The Cowboys do not matchup well against the bigger, stronger Bulldogs. Kamari Murphy (6-8, 220) and Le'Bryan Nash (6-7, 235) will have their hands full with Gonzaga's Przemek Kamowski (7-1, 296) and Sam Dower Jr. (6-9, 243). Dower, who was a first team All-West Coast Conference selection, averages a team-best 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 59 percent from the field. Kamowski, a sophomore from Torun, Poland, contributes 10.2 points and 6.9 rebounds while blocking 1.7 shots per game. It's critical for Murphy and Nash to stay out of foul trouble because the Cowboys will have problems if Ford has to use 7-footer Marek Soucek (who has played only four minutes in March and has yet to set foot on the court during the postseason) and 6-10 walk-on Mason Cox for more minutes other than just giving his starters a breather.
The three Cowboys starting guards – Markel Brown, Marcus Smart and Phil Forte – combine to average 48.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and 8.9 assists a game. Gonzaga's three starters – Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton – average 32.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 9.6 assists. Although the three Bulldogs have appeared in 14 combined NCAA games the past four years, they will have a difficult task in guarding Brown, Smart and Forte. The OSU trio combined for 54 points on 20 of 35 shooting when the two teams met on Dec. 31, 2012. The Bulldogs, like most teams, don't have anyone with the size to guard Smart (6-4, 225), who is averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists since returning from his three-game suspension. Want to watch an interesting matchup? Keep your eyes on Forte and Stockton, the son of NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton. Both are tough, hard-nosed players with outstanding basketball IQs.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Mark Few of Gonzaga is a perfect 5-0 against Oklahoma State, including three wins over OSU's Travis Ford in the past six years. The 51-year-old Few is the first head coach to make an appearance in 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments at the beginning of an NCAA Division I coaching career. The streak began in Few's first year in 2000. He ranks as the fifth fastest coach to reach the 400-win plateau in 499 games. His career record is 402-99, and his teams are 15-14 in NCAA Tournament games. Ford's teams are 1-4 in NCAA tourney games, including three losses in a row. His Eastern Kentucky team lost to Kentucky 72-64 in 2005, and the Cowboys have gone 1-3 under Ford's direction (beating Tennessee 77-75 before losing 84-76 to Pittsburgh in 2009, losing 64-59 to Georgia Tech in 2010, and falling 68-55 to Oregon in 2013). The Cowboys have struggled in close games this season with 10 of their 12 losses coming in games decided on the last possession or two, including seven losses in which OSU led in the last five minutes or in overtime. The Cowboys are 0-4 in overtime games this season.
Gonzaga is making its 16th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, and its 17th in school history. The Bulldogs have won at least one game in each of their last five appearances, and have advanced to at least the second round in 12-of-16 NCAA Tournament trips. Few's team won't be distracted by the big stage. Junior Kevin Pangos is the tournament veteran for the Bulldogs, playing 139 minutes in four NCAA games, all of them starts. Gary Bell Jr. (four starts, 122 minutes), David Stockton (6 games, 103 minutes) and Sam Dower Jr. (6 games) also have plenty of tourney experience. The Cowboys, however, claim to have some unfinished business. Although a No. 5 seed, the Cowboys were upset by 12th-seeded Oregon last year. That's one reason Marcus Smart decided to return to OSU when he was going to be one of the top three players selected in last year's NBA Draft. The season hasn't gone exactly as the sophomore point guard expected but an NCAA Tournament run will help everyone forget about the Cowboys' seven-game losing streak midway through Big 12 play and Smart's three-game suspension for pushing a Texas Tech fan.
Although Mark Few and his team have plenty of NCAA Tournament experience, and the Bulldogs won't be rattled by anything that happens this week, the Cowboys are the more talented team. The trio of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Phil Forte will be too much for the Bulldogs, and the Cowboys will find a way to neutralize Gonzaga's inside presence. I'm also a Marcus Smart believer, and he'll put this team on his back and carry it to a victory if that's what it takes. Oklahoma State prevails 71-67 with Forte sealing it with a pair of free throws in the final seconds.