On Friday morning, the Oklahoma State Cowboys will try to bust a few brackets and knock off the No. 7-seeded Michigan Wolverines. On Tuesday, we met the Wolverines. We learned a bit about who they were and what they're about. However, how do they match up with the Cowboys?
The big match up here is Derrick Walton Jr. and Jawun Evans. You know it. I know it. Everyone who knows basketball knows it. The two are the unquestioned leaders heading into the Friday morning matchup. However, when you look at the whole picture, look at whoever else is involved. We find Phil Forte III, the 44th year senior can remember when Michigan played with peach baskets. Then, for Michigan it is Zak Irvin. The senior is 14th in power five conference in minutes played. He'll step off for five minutes a game, but other than the short window, He's an in your face type of player.
While Walton Jr. can score with ease and Evans can light it up, as they're both averaging over 20 points per game in their last five games, Evans can microwave heat up and knock you out. Walton trades two for threes. He's taken more threes than twos and just takes 'em from any where. As do most of the Wolverines. Oklahoma State will have to find a way to defend the three but it probably won't stop Michigan from launching like they're the Golden State Warriors. 45 percent of all their shots are from beyond the arc.
When it comes to rebounding, look no further than Stillwater, America. The Cowboys attack the offensive glass as one of the best teams in the country. They're averaging 11.5 offensive boards per game. Mitchell Solomon and Jeffrey Carroll attack the glass and it really showed in key moments. Leyton Hammonds comes through and completes the trio. Oklahoma State might win the glass, but it's the second chance opportunities that will define them.
Michigan doesn't attack the glass as well as the Cowboys do or nearly as often. With their long shot attempts, aka three-pointers, they're forced to get out and defend transition more than most. They limit their rebounding attempts due to this factor. The Wolverines are outrebounded on the norm and they average seven boards less than the Pokes do. D.J. Wilson and Walton Jr. are the real two prominent rebounders but their inability to turn those offensive rebounds.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are top 30 in the nation in scoring. They're first in the Big 12 in field goal percentage. Evans in a firecracker waiting to explode on someone and he's averaging 23.8 points per game over his last five games. While they don't shoot the three with the same fervor as the Wolverines, they're accurate. They nail down 40.1 percent from deep. Evans and Carroll combine for almost 11 free throw attempts per game, leading to the Cowboys one of the most accurate free throw teams in the nation. They're hitting 78.7 percent from the charity stripe.
Michigan is one of the slowest paces in the nation. They only average 63 possessions per game, which ranks 347th out of 351 Division I teams. For Oklahoma State, their offensive rebounding abilities will come in handy here as Michigan doesn't turn the ball over. The Wolverines are the No. 1 team in the nation, only turning it over 9.5 times per game. Only four times this season Michigan has turned it over more than 12 times.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
This is where Michigan excels. Their defense, due to their low possessions and their lack of offensive turnovers really find their groove. Michigan only gives up 65.5 points per game. Their opponents are the fifth lowest possessions in the league. They force 13 turnovers per game. Michigan's opponents though small in offensive possessions are efficient. They're making 46.3 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from deep. This is why Michigan is living on their ability to milk the shot clock. Where Michigan survives through all these inefficiencies is keeping their opponents from the line. Michigan opponents only attempt 14.7 attempts per game.
With Oklahoma State playing fast, their opponents typically try to get in run-and-gun situations as they do. Oklahoma State's high possession count, north of 75 (75.3 possessions) per game, Oklahoma State has an inability to limit their opponents from the free throw line is a stark opposition from MIchigan. Poke opponents are taking 25 free throw attempts per game.
John Beilein has figured out a quality recipe for success. He's been to a Final Four. He's done a good job of sustaining his success. With the rich history that is Michigan, he's fought back from the violations and in 213-134 in 10 seasons in Ann Arbor. This includes one Final Four, seven NCAA tournament appearances, two regular season Big 10 Championship, and one Big 10 Tournament Championship.
In his first season, Brad Underwood has rekindled the love in Gallagher-Iba Arena. There have been so many sellouts, including a tremendous come from behind victory over Oklahoma in February. In five seasons as a head coach at the Division I level, he's navigated his teams to the NCAA Tournament every season.
Beilein's pedigree at the major conference level gives him the slight nod here.
While Walton Jr. and Irvin provide some quality scoring ability right off the bat, Juwan Evans is an NBA talent waiting to prosper. If this comes down to a player needing to take over and willing his team to the victory, look no further than Evans. His ability to lead Oklahoma State back from the ashes of an 0-6 start in the Big 12, the toughest conference in the land, cannot be understated.
Forte has seen the NCAA tournament twice in his career, it's Evans that could be the wild card due to his inexperience at this level. He's never been here. Oklahoma State lost 20 games last season and missed out. However, Michigan has tons of postseason experience. Irvin and Walton Jr. were key pieces in Michigan's run to the NCAA Championship game in 2013. Based on the experience, I have to give it to Michigan. However, there is more to it in today's college game. Sometimes having the best player can be enough.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Michigan is probably overseeded. Before run through the Big 10 Tournament, they were projected by Joe Lunardi as a 9-seed. Oklahoma State has needed to fight back and despite a three-game losing streak is primed to be a Cinderella story this season. This one is probably closer to an 8-9 match up than a 7-10.