Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
In-state rivalries often produce some entertaining showdowns, and the opener of this year’s Bedlam Series should be no exception, as #2 Oklahoma (19-1, 5-0) heads to Stillwater to face #43 Oklahoma St. (13-5, 2-2).
Oklahoma’s lone loss came on a trip to Fayetteville, where it was beaten by enigmatic Arkansas. Besides that game, the Sooners have looked very good, taking out Davidson, UAB and Purdue to win the NIT Tip-off, and also beating VCU, Tulsa and USC in non-conference play. Emphatic wins over Texas and Baylor have sent a big message to the rest of the Big 12. Oklahoma St. hasn’t been as strong, with its best non-conference wins coming against Siena and Rhode Island, but none of its five losses, including dropping league games to Baylor and Missouri, is particularly damning. A good overtime win at Nebraska on Saturday got the Cowboys to .500 in conference play, but they face a much greater challenge tonight.
New Oklahoma St. head coach Travis Ford has had a lot of offensive success with his fast-paced style, primarily due to his team’s stellar three point shooting. The Cowboys combine a large volume of three pointers with deadly accuracy, as they are one of the nation’s best teams from behind the arc. Ford has also managed to get his team to play fast but smart; the Cowboys rarely commit turnovers. Oklahoma St.’s main weakness is the offensive glass, but it typically makes enough shots to nullify this deficiency. The Cowboys’ offense will have a lot of trouble with a solid Oklahoma defense, which did a good job against a strong-shooting Baylor team. Oklahoma allows opponents under 40% of two-point attempts, but is somewhat vulnerable from three, and won’t force a lot of turnovers. If Oklahoma St. can get hot from behind the arc, it will keep itself in the game, but if the shooting goes dry, there will be trouble.
Oklahoma boasts one of the nation’s best offenses, a well-balanced unit that is successful in most facets of the game. The Sooners are only average three-point shooters, but hit 55% of attempts inside, and are very good on the offensive glass. Oklahoma also gets to the line frequently, but its one major flaw is free-throw shooting: the Sooners are under 68% from the stripe. Oklahoma St.’s offense may have adapted well to its new style, but the Cowboys’ defence has struggled, especially in its two Big 12 losses. OSU is average defensively in most areas, but has no real strength, and doesn’t do well defending threes or avoiding fouls. The Sooners have a big size and strength advantage down low, and should have a field day scoring in the paint.
Blake Griffin is a force for the Sooners, the national leader in rebounding and Big 12 leader in scoring. Only four times this season has Griffin failed to record a double-double, and his 62% shooting is one of the conference’s best. He gets to the line a lot, but is inconsistent once there, sitting at around 60% on the year. He’s a solid shot-blocker as well, and when he’s on the floor, Oklahoma’s offense should go through him. Don’t think, though, that the Sooners are a one-man team; Griffin’s supporting cast is quite strong. Older brother Taylor isn’t as good a scorer or rebounder, but does well at the free throw line and leads the team in steals and blocks. A pair of veterans, junior Tony Crocker and senior Austin Johnson, start in the backcourt; Johnson leads the team in assists and has a 3.4 A/TO ratio, while Crocker is a decent shooter. However, the team’s best guard has been a freshman, Willie Warren, a prodigious scorer who shoots nearly 60% from two, and has a solid long-distance shot as well. Cade Davis is a three-point specialist off the bench, but has seen his minutes slide of late. Ryan Wright is the main bench player on the inside, but still plays under 10 minutes a game. Oklahoma depends on its starting five as much as any team in the country, so if Oklahoma St. can push the pace and get the starters fatigued, the Sooners may be in some trouble.
Four experienced and talented guards play a big role for an Oklahoma St. team that lacks any serious inside presence. Byron Eaton is the conference leader in assists and steals, but also commits a fair number of turnovers. He’s not a great shooter, though, and the Cowboys are better when possessions aren’t ending in his hands. This is especially true because the other three strong guards are spectacular shooters, led by sophomore and leading scorer James Anderson, who is a 44% from three and also does well on the glass. Junior Obi Muonelo is only 6-5, but nearly averages a double-double, and is another excellent long-distance shooter. Senior Terrel Harris shoots the least of these four, but is still very efficient, and chips in with some rebounds and assists. After 6-11 senior Ibrahima Thomas was dismissed from the team (now on his way to Cincinnati), the Cowboys have played the remainder of the year with only one regular player taller than 6-6. Malcoln Kirkland, 6-8, has seen his minutes disappear in recent games, though, with 6-6 forwards Marshall Moses and Anthony Brown increasing their roles. Moses and Brown have been effective shooters, with Moses also doing well on the glass, while Kirkland has shot under 50% from the field. Freshman Keiton Page is the 6th man, he’s yet another good shooter Coach Ford can turn to.
This has the potential to be a trap game for Oklahoma, against an in-state rival that is capable of lighting the Sooners up from long-distance. However, it’s hard to see the Cowboy defense doing enough to hold off Blake Griffin and company, especially inside, where Griffin should be free to run wild.
Winner: Oklahoma Margin: 7-11
-- Evan Dorey's rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.