregon State simply outplayed them using a tough zone defense.
Oregon State’s star Ethan Thompson scored a combined 48 points in the past two tournament games. If the Beavs can advance to their first-ever final four, having your best player producing at a high-level will be a significant reason why.
Sophomore star Jarod Lucas could prove essential in this one using his lethal shooting ability from beyond-the-arc, coming into this game at a marvelous 39% from-three. In a game where points could be at a premium, getting many threes is important.
What sets Houston apart is their offensive glass rebounding ability, getting 2nd chances on nearly 40% of their possessions. That epitomizes Kelvin Sampson’s coaching philosophies, playing hard till the whistle or possession change.
Justin Gorham hauls in nearly four from the offensive-glass per-game, ranking third in the country with 112 on the season. The matchup of Warith Alathise, coming in fifth hauling in 105 offensive rebounds. There’s going to be a ton of offensive rebounds here, but whoever grabs more could be the eventual winner.
One of the things prestigious Coach Sampson emphasizes is tapping back balls if you’re not in a prime position to grab the rebound individually. That’s typically the difference-maker for Houston, creating extra possessions. There’s nothing more debilitating for a defensive unit than allowing a three on the following position from an offensive rebound, and Houston loves doing that.
The Cougs sophomore guard Marcus Sasser is scuffling at the wrong time. In three tournament games, Sasser is 11-38 & 5-23 from deep. If Houston wants to live up to its full potential, getting the talented guard on the right track is necessary.
Thankfully, the AAC player of the year, Quentin Grimes, shows why that prestigious honor ended up in his hands—going from a subpar shooter from deep to nailing perimeter jumpers consistently at a 41% clip. There’s no doubting Grimes’s value on the team, leading Houston in scoring at 18 PPG–also as the go-to guy for Kelvin Sampson.
The Cougs defense is severely underrated. Currently ranked 1st in defensive effective field-goal percentage at 42.9%, and only allowing the opposition to shoot 29% from deep. If Houston’s defense continues to play like usual, the Beavs in for a tough game.
PREDICTION: Houston 77, OSU 65
The road comes to an end for Oregon State, but they’re etched in March Madness history getting to this point. Not many teams in Oregon State’s position transform as they did. Earlier in the season, they fell at home to a Portland team–that went 0-11 in conference play. And a Wyoming team that dealt with many ebbs-and-flows throughout the season.
Wayne Tinkle is going to be royalty in Corvallis for years & years to come, soon likely earning himself a lengthy contract extension.
Houston finally gets back to the Final Four–the first time since 1984. It’s been a long-time coming, but they’re here.