Ask any Sooners fan. After last season’s Final Four run, they expected to have a down year. After all, they lost key pieces such as Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Ryan Spangler.
The Sooners are four games under .500 in both conference play and overall record. In the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, OU got throttled on their home floor as the Florida Gators cruised to an 84-52 victory. Tonight, the Cowboys look to take advantage of a down Sooners team and end a losing streak in Norman that dates back over a decade to 2004.
Here are the quick hits for the tonight’s matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Cowboys (13-8, 2-6 Big 12) vs. Sooners (8-12, 2-6 Big 12)
Time: 8:00 p.m. CST
Location: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, OK
Stream: WatchESPN.com (requires provider login)
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
The Sooners’ magical season last year came to a sudden end in NRG Stadium, when eventual champions Villanova decimated OU’s title dreams. The 44 point loss had Sooner Nation saying “Houston, we have a problem.” (Get it?)
This year, the Sooners are in a rebuilding year, as I alluded to earlier. While they have beaten Texas Tech and God only knows how they beat West Virginia, they only have one “good” out-of-conference win. Clemson is currently ranked 31 in the KenPom rankings, however the rest of OU’s wins are not even in the top 200.
Player to Watch
Jordan Woodard has taken over for Buddy Hield this season. The senior guard is averaging almost six more points per game than any other Sooner, and is also the third leading rebounder, along with the top assister and top ball thief. His weakness is ball security. He has turned it over 42 times this season, which is nine more times than he has taken it from the opponent. If Jawun Evans and Phil Forte are up to their normal thieving ways, it could be a long game for Woodard.
Three Big Things
1. Force Turnovers
OU loves to turn the ball over. They are averaging 14.6 turnovers per game, which is good for two reasons. First, the Cowboys are great at forcing turnovers. They force nearly 17 per game. Second, Brad Underwood’s team is great at finishing the turnovers down on the other end, scoring nearly 20 points per game off turnovers. If OSU wants to end the Norman curse, forcing turnovers and turning them into points would be a great place to start.
2. Continue the defensive intensity.
Joel wrote a great piece about how a minor shift in the defensive philosophy has made the Cowboys’ defense great again.
From what I have gathered and watched, the defensive adjustment was very minor. Rather than extending the defense out and putting lots of pressure on the perimeter, it looks like the Cowboys are now playing in the gaps below the 3 point line, forcing either ill-advised jumpers or funneling the ball-handler into the middle where the help is, forcing a turnover. This small adjustment by Brad Underwood is paying dividends.
Since the adjustment was made, the Cowboys are only giving up 70.3 points per game, while scoring 90.3 ppg. These ‘Boys are fun to watch, and are likely to start gathering national attention if they keep on the tear they are on.
3. Get a lead early.
Each of the Cowboys’ last three games have started with a run. Against Texas Tech, they jumped out to a 5-0 lead. It was 6-0 against TCU. Arkansas was blown away by a 9-0 run to start the game. Getting an early lead and going on an early run is one of the best ways to set the tone. If you are traveling, that is the quickest way to shut down the fans in enemy territory. Take Wichita State for example. The arena was packed with I’d say about 90% WSU fans. However, the Cowboys went on a 10-1 run to start the game and quickly eliminated Wichita State’s “6th man” help they got from the stands. If you are at home, it’s the quickest way to keep the fans involved and crazy. When the Pokes jumped out to a 7-0 lead and forced Arkansas to call timeout 1:32 into the game, Gallagher-Iba Arena was deafening. In fact, Arkansas knew before the game what they had to do, they just couldn’t do it.
Arkansas players on the way to locker room: "We gonna shut this crowd up quick." How about that, GIA? #okstate— John Helsley (@jjhelsley) January 28, 2017
If the Cowboys jump out to a quick lead in Lloyd Noble Center, their chances of winning increase dramatically.
With this new look defense and pass-first offense, I haven’t seen anyone who has even come close to being able to stop the Cowboys. I don’t think OU is going to be the first team to figure it out either.
Pokes win 87-74 and end the drought in Norman in Brad Underwood’s first visit.