Oklahoma or Missouri? Picking Gonzaga’s likely Round 2 opponent in 2021 March Madness bracket

With the 2021 NCAA Tournament field now announced and March Madness action being ready to tip off, people have already started to fill out their brackets and do lot of research. The regions have been examined, sleepers have been identified, and the winners of most regions have already been decided.

In the search for a perfect bracket, there is one thing that tends to confound even the most skilled bracketologists. That’s the 9-8 matchup. Every year, those games are coin-flips and in 2021, it’s no different. Every 9 vs. 8 matchup will prove to be tricky and though few will pick the winner of this game to advance past the No. 1 seed they are likely to play, it’s still disheartening to choose the wrong team in that matchup.

This year, the Oklahoma Sooners and Missouri Tigers are taking part in one of those 9-8 games; and that may well prove to be the most difficult matchup to prognosticate.

The Sooners and Tigers are much alike. Both have big wins over ranked teams. Both have scuffled down the stretch. Both have even posted similar numbers in most major stat categories on both sides of the ball. Picking between Oklahoma (15-10, 9-8 Big 12) and Missouri (16-9, 8-8 SEC) will prove to be tough and could have a big impact in office bracket pools and other contests.

With that, here’s everything you need to know about the matchup between Oklahoma and Missouri, including rankings, key players, season breakdowns and more:

EXPERT BRACKET PICKS:
DeCourcy (Gonzaga) | Bender (Illinois) | Fagan (Gonzaga) | Lutovsky (Baylor)

Oklahoma vs. Missouri odds

Oklahoma-Missouri is scheduled to be 28th game played in the first round of March Madness. It will be the last of the 9-8 matchups played during the 2021 NCAA Tournament and is the fourth-to-last tip-off of Round 1. Per DraftKings Sportsbook, Oklahoma is favored by two points in this one. Below are the details of their game, including the betting odds, time, TV and venue.

Oklahoma (15-10, 9-8 Big 12)

Oklahoma has been one of the better programs in the Big 12 over the course of the last 25 years. The Sooners have been to the NCAA Tournament 20 times in 25 chances since 1995 and has made it to the Final Four twice in that span. They also produced No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin from the 2009 NBA Draft and Buddy Hield, who is on track to be one of the NBA’s best shooters of all time. Trae Young also blossomed into a star there.

While the Sooners have produced a lot of NBA-caliber talent over the years, they have never won March Madness. They have been the runner-up twice, the last of which came in 1988, but they’ll be looking to go on a deeper-than-expected tournament run in Lon Kruger’s 10th season at the helm.

That said, the Sooners have scuffled of late in their quest to qualify. They are just 1-5 in their last six games and their only win in that span came over the 2-22 Iowa State Cyclones. And that Big 12 Tournament victory was by a mere six points.

That said, the Sooners do have some impressive wins on their schedule. Notably, they had a three-game winning streak against top-10 teams Kansas, Texas, and Alabama in late January. They also have beaten West Virginia twice. However, they also have lost to Xavier and Kansas State this year and have lost seven other games against ranked teams. Their experience against highly-ranked teams in the stacked Big 12 should give them a chance to compete with the tough competition they’ll face in the NCAA Tournament.

Key players

Austin Reaves (6-5, 206-pound senior guard)
17.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.7 apg

De’Vion Harmon (6-2, 198-pound sophomore guard)
12.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.1 apg

Brady Manek (6-9, 231-pound senior forward)
10.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.9 apg

Umoja Gibson (6-1, 176-pound redshirt senior forward)
9.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.2 apg

Elijah Harkless (6-3, 195-pound junior guard)
7.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.4 apg

REGION BREAKDOWNS:
WEST | EAST | SOUTH | MIDWEST

Missouri (16-9, 8-8 SEC)

Missouri is another program that has performed well over the last 20+ years. Since 1999, they have made it to March Madness 12 times and they have done so as a part of the Big 12 and the SEC.

This year, Missouri was a bit of a roller coaster. They started the year 6-0 with impressive non-conference wins over ranked teams Illinois (a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament) and Oregon while also beating two other tournament teams, Wichita State and Oral Roberts. They also beat two other ranked teams, Tennesee and Alabama.

However, Missouri faded a bit down the stretch. They were 3-6 in their last nine games and lost to Ole Miss twice and Georgia once during that span. If they want to play well against Oklahoma, they’re going to have to play as they did in the earlier stages of the season as opposed to the later stages. Either way, Cuonzo Martin has done a great job of getting this Missouri program on the tournament path.

Key players

Dru Smith (6-3, 203-pound senior guard)
14.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.9 apg

Xavier Pinson (6-2, 170-pound junior guard)
14.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.8 apg

Jeremiah Tilmon (6-10, 260-pound senior forward)
12.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 0.9 apg

Mark Smith (6-5, 220-pound senior guard)
9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.0 apg

Kobe Brown (6-7, 240-pound sophomore forward)
8.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.8 apg

BRACKET TIPS: KenPom | Play the odds | Idiot’s guide

Oklahoma vs. Missouri prediction

This is arguably the biggest toss-up of the 8-9 games. Both teams compare pretty favorably, as you can see via the table below.

So, Missouri plays slightly faster and shoots a little better than Oklahoma, but the Sooners shoot a bit better from deep and are better on the glass. Both teams have three double-digit scorers on their roster and have one player that can shoot it 38 percent or better from beyond the arc.

All told, this game well may come down to the final possession and with both teams on a skid of late, it’s hard to know which one to trust. That said, in a game that could be decided by one shot, it’s usually better to trust the team with the better 3-point shooting. The Sooners qualify, especially since Umoja Gibson has made a whopping 41.5 percent of his 3-pointers this year while taking 5.4 3-point shots per game.

History of 8 vs. 9 matchups in NCAA Tournament

In truth, throughout the history of the NCAA Tournament, the 9 and 8 seed matchup has been relatively even. It’s the biggest coin-flip on any bracket, and it’s the only one of the typical first-round matchups where the underdog has an advantage over the higher-seeded team. The No. 9 seeds hold a slight edge of 72-68.

If you’re looking at recent history, the No. 8 seed has held a slight edge of late. They have posted a 24-20 record over the last 11 NCAA Tournaments, but it is worth noting that No. 9 seeds won all the 9-8 matchups last year.

So, what does this mean? The trends won’t give us much of an edge in this coin-flip game, so you’re just going to have to go with your gut. Oklahoma seems like the better pick by the slimmest of margins in our eyes, but a strong case could be made for Missouri as well.

Below is a breakdown of the wins 9 seeds have enjoyed over 8 seeds the last 10 tournaments:

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