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A KenPom Preview: Oklahoma State

Opening Thoughts

When looking at this Oklahoma State team, one thing sticks out at you; they're nearly as Smurf-like as the Cornhuskers. Now, they don't have any 5'6" "punks" on their team, they don't roll that short, but they also give no one substantial minutes over 6'7". Their effective height is 328th in the country; not good. However, they are different from the Cornhuskers in plenty of ways. We'll get into the statistical later, but they also are a lot more athletic, and possess a lot more pure basketball talent.

Put simply, they are a more dangerous team. They are more explosive, more dangerous, more likely to pull off an upset. But they aren't a good team.

I thought they were a good team. Coming into conference play, I might have predicted something like a 10-6 conference record, plenty good enough to get into the NCAA Tournament. And I was convinced they were NCAA-quality. Yes, I knew they had absolutely no height. But I was incredibly intrigued by all of the talent around the perimeter, and thought they'd give plenty people fits. And while they haven't really played terribly well all conference season, they still possess that same potential. The same potential they unleashed us last year in Stillwater, the last loss of the 2007-2008 season.

So, we'll make a deal, here. How about we win this game, unless we are promised to go undefeated the rest of the way with a loss. I'll take a L, in that case.

Click the button, you know you want to...

The Background

A pretty bad non-con slate, at least in terms of W's. They faced some pretty solid teams (Gonzaga, Michigan State, Washington), but lost all three games. Their best win, probably, was against a good-but-not-great Rhode Island team in Oklahoma City. They beat Tulsa and a better-than-advertised Siena, too, so that's kinda-sorta nice. But besides those three, every other win out of conference play was completely fluff. So many cupcakes, it'd make Bill Snyder proud.

So, they needed a big conference season. Their computer numbers were (and still are, really) awesome, so they didn't need help in that regard; they just needed to pick up W's against half-alive competition. They needed to pick up a marquee win too, sure, but most importantly, they just needed to win, win, win. That's all.

They have yet to really do that. And while the door to their NCAA Tournament hopes certainly isn't completely locked shut, it is slowly creaking closed. None of their losses (@ Baylor, vs. Missouri, vs. Oklahoma, @ Texas A&M) are bad, but they need to win some of these games to make a statement. Tomorrow isn't quite a must-win for them (they still have two against Texas and a road game in Norman to pick up quality W's), but a loss really puts their back against the wall. Expect them to come out real intensified.

The Offense

Obviously, as the assumption goes, the offense is the Cowboys' strength. When they lose, it's because of the D; when they win, it's thanks to the O. That's just how it works.

Four Factors

  • Effective FG% (15th) -- Damn. They are the second-best pure-shooting team (after in-state rival Oklahoma, actually) in the Big 12, and are incredibly efficient at knocking down shots. They are particularly good at the long-ball, but we'll get to that a little later on.
  • Turnover % (14th) -- Besides making shots, their other big strength is never turning the ball over. This makes sense, considering they are essentially playing with four guards and a small forward. They tend to hold on to the ball with a little more security. No Morris twins to come in and throw the ball away, if you know what I mean. This is crucial, too, because they simply can't afford to waste possessions. They get virtually zero second-chance points, so throwing away possessions on stupid turnovers destroys their offense. And when their offense is destroyed, their chances of winning freefall.
  • Offensive Rebounding % (293rd) -- And again, considering their incredible lack of that thing called height, this makes complete sense. Just like the Cornhuskers, when you are six inches shorter, you don't tend to pick up as many rebounds. It's just how gravity and height and all of that fun stuff works. If we give away free second-chance points, we're screwed. They're not used to giving them, so we really can't just hand them over.
  • FTA/FGA (97th) -- Slightly above average, but nothing really special. The key guy to watch out for, here, is Byron Eaton, as he is the only real "driver" on the team. Sure, nearly every guard can get into the lane, but Eaton is the guy who makes his lving inside the paint. Keep him out of the lane, and they simply resort to chucking three-pointers.


  • When talking about the Cowboys' offense, there is one key: three-point shooting. They are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, shooting 40% as a team from way out there. That is ridiculous. Just ridiculous. It isn't like it is a small-sample-size, either; 40.6% of their field goal attempts are threes. How do they win games? Three-pointers. Simple as that. Shut those down, and they really aren't that much better than, I don't know, Texas A&M? And that is just offensively, not to mention there huge defensive defficiencies.
  • They also make a high percentage of free throws, in case you're interested. Nearly 74% as a team, which is good enough for 33rd in all of Division 1.

The Defense

While the Pokes' O is pretty damn good, their defense is pretty awful. Not terrible, sure, but not that good. Seriously, though, they are pretty easy to score on. We shouldn't have too much trouble hitting 80.

Four Factors

  • Effective FG% (190th) -- Yikes. This is, really, one of the key weaknesses of their D. They give you plenty of chances to knock down shots, and more than often, the opposition hits 'em. They are particularly kind on the threes, but they aren't terribly effecitve at limiting either.
  • Turnover % (110th) -- Yeah, they aren't really all that good at turning you over, either. This is, actually, their defensive strength, but it's nothing to write home about.
  • Offensive Rebounding % (131st) -- Another category, another weakness from the Cowboys. They will allow plenty of second chance points, which makes sense with their height defficiencies. This is encouraging, as the Morris twins have really been attacking the offensive glass. They do it on Saturday, and we will get plenty of free points. And free, extra points are the last thing the Pokes can afford to give up.
  • FTA/FGA (280th) -- They foul you a ton. So, yeah, this is the Oklahoma State defensive way. They give up open shots, they let you make 'em, they don't turn you over, they give up free second-chance points, and they foul you a bunch, letting you score even more points from the free throw line.

The Players

Really, the Cowboys have six main contributors. They really don't have much depth to speak of (like, really, at all), and while they'll certainly play more than just a half-dozen in Lawrence, all that really matters are these six. Trust me.

Byron Eaton G -- The hero from last year's upset over Kansas, he is the senior, veteran, experienced captain of the team. Like I mentioned earlier, he is their key driver. While most of the guards, as we'll get to, prefer to spot up behind the three-point line, Eaton prefers to sift through defenders and sneak into the lane. In a lot of ways, he is like Sherron Collins. Not quite as good at some things, and not nearly as good in others, but a similar player. Much of the Pokes' three-point opportunities are created by Eaton driving-and-kicking, so the key is to keep him out of the lane. I'd imagine our own bowling ball, Sherron, will draw the assignment, and hopefully he can be just as successful at keeping Eaton out of ht elane as he was keeping Jerrells out of the lane. That's the key to beating Okie State.

James Anderson G -- From my point of view, Anderson is the best player on the Cowboys. He can do everything; can slash just like Eaton, but can also spot up behind the three point line (nearly 44% in 112 shots). I think Brady will have to stick on him, because he is the guy most capable of going off to pull off the upset. Just like Eaton last year, if Okie State wins, it'll be because of a ridiculous, Brackins-like performance from Anderson. He is one of the better shooters in the country (in terms of true shooting %, which gives extra weight to three-pointers as they're worth more, and also includes free throw %), and should be Second Team All-Big 12 at the end of the year.

Terrel Harris G -- Harris, in a lot of ways, is like a poor man's Anderson. He can drive, but doesn't draw quite as many fouls (a decent evaluation of how good a slasher one is, at least for guards). He can shoot the three, but not quite as well (40%). However, there is one case where he is better than Anderson; D. He is, probably, the Pokes' best perimeter defender, so it'll be interesting to see where they place him. Do they stick him on Sherron and live with the quicks disadvantage, or do they just try and completely eliminate, say, Brady from the offense?

Obi Muonelo F -- Obi could be an awesome player off the bench for a lot of teams. He does a lot of things right, and is a damn good overall player. Hell, he could start for most of the teams in the Big 12. But he is displaced as a 4. He's forced to play there, though, and hasn't even done a halfway-bad job there. His defensive rebounding numbers are fantastic (particularly for being only 6'5"), and is another big threat from three (42% in 145 attempts). Considering he's basically their 4, we need to give Mario plenty of PT at the 4 Saturday, if he's up for it. I know we said we'd try and play him at the 3 more, but Oklahoma State is not the team to start that up against. Missouri? Fine. But not Okie State. We need a fast, agile body on Muonelo, so he can't just hide out on the perimeter and shoot the three. Imagining Markieff hovering out there, trying to cover him is scaring me. Although, who the hell knows what McMorris and Kieffer are going to do, anymore.

Marshall Moses F -- You almost get the feeling that Moses isn't Travis Ford's favorite player, but he's realized he has to find someone to play in his role. Basically, Moses serves as the big guy, the dirty-work player that has to pick up all of those rebounds and things. He's really good on the defensive boards, but isn't too impactful on the offensive boards. Don't get me wrong; he is clearly the best offensive rebounder on the team. But he isn't like Blake Griffin, or anything. Moses did explode on Wednesday night against Texas Tech, so we'll have to watch out for any possible carryover momentum.

Keiton Page G -- A short, white guy who likes shooting the three. A lot. Even though he comes off the bench, he comes in and plays a bunch of point guard, sliding Eaton over to SG. He is their fourth major contributor shooting over 40% from three (43% in 91 shots, for Keiton), and is also pretty good at not turning the ball over. Besides that, though, not much else. Mostly, he's just another damn good shooter.

The Keys

  1. Keep Byron Eaton Out of the Lane -- As I've said numerous times, the key to stopping Oklahoma State's offense is to limit there three-point opportunities. That's how they beat you. The easiest way to do this is to keep Byron Eaton out of the lane. Without the drive-and-kicks, assuming there are no defensive lapses at least, and there shouldn't be a whole lot of open threes to pass around. Sure, they'll still fire them up, but they won't be the good, very makable looks that scare you. This is on Sherron. He hasn't had his shot in awhile (i.e. the past two games), but I don't much care if it still doesn't show as long as he keeps Byron out of the freakin' lane. Keep Eaton out of the lane, you can keep the rest of the perimeter defenders on the three-point shooters, and thier offense will stagnate.
  2. An Effective Performance From the Morris Twins -- The easy, predictable way to go with this whole height differential is Cole Aldrich. But, just like Nebraska, I think he'll struggle with the complete lack of height. No one to bang up against, no one to muscle with. Just a bunch of short little guys. No, instead, it'll be up to the Morris twins to continue their mini, three-game surge to productivity. They should be able to live entirely off of the offensive glass; if they can, the game could very likely be over. At the very least, play solid D on the perimeter against Muonelo and the other three-point shooters. But, seriously, I bet they go apeshit again. Not quite as efficient as Monday night, but another really good game.
  3. Make Your Free Throws -- Actually, we've been incredibly better from the charity stripe recently, and it needs to continue against Oklahoma State. They foul you a bunch, but if you miss the freebies that come with the foul, it doesn't mean much. We have to knock 'em down when provided with the opportunity. Obviously, making every one is an unrealistic goal, but we should make a good, solid 80%. It's at home, you get to hear "Whoosh!" when you make it, all is fun. Make your freebies, Okie State really can't stop you with anything they do on D, game over.

Who to Watch For

Finally, in the KP Preview's most recent segment, we talk about a player on each team that could have a big game. Against Baylor, in the feature's debut, I correctly predicted a breakout game from the Morris twins (yes, I'm still incredibly proud of myself for that one). Well, today for Kansas, I'm going out even farther on a limb.

Obi Muonelo F -- This one isn't a surprise, though. Muonelo has matchup problem written all over him, and while the Morris twins and Little (or the Law Firm) will do all right, he'll still get some open looks in transition and such way out on the wing. And, being a 41% shooter from out there and all, he'll make a bunch of them. I'm fine with a big performance from him, as long as we contain James Anderson (I'm looking at you, Brady) and generally keep Byron Eaton out of the lane. Those two things happen, and we should be A-OK, no matter what Muonelo does.

Travis Releford G -- OK, here is my thinking. There are a couple of reasons. First off, Bill today said that he wants to rest Brady more, and either Mario or Travis will start seeing more time at the 3. Given the fact that Oklahoma State is incredibly small, I doubt this is the game that NCHCBS introduces Mario to the 3. So, I bet he'll play a bunch of 4. That leaves Travis. The other reason is, all year long, Travis Releford has played the best in transition or loose-ball situations. Basically, whenever there is no set play or anything to run, just when a basketball is on the move and you have to react, is when he is at his best. He's an instinctual kind of basketball player, I suppose. With Okie State's propensity to get out and run, I figure there will be a lot of fast break opportunities on offense and defense for Travis, chances for him to shine.

I don't want to get too ahead of myself, here, but I'll bet he has a career game.


More tomorrow in the OGT, slated to appear at 1:30 Lawrence time.