NCAA Tournament: No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners vs. Albany

The Oklahoma Sooners are hoping that the No. 3 is charm, as in preventing a third straight upset of a No. 3-seeded Big 12 team in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

The Big 12 came out of Selection Sunday with a two seed (Kansas) and three No. 3 seeds, the most teams seeded that high in one year in the Big 12 era. But there now is only one of the No. 3 seeds out of the Big 12 left in the tournament.

Oklahoma will take on the 14th-seeded Albany Great Danes (24-8) on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, in the second round of the East Region. The Great Danes actually have a better overall record than the Sooners, but OU has played a much more difficult schedule and is currently ranked 13th in the most recent Associated Press Top 25.

Mar 19, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Oklahoma Sooners forward D.J. Bennett (31) dunks during practice before the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Albany punched its ticket to this year’s NCAA Tournament by winning the American East Conference championship game on a three-point shot very late in the game by reserve guard Peter Hooley, an Australian. It was the Great Danes’ only made three-pointer of the game.

Senior forward Sam Rowley is the player to watch on the Albany starting five. Rowley leads the team in scoring (14.6) and rebounding (7.7 per game). Junior Evan Singletary adds 13 points per game and is the Great Danes’ best three-point marksman, with 40 percent accuracy.

Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield leads the Sooners. The 6-4 junior from the Bahamas leads the Big 12 in scoring with a 17.5 average through all games. Hield has been in somewhat of a shooting slump the last few games for the Sooners, but he manages to get his points by penetrating to the basket and drawing fouls when he is having an off day from the field. He is an outstanding three-point shooter, and when he gets in rhythm from there, he can put up points in a hurry and take over a game.

All five starters for the Sooners average over or right at 10 points a game, which makes it difficult to key on any one individual because all five can score.

What’s different about this Oklahoma team and the previous two head coach Lon Kruger took to the NCAA Tourney the last two years is that this year’s bunch has learned to play solid team defense. The Sooners have good size and strength on the frontline with Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas, and the combination of Hield and Isaiah Cousins in the backcourt is as good as any guard combo in the conference.

Albany, undoubtedly, will try to slow down the Sooners and the game in an effort to keep the game close and give the Panthers a better chance to pull off the upset. Neither Baylor nor Iowa State was able apply a knockout punch early, allowing their 14th seeded opponents to hang around with the opportunity to pull out the win in the end.

It will be interesting to see how the Sooners respond after observing what happened to the Big 12’s other No. 3 seeds on Thursday.

Oklahoma is 2-2 all-time in the NCAA Tournament as a No, 3 seed. The Sooners went 1-1 in both 2000 and 2005 under coach Kelvin Sampson.

My pick: Oklahoma 68, Albany 57 – OU has been knocked out in the second round in both of the last two NCAA Tournaments. That streak will end on Friday.