After a long offseason full of recruiting victories, FBI trials, and questionable decisions, the Oklahoma State Cowboys open their second season under Head Coach Mike Boynton on Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Following a season where low expectations were well surpassed the Pokes will look to do more of the same after being picked to finish last in the Big XII preseason poll for the second consecutive year. To do so they’ll have to overcome a massive roster overhaul, as only 3 scholarship players return in juniors Lindy Waters, Cam McGriff, and Thomas Dziagwa.
The Cowboys will have to integrate all of their new pieces quickly, as the runway is very short before a much tougher non-conference slate begins.
Who: Charlotte 49ers (0-1, 0-0 Conference USA)
Where: Dale F. Halton Arena - Charlotte, North Carolina
When: Saturday, November 10 - 3:00 p.m. CST
TV / Web Stream: ESPN+
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
- Michael Cunningham: Probable - Hamstring
- Michael Weathers: Out - Disciplinary
- Curtis Jones: Out - Ineligible through semester
- Luka Vasic: Out - Knee
49ers: G Jon Davis (Sr), G Malik Martin (Fr), G Cooper Robb (Fr), F Dravon Mangum (Fr), C Jailan Haslem (Sr)
While this is the season opener for the Pokes, Charlotte (KenPom No. 309) comes into this game after losing a tough one at home to Chattanooga (KenPom No. 304). The 49ers come into this season with an even newer coach than the Cowboys, as previous Virginia assistant coach Ron Sanchez has taken over for interim coach Houston Fancher, who took over for Mark Price after the Pokes faced them last season. The Pokes won that match-up in GIA 83-65.
Along with a new head coach, the 49ers are in a similar state of rebuild, with only two seniors on the roster and five freshman. One of those seniors is preseason All-Conference USA point guard Jon Davis, and he has been asked to shoulder much of the 49ers production. In fact, in the very limited sample size this season has provided, KenPom has him ranked as the 3rd highest percentage usage when he’s on the court and #1 in the nation in percentage of team’s shots taken!! He posted an impressive 31 point game in their opener, but did so on an inefficient 25 shots. Davis desperately needs some help, and he’ll likely look for impressive freshman guard Malik Martin (13 pts, 5 reb) and senior center Jailan Haslem (8 pts, 7 reb) to provide some.
Three Things to Watch For:
1. Fresh Faces
The Cowboys enter this season with 5 scholarship freshman and 3 transfers on a roster that only has 3 scholarship players returning. This is Duke/Kentucky-level turnover but on a much more developmental talent level. The Cowboys freshman class is full of potential, but isn’t loaded with 5-star guys ready-made for the college game.
Isaac Likekele, however, is an exception. As a high 3-star recruit he may have been overlooked after committing early to Fresno State before de-committing due to a coaching change. He is listed at 6’4 and has great length and big hands to boot. His tenacious play-style will be a great defensive boon for the Pokes and he could very well work his way into a starting spot in year one.
Yor Anei will likely start out of necessity after Yankuba Sima elected to go pro overseas and Lucas N’Guessan decided to transfer out of the program. He is more skilled than N’Guessan, but is very raw and his slight frame could lead to him getting bodied against bigger post players.
Skilled wings Duncan Demuth and Maurice Calloo along with center Kentrevious Jones round out the class. There will be some growing pains, but watching this core grow will be a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see how much playing time each get in the season opener.
2. Carrying the Load
The Cowboys lose 4 of their top 5 scorers from a year ago. Replacing that level of production is a daunting task for any team. I expect Michael Weathers to shoulder a good portion of that when he comes back, but who else steps up?
The obvious choices are Waters and McGriff, but the Pokes will likely need some solid minutes from Dziagwa and Likekele as well if they want to come away with a victory in a true road test. I’m also curious to see how much grad transfer Mike Cunningham helps with scoring and providing stability for this young squad.
For the 49ers, as I said before, Jon Davis carries the load. In last year’s meeting the Pokes held him to 15 pts on 2-11 shooting (he was 11-12! at the line). While he’s almost certainly going to get his, the Cowboys will need to make sure it’s in a similarly inefficient manner.
3. The Road Less Traveled
Oklahoma State hasn’t opened a season away from Gallagher-Iba since 1994(!) when they lost a neutral site game to BYU (that year turned out alright). They haven’t started a season with a true road game since 1992 when they traveled to Cal Berkeley and took a 65-80 loss.
Coach Boynton said in an interview that opening on the road “is about showing our team we aren’t going to back down from any challenge.” It’s a good sentiment, and I think it sets the tone for the kind of attitude Mike Boynton expects from his team, but the young Cowboys will have to grow up quickly in an unfriendly environment.
Bonus: Bedlam Flavor
Jordan Shepherd won’t see game time because of NCAA transfer rules, but the Junior played in a limited role for Oklahoma in his first two collegiate seasons. He transferred to Charlotte after
getting tired of Trae Young seeing his role diminished in his sophomore year. Shepherd averaged a meager 0.6 ppg against the Pokes in limited playing time.