No. 9 Oklahoma Destroys No. 8 Ole Miss 95-72 to Advance in 2019 NCAA Tournament

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2019

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - MARCH 22: Kristian Doolittle #21 of the Oklahoma Sooners drives to the basket against Dominik Olejniczak #13 of the Mississippi Rebels in the second half during the first round of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Colonial Life Arena on March 22, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C.  Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Oklahoma Sooners likely earned a date with the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers thanks to their first NCAA men's tournament win since 2016.

The No. 9 seed in the South region defeated the No. 8 Ole Miss Rebels 95-72 in the round of 64 on Friday in Columbia, South Carolina. As long as the Cavaliers avoid losing to a No. 16 seed for the second straight year, Oklahoma will have a shot at the ACC powerhouse.

Rashard Odomes (20 points), Christian James (20 points), Kristian Doolittle (19 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Brady Manek (18 points and three steals) led the way for the Sooners in a balanced attack. The Big 12 representative never trailed. 

Terence Davis spearheaded the losing effort for the Rebels with 17 points, six assists and five rebounds.


Oklahoma Flashes Offensive Firepower Needed to Upset Virginia

Oklahoma made its living on the defensive side of the ball this season, and logic dictated it would do the same in the Big Dance.

March has no time for logic.

The Sooners were the 70th-best offensive team in the country and 20th-best defensive team in the country during the season, per KenPom's pace-adjusted rankings, but they poured in the first 12 points of the game and finished the first half with 50 on 66.7 percent shooting from deep and 59.4 percent shooting from the field.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Oklahoma scored 50 points in the 1st half vs Ole Miss, their most in a NCAA tournament half under Lon Kruger. The Sooners forced 9 turnovers and outscored the Rebels 12-0 in points off turnovers. https://t.co/lX1tvqQrVg

Eddie Radosevich @Eddie_Rado

Oklahoma saving its best half of basketball for the NCAA Tournament is a real heady play.

Their defense deserves plenty of credit for forcing turnovers and parlaying them into transition opportunities on the other end, but it was just the type of offensive firepower that leads to upsets in the tournament.

Oklahoma will likely have a chance to do just that against Virginia in the next round.

Thriving against the Cavaliers' stout defense is much easier said than done. A pack-line defense that finished fifth in KenPom's rankings clogs the lane and cuts off any penetration, which forces opponents out of their comfort zone and into contested long-range shots. What's more, opposing offenses don't have the same number of possessions they are accustomed to as they look to establish a rhythm.

NCAA March Madness @marchmadness

Rashard Odomes (19 PTS) is having himself a day! Sooners up by 18. 👀 #MarchMadness https://t.co/FpB3QQL0TA

Virginia finished last in the country in KenPom's tempo (353rd) and minimizes possessions by dribbling the air out of the ball and swinging passes along the perimeter until it gets an ideal look.

That shrinks the margin of error for the opponent because falling behind by even six or seven points against the Cavaliers feels like falling behind by 15 or more against other teams due to the snail-like pace.

Virginia lost a mere three games all season, but two of them were to the mighty Duke Blue Devils who can attack that slower pace and stifling defense with three potential top-five picks in Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. The other was to Florida State, who has the extreme size and athleticism to shoot over the pack-line defense.

Oklahoma didn't have that type of consistent offensive talent during the regular season, as James was the only player who averaged more than 12 points a night. However, the firepower and ruthless efficiency on display Friday was a different story.

Matt Zemek @MattZemek

I watched plenty of Oklahoma basketball this season. Watching this offense in Big 12 play was typically as fun as watching a root canal. You're lying if you said you expected anything close to this. #MARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRCH

red cup @RedCupRebellion

Oklahoma’s strategy is a good one here. Namely, their plan is to shoot the basketball and not miss.

Odomes used his size and physicality at 6'6" to bully his way into the lane against the overmatched Rebels guards. The versatile Doolittle did a little bit of everything by cutting into the lane, facilitating and battling for boards so he could immediately hit ball-handlers with outlet passes to get the offense rolling in the other direction.

James and Manek combined for six three-pointers, taking advantage of situations when Ole Miss sent defenders toward Odomes and Doolittle.

If the Sooners are able to replicate the offensive explosion they unleashed against the Rebels with a variety of playmakers when they face the Cavaliers, they can stun the South Region's top seed and play their way into the Sweet 16.


What's Next?

Oklahoma will face the winner of the game between the Virginia Cavaliers and Gardner-Webb Bulldogs in the round of 32 on Sunday.


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