There is a lot of intrigue heading into the upcoming basketball season. The Cowboys made a huge change on the sideline as they opted towards hiring Brad Underwood after his impressive tenure with Stephen F. Austin. Also, with recruits Cameron McGriff, Lindy Waters and Thomas Dziagwa, and JUCO transfer Tyrek Coger, the hype is well-warranted.
Despite the season not starting until November, we’ve learned exactly when the Brad Underwood era will start. Oklahoma State released their non-conference schedule this past week, and there’s a lot of exciting matchups in store.
11/11/2016 - Campbell (12-18 last year)
As most Power 5 schools do, the Cowboys will start the season out with a seemingly easy opponent. Besides the fact that Campbell is in the Big South, they only managed to go 12-18 last season and 5-13 in conference play. As expected, this will be one of Campbell’s biggest games of the season.
It’s a perfect way to start the Brad Underwood era as the freshmen should see playing time at home right away.
Jawun Evans will be in for a challenge early in the season, though. Campbell’s best player, Chris Clemons, a 5’9” point guard who averaged 18.5 points per game as a freshman, will be a tough matchup right out of the gate. His lightning in a bottle offensive approach is similar to Kay Felder - second round pick by Cleveland this year.
I wouldn’t expect Evans to get out-played, but there’s not a lot of film on Campbell basketball and Clemons was one of the most under the radar guards in the nation last season. At least if it’s a blowout there will be some fireworks, as well.
11/14/2016 - Central Arkansas (7-21)
Surprisingly, Brad Underwood will get an opponent he’s very familiar with. Stephen F. Austin and Central Arkansas are in the same conference and Underwood has been beating up on them since he joined the Southland Conference. Now, with a Power 5 team, Underwood should be licking his lips at facing an old foe he beat by double-digits every year.
Last season, the Bears did play three Power 5 schools, although they lost all three games, including losing by 40+ points to both Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. It was just three losses towards their 3-15 start, but it’s not hard to see their program isn’t fit to last against major schools.
Jordan Howard, their top scorer, still managed to put up 19 points in the 85-64 loss to Stephen F. Austin last season. But, Derreck Brooks graduated, and he put up a double-double against Underwood’s former team.
This is arguably the easiest game on the schedule as Underwood will be fully prepared to take on Central Arkansas.
11/16/2016 - New Orleans (10-20)
For the second straight game, Brad Underwood will face a former Southland opponent at home. And just like against Central Arkansas, Underwood had no problem beating New Orleans by double-digits every season. The Privateers fared a little better than Central Arkansas last season, although, their lone Power opponent, Northwestern, beat them by 27.
Despite owning a better record, New Orleans didn’t have the same star power Central Arkansas did on offense. Their leading scorer averaged 14.8 points per game and their fourth-leading scorer graduated.
They should be in for a rough game as Underwood has a good idea of how to beat them. In fact, they were held to just 17 points in the second half during last year’s meeting with Stephen F. Austin, which was in the middle of the year.
Their tallest player is 6’8”, so Coger could be in for a big game. I’d expect most of the Cowboys’ roster to play, and for the Cowboys to start the season 3-0.
Maui Invitational (3 games)
I previously wrote about how the Cowboys will fare in one of the biggest early-season tournaments in the country. With the likes of UCONN, North Carolina, Oregon, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Tennessee and Chaminade, the Cowboys might have a hard time coming out with more than one win.
It’s still unknown who they’ll take on first. Either way, it’ll be their first real test of the season, and if they draw North Carolina or Oregon, it’ll be a quick wake up call after their easy first three games.
This will be the first time Oklahoma State is able to showcase their new look team and coach on a national stage. I can’t imagine them getting more than one win in Maui, but it’s hard not to love the early season test for a young team with high hopes this season.
11/30/2016 - Rogers State (23-5 in DII)
Rogers State is not in Division I, although, they could arguably put up the biggest test out of the first four mid-major programs the Cowboys are slated against. Rogers State went an impressive 23-5 last season, including a victory over Division II #18 Metro State - the Hillcats impressively won by 21.
Traveling to Stillwater could give Rogers State problems, though, as they went just 7-4 on the road. With that being said, they were semi-competitive against their three Division I opponents in pre-season.
They lost to Oral Roberts and Tulsa by single-digits and New Mexico only beat them by 11. Yes, the Cowboys should be better than all three of those teams, but Rogers State isn’t a pushover, either. They’ll be excited to play a regular season game against a Big 12 opponent and will be eager to pull an upset.
I’m not saying an upset is in store, but with Maryland next and a good DII school coming in, the Cowboys can’t get lazy and let this one slip.
12/3/2016 - @Maryland (27-9)
This will be the first road game for the Cowboys, and their first test outside of the Maui Invitational. The Terps will have a completely different look to them, though. Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman all went pro. They’re still left with Melo Trimble, but losing four of your top five scorers is tough for any team.
Luckily for Maryland, they had another solid recruiting class with Micah Thomas, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan all coming in next season. They should all have sizable roles as freshmen as Trimble is the only returning player who saw 20+ minutes per game last year.
Even with three freshmen, Trimble will be the story and player everyone talks about when discussing Maryland basketball. He’s been able to gain national attention after leading Maryland in scoring in both of his seasons. With that being said, it gives Evans a perfect opportunity to prove himself on national TV.
With the easy competition, the Cowboys will enter the game with a nice looking record. If Evans is able to out-play Trimble, he could start to gain national recognition and show everyone he’s the real deal. It won’t be easy though as Trimble is an established star in college and Huerter is a 6’5” shooting guard who’s the 49th ranked recruit by ESPN. But if there was a game to make a statement, this would be the one.
12/10/2016 - @Tulsa (20-12)
Tulsa put together a respectable season last year. They went 2-2 against ranked opponents and received an eleven seed in the NCAA Tournament. They ended up losing to Michigan in the First Four, but it was a nice season by Frank Haith’s squad.
Although, with seven of their nine man rotation graduated, they could be in for a rough season. The losses of James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison will hurt the most as they were the only two players to average 15+ points per game. However, they do still have 6’5” guard Pat Birt who contributed 12 points per contest, and will have a much bigger role as a junior.
Tulsa failed to land any ESPN Top 100 Recruits, so it’s foggy when looking at their upcoming basketball season. Haith will have a whole new rotation, and guys will need to step up. This game would’ve been trouble a season ago, but Tulsa could be in shambles when the Cowboys meet them this year.
12/12/2016 - Arkansas-Pine Bluff (8-25)
It was a tough season for the Golden Lions, and I don’t see it getting any better this year. By this time, the Cowboys will be in better shape and have a better idea of their rotation.
Not to mention that Oklahoma State cruised to an 86-72 win last season. The Cowboys and Golden Lions faced off in the second game of the season last year, therefore, being later in the year and the Cowboys being a better team, they should have no problem winning by double-digits again.
Last season, Evans came off the bench, however, he still contributed 13 points, seven assists and four steals. Forte and Jeff Newberry, who was a senior last year, both contributed double-digit points, as well.
It was complete domination in las year’s meeting as the Cowboys dominated on the glass, got to the basket more often and played better defense. Stopping the Golden Lions’ three-point shooting - 41.2 percent against OSU last season - will be a key. Although, JoVaughn Love, who finished with 21 points, graduated, so the Golden Lions will need someone else to step up to try to keep the game close.
12/17/2016 - @Wichita State (26-9)
Despite getting off to a rough start, Wichita State still ended up getting into the tournament and won three games. Although, both Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, who put Wichita State on the map, graduated, so there will be a new look from the Shockers.
Shaquille Morris and Conner Frankamp will have bigger roles this season. However, the Shockers didn’t have a great recruiting class, so leaning on upperclassmen who haven’t had a big role in the past is Gregg Marshall’s most likely option. It will give Marshall a chance to prove his worth as a head coach, as he was sought after by many top programs but stayed with Wichita State.
It may not be the same Final Four Wichita State team, but this would still be a huge win for the Cowboys. They’ll be on the road in a hostile environment against a marquee team. It might not carry as much weight as in recent years, but this could be one of the biggest wins by Underwood and the Cowboys this season.
12/22/2016 - Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (25-8)
It doesn’t sound like a serious basketball program, but Brad Underwood can tell you they don’t go down easy. They finished second in the Southland Conference last season, but lost to Stephen F. Austin three times - their only conference losses. Still, they were one of the toughest matchups in the Lumberjacks 18-0 conference record.
Just like Central Arkansas and New Orleans, Underwood knows how they play. Underwood’s ability to get his team pumped up for a mid-major team will be on display. This is the last non-conference game before conference play starts, so it’s easy to not be focused on a Southland opponent.
Still, the Islanders are returning a decent amount of their rotation from last season and will be looking to improve on their 0-3 record against Power 5 schools last season. The Islanders aren’t a pushover, but I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to beat the Cowboys in the middle of December. Oklahoma State will have their rotation set and will want to go into conference play on the right foot.
1/28/2017 - Arkansas (16-16)
The loss of Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls took a toll on Arkansas last season. They went from one of the premier teams in the SEC to a team who barely reached .500. The Razorbacks will be a decent opponent for the Cowboys in the middle of conference play as they take part in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Returning their top-two scorers from last season is not something every team can say, and will be beneficial for Arkansas, who looks to get back to the top of the SEC. Although, they don’t have a Bobby Portis type player who can lead their team. They’ll likely put up decent fights against ranked teams and be around the same tier as the Cowboys.
With this being a break in conference play, this is the perfect opponent for Oklahoma State. As previously noted, this will be a great measuring stick game against a Power 5 school. This is the biggest non-conference game at home, and the Gallagher-Iba Arena will be rocking.
Coming off a 12-20 season, it might be wishful thinking to say the Cowboys will go 10-3 in their non-conference portion. Although, they have a lot of mid-major programs that Underwood knows well, and their added size will be very beneficial to their style of play.
They will have a couple of tough road games, and the Maui Invitational will be a chance for the Cowboys to pull off an upset. Also, they Cowboys will have a chance to showcase their new era on national TV before conference play. It’s still early, but I can’t imagine the Cowboys will struggle against mid-major programs like they did last season. There’s a different feel to this season, and having their non-conference wins come close to their total wins from last season is plausible.