Ducks set for Cowboys in opener

Josh Dubow / The Associated Press /

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A Pac-12 tournament title, a second-place finish in the regular season and a ranking in the final AP poll added up to very little for Oregon when it came time for NCAA tournament seeding.

The Ducks (26-8) ended up with the 12th seed in the Midwest Region in what was one of the more questioned decisions made by the tournament selection committee.

“It definitely is motivation with the seed,” said point guard Dominic Artis, who is happy for a homecoming to his native Bay Area. “But we still have to play a good team. Everybody in the tournament is a good team. The seed doesn’t really matter.”

For Oregon, the slight wasn’t all bad as they get to stay on the West Coast this weekend in San Jose when they take on fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (24-8) in their tournament opener today.

The Cowboys might have more to be upset about. The draw gave them a tougher-than-expected opening game against a team that is on a roll following three straight wins in the Pac-12 tournament.

“They don’t look like it. The record doesn’t look like it. Nothing about them looks like a 12 seed,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “If you’re playing at this time of year, you’re going to have a very difficult first game. They’re all tough. ... They’re playing great basketball right now. But, no, they don’t look like your kind of typical 12 seed, absolutely, positively not.”

The Cowboys aren’t complaining much as they are happy to be back in the tournament a year after suffering their first losing record in 24 years. Oklahoma State missed the tournament entirely the past three seasons and has no player who has ever played in the NCAAs.

Led by star freshman and Big 12 player of the year Marcus Smart, the Cowboys are back with their highest seed in eight years. They won 11 of their past 13 regular-season games and finished third in the Big 12 before losing to Kansas State in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

Smart averaged 15.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game to lead Oklahoma State’s resurgence. But with Smart considered one of the top NBA prospects in all of college, this could be the Cowboys’ only tournament chance with him.

“He’s the ultimate competitor and wants to win every game,” teammate Le’Bryan Nash said. “He showed that in high school with two state championships. He’s stepped up his level and loves to play. I think it makes him a Player of the Year type candidate. I’m glad I don’t have to play against him. I love that he’s on my team.”

Smart teams with scorer Markel Brown to form a dynamic backcourt for the Cowboys who also have deadeye outside shooter Phil Forte coming off the bench.

“They really complement each other very well,” Ducks coach Dana Altman said. “One is a tremendous shooter, one has the mid-range game, and Smart makes them all a little bit better by his penetration and by the fact that he’s physically imposing. He just physically can take games over.”

Oregon is also glad to be back in the tournament after missing it the past four seasons. The Ducks were ranked as high as 10th this season before a foot injury to point guard Dominic Artis sent their season into a spiral.

Oregon went just 5-4 with Artis sidelined and then lost back-to-back games to Colorado and Utah with Artis back in the lineup to miss a chance to finish first in the Pac-12. But the Ducks rolled through the conference tournament, beating UCLA 78-69 in the final for a Pac-12 tournament title, even if that didn’t lead to a better seeding. Oregon was slated to be an 11 seed by the committee but was moved down one spot for scheduling reasons.

Oregon wasn’t alone among Pac-12 teams getting a lack of respect from the tournament committee, with regular season champion UCLA seeded sixth and shipped out of the West and Colorado and California also getting double-digit seeds.

“I think the Pac-12 had a really good year this year, but, I’m not sure how we stacked up against other conferences,” forward E.J. Singler said. “All that matters is how we do right now in the tournament. We have the opportunity to make a name for ourselves and for our conference in the tournament and that’s what we should do.”

Next up

NCAA tourney, second round, No. 12 seed Oregon vs. No. 5 seed Oklahoma State

• When: Today, 1:40 p.m.

• TV: TNT

• Radio: KBND-AM 1110

Matchups for today’s games

All times PDT

EAST REGION

No. 11 Bucknell at No. 6 Butler, 9:40 a.m. (truTV)

Patriot League champion Bucknell rides a seven-game winning streak into the tournament, and Mike Muscala is one the nation’s most creative scoring big men. The Bulldogs beat a pair of No. 1 seeds — Indiana and Gonzaga — but you wonder if Butler will be distracted by the realignment. The official announcement came this week: Bulldogs are joining the Big East, along with Xavier and Creighton.

Pick: Butler, 64-59

No. 14 Davidson vs. No. 3 Marquette, 12:10 p.m. (truTV)

Vander Blue leads a Marquette team that exceeded expectations this season. Picked to finish seventh by the coaches, the Golden Eagles tied Louisville and Georgetown for first. Davidson is a tournament-tested program. The Wildcats are making their second straight appearance and fifth since 2006, all under Coach Bob McKillop.

Pick: Davidson, 74-71

No. 12 California vs. No. 5 UNLV, 4:27 p.m. (truTV)

This was a gaffe by the committee, matching teams that played during the regular season — the Rebels won at Berkeley, 76-75 — and they’re playing in the backyard of the worse seeded team. UNLV, led by terrific freshman big man Anthony Bennett, has the team to fight through the obstacles. Pac-12 player of the year Allen Crabbe leads the Golden Bears.

Pick: UNLV, 78-73

No. 13 Montana vs. No. 4 Syracuse, 6:57 p.m. (truTV)

The Grizzlies are still adjusting to life without scoring leader Mathias Ward, who was lost for the season a few weeks ago after foot surgery. Syracuse was fading fast late in the regular season then but rallied to reach the Big East title game. Which Orange shows up for the tournament?

Pick: Syracuse 81-68e_SClB

WEST REGION

No. 9 Wichita State vs. No. 8 Pittsburgh, 10:40 a.m. (TBS)

Similar statistically as each average about 69 points per game. The Panthers are a physical team with balanced scoring and had an eye-opening 28-point victory at Georgetown early in the year. Cleanthony Hall is the top Shocker at 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds.

Pick: Pittsburgh 71-69

No. 16 Southern vs. No. 1 Gonzaga, 1:10 p.m. (TBS)

The first game as a top seed for the Zags. They’ve been a No. 3 and a No. 4 but this is new territory and pressure comes with it. Still, it’s a talented squad, led by All-America center Kelly Olynyk who can step outside for offense. Gonzaga is deep and efficient on both ends of the floor, but can it stand up to three straight tests, after this one?

Pick: Gonzaga 90-70

No. 11 Belmont vs. No. 6 Arizona, 4:20 p.m. (TNT)

Belmont, playing in an NCAA tournament for a third straight season, beat some NCAA teams this season like Middle Tennessee State and South Dakota State. Senior guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson lead the way. Arizona guard Mark Lyons has been boom-or-bust, capable of shooting the Wildcats in and out of games.

Pick: Belmont, 73-72

No. 14 Harvard vs. No. 3 New Mexico, 6:50 p.m. (TNT)

The Lobos are a trendy pick to reach the Final Four. New Mexico has Mountain West player of the year Kendall Williams and guard Tony Snell is the team’s top perimeter shooter.

Pick: New Mexico 71-59e_SClB

MIDWEST REGION

No. 14 Valparaiso vs. No. 3 Michigan State, 9:15 a.m. (CBS)

The Crusaders are back in the tournament for the first time since 2004 after winning the Horizon Conference Tournament. Among tournament teams, only Colorado State has more starts from seniors than Valpo, which has won a school-record 26 games. Only four coaches — John Wooden (12), Mike Krzyzewski (11), Dean Smith (11) and Roy Williams (seven) have more Final Four appearances than Tom Izzo’s six.

Pick: Michigan State 62-55

No. 4 Saint Louis vs. No. 13 New Mexico State 11:10 a.m. (TNT)

It’s been an amazing ride for Saint Louis, who lost Coach Rick Majerus, who passed away in December. Coach Jim Crews has done an amazing job as an interim, guiding the Billikens to the Atlantic-10 regular season and conference tournament titles. Two-time defending WAC champion New Mexico State is looking for its first NCAA victory since 1993.

Pick: Saint Louis, 80-67

No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State, 1:40 p.m. (TNT)

Again, how is Oregon a 12 seed after finishing second in the Pac-12 and winning the league tournament? It means the Cowboys, led by freshman point guard Marcus Smart, drew a tougher-than-deserved first opponent, and this is the first NCAA game for many in the program.

Pick: Oklahoma State 68-63e_SClBNo. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 6 Memphis, 11:45 a.m. (CBS)

A bit of pressure on Memphis Coach Josh Pastner to win, which he hasn’t done in the NCAA tournament (0-2). Memphis point Joe Jackson leads the way with a 13.6-point average and makes 45.6 percent of his threes. But Gaels guard Matthew Dellavedova has already led Saint Mary’s to a victory in the tournament, over Middle Tennessee State.

Pick: Saint Mary’s 70-66

No. 16 North Carolina A&T vs. No. 1 Louisville, 3:50 p.m. (TBS)

The Aggies took a thriller from Liberty in the opening round, and now try to become the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1. A&T won its first NCAA tournament game in 10 attempts. There won’t be a second one this year, as the Cardinals begin their quest as the tournament favorite.

Pick: Louisville 95-68

No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 8 Colorado State, 6:20 p.m. (TBS)

Two terrific rebounding teams face off, with the Tigers’ Alex Oriakhi and the Rams’ Colton Iverson knocking heads. Whose backcourt will prevail? Missouri’s Phil Pressey can do it all, and sometimes does too much. His late-game errors cost the Tigers some road victories. Lawrence product Dorian Green leads Coach Larry Eustachy’s team.

Pick: Missouri 77-75e_SClB

SOUTH REGION

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Michigan, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)

Is Jackrabbits’ guard Nate Wolters the next Stephen Curry? Wolters’ shooting can keep South Dakota State close with any opponent, and his matchup with the Wolverines’ Trey Burke ranks among the best of the second-round confrontations.

Pick: Michigan 82-70e_SClBNo, 12 Akron vs. No. 5 VCU, 6:45 p.m. (CBS)

Akron lost its first game after point guard Alex Abreu was arrested on drug charges, but they went on to win the MAC Tournament. Still, VCU loves to apply defensive pressure and could create havoc for the Zips. Plus, the Rams, a Final Four team two years ago, know something about winning in March.

Pick: VCU, 72-64

— McClatchy-Tribune News Service