*Editor’s Note: This preview has multiple videos that demonstrate what Dustin is talking about. This preview is best viewed in it’s full form, not on Google AMP/Apple News.
The Cowboys are coming off a huge upset win this weekend in Stillwater over the 6th ranked Kansas Jayhawks. You can read the full Cowboys Ride for Free recap here. That win now has the Pokes labeled as one of the “First Four Out” by ESPN’s Bracketologist, Joe Lunardi. However, not all analysts have the Cowboys listed as a bubble team, and it looks like they will most likely need at least one win, possibly two, in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament to get into the Big Dance.
Oklahoma State will get their shot this evening against their in-state rival, the Oklahoma Sooners. This 8 seed vs 9 seed matchup is the inaugural game of this year’s Big 12 Tournament, and even though the Sooners haven’t looked great as of late, anything can happen in Bedlam and the Cowboys will need to bring their “A” game.
You can see the full tournament schedule here. Now, let’s get to the preview.
Who: Oklahoma Sooners (18-12, 8-10 Big 12)
Where: Sprint Center - Kansas City, Missouri
When: March 7, 2018 - 6:00 p.m. CT
Radio: Cowboy Radio Network
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
The Oklahome Sooners come into this game having lost seven of their last nine. Although, they are 2-1 in their last three, with wins coming over Kansas State and Iowa State and their lone loss coming at Baylor. The Sooners started off the year hot, but have since cooled way, way down. Poor shooting, bad defense and inconsistent play from their role players have been the key issues for this Oklahoma squad.
The Sooners are currently unranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls, and KenPom.com has them 43rd. In addition, Joe Lunardi currently has Oklahoma as a 10 seed in his bracket.
The Cowboys and Sooners split the season series 1 - 1 and they will meet in Kansas City for the rubber match. Not only does the winner get Bedlam bragging rights, but this game could have major implications for both team’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
Players to Watch:
The first guy is pretty obvious... recently named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, Trae Young (27.5 ppg and 8.9 apg). Young went for 27 points in the Sooners home win, and he scored 48 (!) in their loss in Stillwater. Now, 48 points is 48 points, and it’s definitely impressive, but Young did not get to this absurd number very efficiently. He shot only 36 percent from the field, and the Cowboys seemed to really frustrate the young point guard in the first half. In the first meeting, Young seemed to get whatever he wanted and almost messed around and got a triple double. The Cowboys can not allow him to control the game like he did earlier this year in Norman if they want to win this game.
Young has only scored over 30 points once in the last nine games, after averaging over 30 through the first nine. Additionally, he’s apparently nursing an injury to his hip that occurred during the Baylor game at the end of February. He was held out of practice on Sunday, but says he will be ready to go against Oklahoma State. That will be something to watch for come this evening.
Now, outside of Young, there have been some consistency issues with the rest of this Sooner squad. Brady Manek (10.4 ppg and 5.2 rpg) torched Oklahoma State from deep in the first meeting, but he’s been unreliable at times from beyond the arc this year. Kameron McGusty (8.0 ppg and 2.0 rpg) has played well at times, but he also has become invisible on the floor for stretches this year.
So, I’m going to go with Christian James (12.5 ppg and 4.4 rpg) as the other player to watch for the Sooners. The 6’4 James had 11 rebounds the last time these two teams met, including five offensive, to go along with eight points and played pretty much the entire game. He’s currently the only Oklahoma player, outside of Young, that’s averaging double figures in scoring on the road.
Three Big Things:
1. Pick and Roll Defense
In the first meeting, the Cowboys tried to trap Young right when he passed half court and they sent a second guy at him any chance they got. This strategy did not work out particularly well for the Cowboys, as Young went for 27 points and 10 assists.
They just didn’t seem to come out with any intensity on defense, and gave up a lot of wide up looks at the rim, similar to this.
However, after Kansas State basically set the blue print for how to guard Young in mid-January, the Cowboys played much better team defense on Young and the Sooners the second time around. I know, I know, he scored 48 points, but it was not very efficient and Oklahoma State forced him into bad decisions both shooting and passing.
How did this do this? Well the key was their pick and roll defense. The pick and roll is the Sooners bread and butter as Young is able to exploit mismatches on the switch and bury deep threes on poor defensive communication. But, the Cowboys played, smart, trapped him off the screen, denied the pass back to him and played great all around help defense.
In this first video you see Tavarius Shine and Yankuba Sima do a great job on the screen, Sima plays a “drop”, getting to a spot and cutting off Young until Shine can recover. Shine recovers quickly, Sima sinks back down and Brandon Averette does a great job of rotating over to disrupt the pass, which leads to a turnover.
Here you see great all-around defense again, and Averette does an excellent job of closing out on the shooter.
And here’s an example of denying Young the ball after he initially gives it up.
Young is going to get his, as he did in the second half of the last game against the Pokes, but if you play smart defense against him, you can force him to make mistakes and that’s a key to beating this Sooner team.
2. Zone Offense
When the Sooners switched primarily to their zone defense in the first half of the last matchup, they were able to come back from a 25-4 deficit and eventually took the lead. Zone offense has been an issue for Oklahoma State all season, and I would expect the Sooners to play a healthy dose of zone tonight. You can’t have empty possessions like this if you want to win against this team.
The Cowboys play better when they can get out and run in transition, and the Sooners do as well (fastest tempo in the Big 12 according to KenPom.com), but I still believe the Sooners won’t mind slowing the game down if the Cowboys start to take the lead and get in a rhythm offensively.
The Pokes will have to focus on getting good looks, and they have to knock them down. Kendall Smith will play a big role in this because when he’s hitting his shots, the Cowboys normally come out victorious. He had 20 on 7-16 shooting in the last contest against the Sooners, and let’s hope he can have a similar outing tonight. They’ve shot better as of late, and hopefully this continues in to the Big 12 Tournament.
3. Attack Inside
Along with shooting well, another way the Cowboys can try to score on zone (or man) is to attack inside. Oklahoma State was destroying the Sooners with the pick and roll early in the last meeting,
and the perimeter players were doing a great job of penetrating,
but they seemed to get away from it in the second half. I believe the Cowboys will have to consistently attack the interior of this weak Sooner defense if they want to win this one. I would like to see Coach Boynton get Mitchell Solomon and Cam McGriff involved early and let them go to work inside.
The Cowboys have put together back to back wins for the first time in a long-time and I just think they are playing too well right now for this inconsistent Oklahoma team. I believe Jeffrey Carroll, Kendall Smith, Mitchell Solomon and the rest of the Cowboys will be too much for the Sooners, and they win this one 87-79.