If Brad Underwood hopes to notch his first Big 12 victory as head coach of the Oklahoma State Cowboys this weekend, his Pokes will have to pull a monumental upset on the road at No. 2-ranked Baylor.
The Cowboys remain winless in conference play, dropping its Big 12 opener to West Virginia last Friday and Wednesday's game at Texas.
Here’s a quick look at today’s match-up.
Cowboys (10-4, 0-2 Big 12) at Bears (14-0, 2-0 Big 12)
Time: 6:00 p.m. CST
Location: Ferrell Center, Waco, TX
Stream: WatchESPN.com (requires provider login)
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
Having already knocked off four ranked opponents, Baylor trails only Villanova in the AP Poll, but the Wildcats lost earlier this week, opening the door for Baylor to slide into the top spot should it hold off Underwood's crew today. The Bears have never been ranked No. 1.
The Bears have surprised many with their undefeated run to start the season. In the beginning of the year, who outside of Waco would have predicted the Bears would beat teams along the likes of Oregon (by 15), Michigan State (by 17), and Louisville (by 3)? As higher ranked teams have fallen, the Bears have kept winning and steadily moving up in the polls.
In its two conference games so far, Baylor has throttled Oklahoma 76-50 in the Bears’ only true road game this season and squeaked by Iowa State 65-63 in Waco on Wednesday.
Defense has keyed the Baylor attack all season. Though the Bears have the No. 7 offense in the conference, its defense tops the list and holds teams to less than 60 points each game (third nationally). They beat you with sound technique and don’t play outside of themselves.
Baylor’s offense hasn’t made waves—it’s top two scorers put in 27 points combined—but will meet a less formidable OSU defense that gives up nearly 79 points per game - which is 42nd worst in the nation. Ouch.
Players to Watch
Johnathan Motley is the leader for Baylor. The 6-10 junior forward scores and rebounds well, ranking in the conference’s top five in both categories. Cowboy defenders must push him outside the box and force him to take contested shots away from the basket.
The Bears lead the league in blocked shots, and no one in the Big 12 is better than Jo Lual-Acuil, Jr. He’s a game changer inside that will challenge anyone who wants to attack the rim. OSU must always be aware of where Lual-Acuil is on the floor and pull him out from around the net to open up opportunities underneath for driving scores.
So what will it take to get the victory in Waco?
Three Big Things:
1. Shoot better.
Despite scoring a conference-best 91 points per game, OSU’s inconsistency from the field has cost it valuable opportunities—and wins—in it's first two conference games. With the defensive presence Baylor is able to roll out around the rim, scoring inside will be difficult. That will force the Cowboys to choose better shots outside and make more buckets when they do.
2. Limit the damage inside.
Baylor is a steady team that will methodically wear down opponents. The bulk of its scoring comes in the paint. If the Cowboys are going to slow the Bears' attack, it must play strong defense on the interior, which means the best OSU defenders will need to keep fouls to a minimum. They cannot get sloppy or lazy or tired and allow five straight uncontested layups like they did against Texas. That 15-0 stretch is what killed the Pokes in the last game, and if it happens again, they will be looking at 0-3 in the conference when they welcome Iowa State in a few days.
3. Someone else needs to step up.
Jeffrey Carroll and Jawun Evans have carried the team to eleven wins. Others have contributed in stretches, but these two are the primary weapons in the absence of Phil Forte's usual pinpoint shooting. Who is going to step in and provide quality minutes, defend well and add a few buckets to take the pressure off the best two Pokes?
Coach Underwood is still looking for his first conference victory. He’s also trying once again for the 100th win of his career. Beating Baylor on the road Saturday would certainly help make up for the wait.