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Preview: Oklahoma State vs. UNC Tarheels

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Oklahoma State at Connecticut Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After their win in the opening round of the Maui Invitational, the Fighting Underwoods are back at it again to face legendary coach Roy Williams and his team. The Cowboys have been scoring at will on weaker opponents, averaging 107 points per game in their first three games against Campbell, Central Arkansas and New Orleans. And they continued their high powered offensive attack against UConn last night, scoring 98. OSU is coming off a good performance against the Huskies in their first real test of the season, but will face by far their toughest challenge of this young season going up against UNC tonight.

Here are the quick hits for tonight's match-up against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Tar Heels (5-0, 0-0 ACC) vs. Cowboys (4-0, 0-0 Big 12)

Time: 9:30 p.m. CST

Location: Lahaina Civic Center, Maui, HI

TV: ESPN

Radio: Cowboy Radio Network / Tunein

Stream: WatchESPN.com (requires provider login)

Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com


The Opponent

The University of North Carolina Tar Heels are ranked fourth in the country and are 5-0 after defeating the Chaminade Silverswords in their first round matchup in the Maui Invitational. In their five games, the Tar Heels have scored over 100 points only once (last night), but have limited their opponents to an average of 65.6 points.

North Carolina is coming off a great 2015-2016 season. The Tarheels finished with a 33 - 7 record and lost to Villanova on a buzzer beater in the national championship game. They lost two key players from last season in Brice Johnson (17.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg) and Marcus Paige (12.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg), but as always, they’ve got several guys who are ready to step up and they’ve reloaded with multiple highly touted freshmen.

Many people have the Tarheels picked to finish first or second in the ACC and have them advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament. Several key players to watch for North Carolina are point guard Joel Berry II (14.8 ppg, 4.6 apg), combo guard/forwad Justin Jackson (14.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg), forward Isaiah Hicks (15.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and the big man Kennedy Meeks (14.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg), who’s averaging a double-double.

We’ll talk more about it more below, but North Carolina could pose problems for the Cowboys with their presence down low and their guards ability to get into the paint and create havoc. As Roy Williams said after the victory over Chaminade last night, “We're just too big for them”. Now, Oklahoma State is far more talented than the Silverswords, but Coach Williams could have the same thought on his mind going into tonight’s matchup.

3 Big Things

1. Protect the Paint.

After watching the UNC-Chaminade matchup, I am very scared of what UNC will do to our bigs in the paint. We as a team love to foul, and cannot afford to do so tomorrow, especially not our big men. Kennedy Meeks balled out against the Silverswords last night, finishing with an impressive 20 points on a perfect 7-7 from the field, 6-8 from the charity stripe, 10 rebounds, a block, an assist, and a steal. We need everyone to contribute and play solid, clean, tough basketball in the paint. We need newcomers Cam McGriff and Lucas N’Guessan to step up and play their best games tomorrow, along with Mitchell Solomon and Leyton Hammonds.

Hopefully McGriff can put someone on a poster with his insane dunking ability.

2. Don’t get disheartened.

UNC is GOOD. You aren’t going to be ranked 4th in the country without being good. That doesn’t mean they are untouchable though, right 2012-2016 Kansas? The Cowboys cannot allow themselves to become disheartened and give up if the Heels get out to a big lead. We saw New Orleans do just that, and the Pokes ended up winning by 45 points. If the Cowboys give up early on, we will be in for a long game. I don’t think Brad Underwood will allow this to happen, but it is always a possibility. We need to keep the intensity up and not let UNC beat us into submission. Defensive intensity is key. Forcing turnovers and shooting well are the keys to beating a team that has size and talent advantages. Jay Bilas thinks we can do just that night in and night out.

3. Score from outside.

UNC is a huge inside force. One of OSU’s biggest advantages is the ability to hit from outside. The Pokes are averaging almost 10 3-point field goals per game and they are shooting 41% on those attempts. Instead of trying to weave between the UNC trees around the paint, the Cowboys need to pass the ball around and work for that good outside shot and knock them down. Phil Forte, Jeffery Carroll, Jawun Evans, along with newcomers Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters can all convert from distance, and if the Pokes are hitting their 3s, look for them to be knocking on the door of their biggest upset since knocking off #3 Kansas last season at home.