OKLAHOMA vs. BUTLER
STORY LINE: Underdog Butler is writing its own “Hoosiers” script after reaching the Sweet 16 for only the second time. The Indianapolis school is the lowest-seeded team remaining in the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma advanced despite injuries that limited the play last weekend of its two leading scorers, guard Hollis Price (strained groin) and forward Ebi Ere (broken bone in left wrist). The Sooners are trying to reach the Final Four for the second year in a row.
HOW THEY ADVANCED: Senior guard Darnell Archey was unstoppable in Butler’s 79-71 stunner over Louisville on Sunday, making eight of nine three-point shots and matching his career high with 26 points. Senior point guard Brandon Miller made a runner in the lane with 6.2 seconds left to give Butler a 47-46 first-round victory over Mississippi State. Oklahoma needed big games from freshmen Kevin Bookout and De’Angelo Alexander to defeat California, 74-65, Saturday, after the Sooners routed South Carolina State, 71-54.
COMMON OPPONENTS: Butler, among the nation’s best defensive teams, held Mississippi State to its lowest point total this season. Oklahoma shot 31% (17 of 54) in a 54-45 loss to Mississippi State in the Sugar Bowl Classic on Dec. 28 at New Orleans.
STYLE OF PLAY: Butler favors a deliberate pace and half-court game. The Bulldogs are giving up only 58.8 points a game. Butler has made 268 three-point shots, 110 more than its opponents. Oklahoma is limiting opponents to 60.1 points a game. The Sooners like to push the ball with Price, who averages 18.5 points.
X FACTORS: Oklahoma is deeper and more athletic than Butler, but the Sooners are 0-6 all-time against teams from Indiana in the NCAA tournament (0-3 vs. Indiana, 0-2 vs. Indiana State, 0-1 vs. Purdue).
WHAT TO EXPECT: Butler will play tough defense and shoot plenty of three-pointers. Oklahoma proved it can win without big efforts from its best players. With a week’s rest, Price should play closer to form and help the Sooners reach the regional final.
SYRACUSE vs. AUBURN
STORY LINE: Forward Carmelo Anthony, widely considered the best freshman in the nation and an NBA prospect, leads Syracuse, which has rallied 14 times this season from second-half deficits. Auburn have survived behind the play of senior forward Marquis Daniels, who is averaging 21.5 points in two NCAA tournament games.
HOW THEY ADVANCED: Syracuse trailed by 17 points in the first half before storming back for a 68-56 victory over Oklahoma State on Sunday. Syracuse handled Manhattan, 76-65, in the first round. Daniels sparked an overtime rally in Auburn’s 65-63 first-round victory over St. Joseph’s, and he scored seven of his 18 points in the final two minutes Sunday to help the Tigers upset No. 2-seeded Wake Forest, 68-62.
COMMON OPPONENTS: Syracuse split with Rutgers in Big East play; Auburn defeated Rutgers at home in its sixth game this season.
STYLE OF PLAY: The press has been crucial in Syracuse’s comebacks this season. Auburn’s physical defense shut down Wake Forest in the second half.
X FACTORS: Syracuse is riding a wave of success among Big East teams, which are 8-0 in the NCAA tournament. Auburn is 5-2 in NCAA tournament play under Coach Cliff Ellis.
WHAT TO EXPECT: In Syracuse’s victory over Oklahoma State, freshmen Anthony, Billy Edelin and Gerry McNamara combined for 47 of the team’s 68 points. That indicates how much the Orangemen rely on their first-year players. Auburn has demonstrated a split personality. Auburn defeated LSU, 56-54, at home but was blown out by the Tigers, 94-63, three weeks later on the road. Consistency, it seems, will dictate the outcome.