Under first year head coach, Brad Underwood, the Oklahoma State Cowboys started the conference slate with six consecutive losses. However, the group managed to pull it together finishing 9-9 against Big 12 opponents. The effort led to a 20-12 overall record and a No. 10 seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Passing on words of encouragement, one person hopes the Cowboys can put the past behind them.
“You forget about the 0-6 start. Now, we all are fresh at 0-0” Coach Underwood stated. “You have to win six, dream big and have fun. It goes fast. You want to make sure your kids have this memory that lasts forever.”
Set to face the Big 10 Tournament Champions, the Michigan Wolverines, the task of advancing remains a difficult one. Rolling through the Conference Tourney, Michigan sits on a five-game win streak — which includes wins over two ranked opponents. They’ll be led into battle by Derrick Walton Jr. who averages a team high 15.2 points per game over 34,6 minutes of play. But, the experience guard isn’t the only scoring option.
Three other players average double-digit scoring numbers pushing the team total 75 ppg. Needless to say, the Wolverines look to slow the pace of play while limiting the opponents transition opportunities. Of course, this is easier said than done when Oklahoma State opts to utilize drag screens resulting in quick looks at the rim. Averaging 74.5 possessions per outing — only two Big 10 teams play at this pace — the Cowboys are not a team to run-and-gun against.
Possessing a top 40 defense which allows 65.8 points per game, it will match strength on strength. However, in the same breath, Michigan has shown a weakness at times when attempting to stop dribble penetration. OSU’s Juwan Evans may very well be one of the nation’s best one-on-one players. With the ability to create for himself and others without screens coming to his aide, Evans can take over at any time.
In terms of strengths, the Wolverines are the best in the country at taking care of the ball. Committing a mere 9.5 turnovers per game, mistakes are few and far between for a team operating as a top five efficient offense. With a tip set for 11:15 AM on Friday, one program’s season officially comes to an end.
Oklahoma State and Michigan square off in the Big Dance for the first time since 1997. Leave your predictions in the comments below as to who advances and who goes home!