Smart, Brown and Forte combine to average more than 41 points per game for the fifth-seeded Cowboys, 24-8. The trio of OSU guards score better than 57 percent of the team’s 72.4 points per game.
That bids well for the Cowboys where guard play is especially critical in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cowboys were surprised to learn that Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon had fallen to a No. 12 seed and would be their first opponent in the Big Dance. After all, the Ducks have won 26 games and would have won both the conference tournament and the regular season title if not for losing back-to-back games to Colorado and Utah during the last week of the regular season.
But the guard matchup would appear to favor the Cowboys against the Ducks.
First and foremost, the 6-4, 225-pound Smart and the 6-3, 190-pound Brown will provide a challenge for the Ducks to guard.
Smart, a first team All-America selection by Sporting News and the Big 12 Player of the Year, leads the Cowboys in scoring (15.4 points per game), assists (4.2) and steals (2.9). Brown averages 15.3 points while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range.
Oregon’s guards Dominic Artis (6-1, 185), Johnathan Loyd (5-8, 165) or Damyean Dotson (6-5, 202).
Artis (8.5 points and 3.4 assists) is the starting point guard and led the Ducks to a 17-2 record before suffering a foot injury which sidelined him for nine games. “We were ranked in the top 10 and we were playing really well,” said Oregon head coach Dana Altman said of losing Artis midway through the season.
The freshman from San Francisco has returned to the lineup but is not playing like he did earlier in the season. “DA’s put entirely too much pressure on himself here to bounce back and do the things he was doing when we were 17-2,” said Altman. “He’s trying to carry the team and he doesn’t need to do that.”
Loyd (4.9 points) filled in admirably while Artis was sidelined, and he was named the MVP of the Pac-12 Tournament last week. The 5-8 guard scored a season-high 19 points in Oregon’s win over UCLA in the tournament championship game, just two days after making two free throws in the final seconds to force overtime in a quarterfinal game against Washington which the Ducks won 80-77 in the extra period.
Dotson, a freshman from Houston, is the tallest of the Duck guards at 6-5. He is averaging 10.8 points per game while playing 27.8 minutes, and has started 33 games this season.
“We’re going to need both (Artis and Loyd) to play well against Marcus Smart,” said Altman. “He’s bigger and stronger than either one of those guys and so we’re going to have to work awfully hard to get him slowed down.”