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Dynamic offenses square off in SOU-Midland first-round matchup

Southern Oregon men’s basketball coach Brian McDermott has always maintained that if his Raiders could qualify for the NAIA Division II Championships their versatile, efficient motion offense would be a tough matchup for anyone.

“I wouldn’t want to guard us,” he said.

Now the 21st-ranked Raiders will put that theory to the test against another tough matchup — 11th-ranked Midland (Neb.) — today in the first round of the 32-team tournament at Point Lookout, Mo. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m. Pacific) at Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of College of the Ozarks.

Southern Oregon (24-9) was on the bubble when it came back from seven points down in overtime to beat Northwest Christian in the first round of the Cascade Conference tournament and all but clinched its at-large bid three days later with a semifinal win at then-15th-ranked Warner Pacific.

The Raiders’ reward for their impressive CCC run — they eventually lost to No. 4 College of Idaho in the title game — is a date with one of the hottest teams in the tournament.

Midland (26-7), last year’s national runner-up, placed third in the Great Plains Athletic Conference before beating No. 5 Dakota Wesleyan 81-74 and No. 6 Morningside 89-67 to win the GPAC tournament and claim an automatic berth to nationals.

In terms of offensive prowess few first-round matchups can match SOU-Midland. Led by 6-foot-8 senior forward Eric Thompson, a fourth-year starter and four-time CCC all-star who averages 19.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, the Raiders rank third nationally in field-goal percentage (50.8) and sixth in assists (18.5). The Warriors also rely heavily on a big man - 6-foot-9 sophomore post Alex Starkel leads the team in scoring (15.6 ppg), field-goal percentage (58) and rebounding (5.5) – and boast the nation’s top 3-point field-goal percentage (41.5). They also rank third in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6), fourth in turnover margin (minus-4.3), 12th in field-goal percentage (49.1) and 14th in scoring (83.5).

“They’re a heavy pick-and-roll team and then they have a 6-8 guy inside [Starkel] that can score with both hands,” McDermott said. “He’s pretty good, so they’re very talented offensively.”

For Southern Oregon, Thomson and 6-foot-8 junior post Jordan West (14.6 points, 5.7 rebounds) provide most of the heavy lifting inside, while 6-foot-8 senior guard Tim Weber (12.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists), who leads the nation in assists and triple-doubles (four), runs the show and is a master at gutting opposing defenses with backdoor passes. Junior guard Joel Spear (7.5 points, 3.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds) and freshman Ben DeSaulnier (9.8 points) also contribute key minutes for a team that ranked second in the CCC in points per game (79.8), assists per game (18.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio.

Besides Starkel, the Warriors, who have won six straight, roll out a potent backcourt led by 5-foot-7 senior Galen Gullie (12.1 points, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals) and 6-foot-2 senior Marcus Franklin (12.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

McDermott said the Warriors generate open perimeter looks with their pick-and-roll offense, which may have to make some adjustments against a Raider team that plays almost exclusively zone.

“It’s why we’re playing zone,” McDermott said of the pick-and-roll offense, “so we don’t have to defend it so much. They’ll still play a lot of pick-and-roll, I think. They get a lot of drive and kicks where people have to help. We feel like if we make them shoot off the dribble that’d be a good thing for us.”

To do that, the Raiders will probably have to stay home against Starkel, who scored 21 points on 10 of 13 shooting against Morningside and 19 points on 8 of 15 shooting against Dakota Wesleyan.

“He’s just slippery,” McDermott said of Starkel. “Almost everything he shoots is either a layin or a jump hook. He’s going to be hard to handle.”

Defensively, the Warriors play mostly man-to-man, which could present problems against an SOU team which will have some serious size advantages in the backcourt. Weber’s length could force Midland out of its comfort zone, but McDermott said the Warriors have ways of making up for that.

“They get after you and are very well coached,” he said. “But we feel like we’ll have chances to shoot the ball. Someone’s going to get a favorable matchup.”

The SOU-Midland winner will face either seventh-ranked Bellevue (28-5) or 24th-ranked Grace (21-10) in the second round Friday. Second-ranked Embry-Riddle and 15th-ranked Union are also in SOU’s quarter of the bracket.

“I think the bracket would be really nice for us if we could get through the first one,” McDermott said.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.