Brief overview of the Cowboys
Oklahoma State is much better than its record and seed suggest after competing in a loaded Big 12. Michigan fans sighed when they learned that the Wolverines were matched up with the Cowboys because they knew that it was a tough first-round draw. Like Michigan, Oklahoma State has one of the best offenses in the country -- in fact, the Cowboys have the best offense.
Unlike Michigan, Oklahoma State plays as if nitrous oxide is continuously being injected into its veins. Oklahoma State has a troop of long-range snipers. OSU hits the offensive glass hard and their defense is a mess and ranked outside the top 100 in adjusted efficiency. Their dependence on forcing turnovers could easily backfire on them against Michigan.
Player to Watch
The Cowboy that should most worry Michigan is point guard Jawun Evans, though wing Jeffrey Carroll is a close second. Evans has gone under the radar as being one of the nation's best point guards. He averages 19.0 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.3 RPG, and 1.8 SPG while posting an 116.5 offensive rating with a 33.0 usage rate. Those are eye-popping numbers.
The Evans vs. Derrick Walton, Jr. matchup will be an absolute doozy for any neutral fan watching, but it poses some concerns for Michigan. Evans is fast. Like, insanely fast. Players with his speed and quickness have presented problems for Michigan in the past, and Walton likely does not have the lateral speed to stay in front of him.
If Evans is able to get past Walton and into the lane frequently, he should be able to easily break down Michigan's defense and wipe out any improvements it has made lately.
3 Keys to Victory
First, Michigan must take care of the basketball. Oklahoma State's defense is 135th in adjusted efficiency and well below-average in three of the four factors. The only factor at which OSU's defense excels? Turnover rate (45th). Turnovers are what the Cowboys rely on to get stops, and if they are unable to force them, their defense tends to be in for a very long day. The bad news for Oklahoma State is that the Wolverines are fifth in the nation in offensive turnover rate. This isn't a one-year phase either. U-M has ranked in the top 20 in turnover rate in each of the past five and seven of the past eight seasons, and during that span, has punished teams with turnover-dependent defenses (see: Michigan vs. VCU in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament).
Plus, if Michigan limits its turnovers, that will contribute to its second key to a win: controlling the pace. U-M is 339th in adjusted tempo and prefers to consume most of the shot clock, while Oklahoma State is 64th in adjusted tempo and wants to turn this into a track meet. If U-M keeps its turnovers down, it will minimize the opportunities for OSU to push the ball in transition for easy points, especially because U-M does not crash the offensive glass and sends four players back on defense when a shot is released. This should put the brakes on the Cowboys' offense and require them to run their half-court sets. And if they still decide to speed it up, they likely will rush their shots and fire them from poor spots or with hands in their face.
Third, Michigan must not permit Oklahoma State to rack up second-chance points. The Cowboys may not have the tallest or biggest roster, but that certainly does not stop them from flying after offensive rebounds. They are 6th in the country in offensive rebound rate, and generating those extra shots is a significant reason why they are so potent on offense. On the other hand, Michigan has had its issues on the defensive glass. The Wolverines are only 186th in the category, and games in which they are beat up on the glass tend to lead to some of their worst defensive performances -- and losses. Michigan has to box out Oklahoma State and limit the Cowboys to one shot per possession. Otherwise, OSU will surely take advantage.
It will be a very high-scoring, competitive game. Michigan's offense with its skilled ballhandlers, shooters, and sets will slice through Oklahoma State's defense like a warm knife slices through butter. Michigan will handle OSU's pressure with relative ease, and that in turn will flummox the Cowboys as they try to speed up the game and push the tempo.
However, the Cowboys still will have their success on offense because Jeffrey Carroll and Mitchell Solomon will feast on the offensive boards and -- along with Jawun Evans' speed -- give Michigan nightmares. Nonetheless, the damage done by Carroll and Solomon on that end won't be enough to make up for Michigan's offensive success, and the surging Wolverines will win, 84-76.
Michigan’s showdown with Oklahoma State tips off at 12:15 p.m. ET on Friday in Indianapolis.