First Look: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan will face Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. Here’s a first look at what the 10th seeded Cowboys bring to the table.

Oklahoma State played the most difficult schedule in the country according to KenPom and that explains some of the dramatic winning and losing streaks on the resume. The Cowboys started Big 12 play with 6 straight losses before rattling off 10 wins in 11 tries. As in any strong major conference, ups and downs are usually due to schedule more than anything else.

For the most part, Oklahoma State has beaten the teams you would think a .500 Big 12 team would beat and lost to the teams you would think. The best win on the resume is a 82-75 victory at West Virginia, but 7 of the last 8 losses have come at the hands of Big 12 powers Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas.

By the numbers

  • Record: 20-12 (9-9)
  • KenPom Rank: #24
  • Vegas Spread: Michigan (-2)
  • KenPom Projection: Michigan 78, Oklahoma State 77

An elite offense

Envision an offense that’s slightly more efficient offense than Michigan’s that plays at a faster pace and crashes the offensive glass. That’s Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys have the No. 1 offense in the country according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric at 124.8 points per 100 possessions. They shoot the three well at 40.3% (8th in the country), but only attempt 36% of their shots from deep (compare that to Michigan’s 45.1% 3PA/FGA). This is a perimeter-oriented group with a couple of great shooters, but it is built around an elite dribble-drive threat which the rest of the offensive action plays off of.

What Oklahoma State does that Michigan doesn’t is rebound 38% of its missed shots, good for the 6th best offensive rebounding rate in the country. 6-foot-9, 245 pound junior big man Mitchel Solomon is the third-best offensive rebounder in the country and a great shot blocker, but he is also whistled for 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes.

Defensive woes

Michigan fans know plenty about how frustrating a bad defense can be and the situation in Stillwater is dire. Oklahoma State gave up 1.13 points per possession in Big 12 play and held just one conference foe below a point per possession in 19 tries. In their recent three-game losing streak, the Cowboys have given up at least 1.2 points per possession each time out.

There are a some really good teams and offenses in the Big 12, but this is a defense that just hasn’t shown the ability to stop anyone.  The Pokes primarily play man-to-man defense, but press on 10% of defensive possessions and will play also some zone (14.2%) as well. Of all of those looks, the press has been most effective.

Oklahoma State allows teams to shoot 52.5% inside the arc (294th) and 35.5% on threes (192nd) for a 52.8 eFG% (275th) giving up 45.6 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (334th). The only redeeming quality of the Cowboy offense has been its ability to force turnovers on over 20% of their opponents’ possessions. That’s something that Brad Underwood’s teams at Stephen F. Austin did well and has carried over to Oklahoma State.

Jawun Evans in the ball screen game

Oklahoma State point guard Jawun Evans stands 6-foot-1, 185 pounds and is one of the best point guards in the country. He’s ranked 3rd in the country in assist rate and draws 6.6 fouls per 40 minutes. His jumper is a work in progress, but he’s able to get downhill and attacks the basket as 79.5% of his field goal attempts come inside the arc, and he has proven that he can hit an open three (38%) in limited attempts.

Most of his offense comes out of the ball screen and the Pokes end 27.4% of their possessions out of that look while grading out in the 87th percentile. Those numbers are just a hair behind Michigan, which has one of the best ball screen offenses in the country.

Evans is a balanced ball screen guard who can make all of the reads whether he’s driving to the rim, hitting a mid-range jumper, finding the roll man or kicking it to shooters.

The worry out of the pick-and-roll game will be a repeat of what we saw on Saturday against Minnesota with Nate Mason. The Golden Gophers’ guards were consistently getting into the lane and drawing out Michigan’s help which didn’t just lead to some easy looks, but also the worst defensive rebounding game that Michigan has played in a while.

A missed layup off of dribble penetration is still a great play because the weakside rebounding opportunities are there and I’d bet that’s how so many of Oklahoma State’s second chance opportunities come around.


Michigan’s KenPom adjusted tempo is 62.6 possessions per game (339th) and Oklahoma State’s is 70 possessions per game (64th). Michigan rarely plays a game at 70 possessions while the Cowboys have barely played any below that rate.

The key will be which team is controlling the game. Michigan is lethally efficient when it can get clean defensive stops — rebounds or forced turnovers — and push the pace on its own. On the flip side, the Wolverines don’t want to get sped up in track meet and make silly mistakes.

Given Oklahoma State’s need for speed, desire to crash the offensive glass and ugly transition defense numbers, there’s an argument that a slightly more uptempo game could suit the Wolverines. Oklahoma State struggles in its transition defense and Michigan has emerged as a team that can pick its spots and be very efficient.

Here’s how both teams’ transition numbers compare, per Synergy.

Notice that Michigan and Oklahoma State are just about equal when they do play in transition offense, but the Pokes are far more aggressive (18% of possessions). On the other end of the floor, Michigan is far superior both in limiting transition opportunities and defending them. Those defensive numbers should light up Derrick Walton’s eyes, especially with how effectively the Wolverines attacked in transition during their time at the Big Ten Tournament.

Bottom Line

Michigan hasn’t played many teams like Oklahoma State, which should provide some pause, but I think that the success of the Iowa State model is most relevant here. The Cyclones beat Oklahoma State three times this season and match Michigan’s statistical profile almost to a tee: they have a perimeter-oriented pick-and-roll heavy offense led by a senior point guard, they don’t turn the ball over and they are the worst rebounding team in the Big 12.

Iowa State scored 274 points in three games against the Pokes, all wins, and that bodes well for a Wolverine offense that is clicking on every level.

  • A2MIKE

    Great write-up! I hope your analysis proves correct. I think if Michigan shows up hungry, they will be playing on the 2nd weekend. Have to keep that fire!

  • ChiMan

    Dylan, seriously, I want to commend you and the UMHoops staff. The amount of work y’all have put in the past two weeks has been just incredible. Keep up the great work and know that it is truly appreciated!

    • Thanks.. was a much longer weekend than anticipated in D.C…. but was a heck of a show.

      • MH_20

        Did you follow JB’s mantra and pack for Sunday?

        • I had enough clothes packed, but let’s just say flights were moved.

          • bobohle

            Luggage lost?

    • MaizeBlue10

      I’ll echo that sentiment! Thank you Dylan and staff!!!

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Very unlucky draw imo…Okla St is a solid team but with how we are playing…we should win, our defense is performing at a much higher level…which changes everything (shown in BTT) let’s keep the momentum going from the BTT title…Go Blue!…Big12 is overrated every year imo…

  • gobluemd16

    This is just about the worst matchup we could have gotten in the 6-7 seed range, sans Wichita State. I would LOVE to have Maryland’s draw – wow. They are completely buoyed by their road record. Worried about Evans’ penetrating ability and how good Ok St. is at offensive rebounding. Doubt M puts MAAR on Evans because Forte runs around so much on defense that it would tire D Walt out. Hope Walton doesn’t find himself in foul trouble since Evans is so good at drawing them.
    Also, this seems like the kind of matchup where we can’t play that lineup with DJ at the 5.

    • Why no DJ at the five?

    • Mark Worthley

      Maryland is going to lose in the first round.

      • gobluemd16

        I love MD’s draw, not MD.

  • A2MIKE

    One more thing. This team is not 2014 UCONN or any other team. They are the 2017 Michigan team, and as long as they stay connected and trust in one another more great things will happen. I hope they don’t get caught up in the media trying to compare them to that UCONN team or Michigan teams of the past or any other team that made a run. Keep the identity that brought you this far.

  • Stephen Chang

    What Michigan needs to do for this game especially defensively is stay disciplined and rebound the ball. Michigan should not have a hard time when they have the ball because the Pokes don’t communicate that much on defense and while they do force turnovers, they get out of position quite easily and will have a hard time containing both Wilson and Wagner because they don’t have guys that can stop them. This will be a good test for Michigan’s defense, but I believe that they will get the job done.

  • JJ3ball

    Excellent breakdown.
    Should be an entertaining game. OSU definitely been tested this season and will be ready to go

  • ChathaM

    It looks like an intimidating matchup in some respects. But I also think we will have a distinct height advantage, and that should be a big factor in the game. I’ll take Beilein with 4 days of prep over anyone, and I see us controlling the game as long as we don’t have a 30% shooting day. At least, I hope that’s how it plays out, as I was able to snag a ticket before all the crazy Kentucky people grabbed them all, and I can’t wait to make the trip. Worst case scenario is we lose Friday, and I sell my Sunday ticket to a crazy Kentucky person who will pay anything.

  • rlcBlue

    This would be a great game for X to make an impact on – 10-15 minutes of quality defense on Evans could make a huge difference.

  • Abraham Gonzalez Jr.

    Michigan is going to blow them out… Michigan is on a mission and Walton will not let them lose… Go blue

  • ChiMan

    After having almost a full day now to think about it, I’m curious if anyone else is even slightly concerned that we might lose our ‘edge’ after having some time off? I know we’ve been playing really, really well the past month or so but I can’t help but wonder if that adrenaline rush they had last week will be something of the past. Don’t get me wrong, I really, really hope I’m just over thinking it and we’re going to continue with that same hunger but I worry some of that edge will have dissipated.

  • bobohle

    D Walt and Billy Donlon will not let the team lose its edge and grit. OSU is on a three game losing streak and Michigan is not going to let them end it on their watch.

  • malcolm bolt

    The talent level is different, but UCLA was the one team that made us work at pace and at that time had more advantages in matchups. We still played great for 30 minutes.

    If Beilein can use that game as a template/lesson to learn from in execution compounded with the VCU game from the 2013 Final Four run, in breaking presses on offense, a winning formula may be available.

    My concern is Forte getting hot along with OSU playing downhill like Minnesota.

    I also wonder, being that Frank Martin and Coach Underwood are well connected, that Underwood may put in certain defensive actions that Michigan struggled with against the Gamecocks.