The Oklahoma State Cowboys are locked and loaded for the month of March. After back-to-back wins against the projected No.3 seed the West Virginia Mountaineers, Oklahoma State is approaching their peak at the perfect time. With multiple offensive weapons and a solid defense, can the Cowboys go on a tear in the NCAA Tournament?
Ranked 24th in defensive efficiency, Oklahoma State has a formidable defense. Against the Cowboys, opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 47% , which is 49th in the country. Oklahoma State also holds teams to 41% shooting and 32.2% from three.
Also, the Cowboys force 14.4 turnovers and gather 7.4 steals per game. Oklahoma State does not foul often as they foul on only 19.8% of plays, which is ranked 46th. In turn, free throw shooting becomes a big advantage for the Cowboys considering they attempt 21.6 free throws per game.
Peaking at the Right Time
The main reason why Oklahoma State can go far in the NCAA Tournament is their trajectory. In the extremely tough Big 12, the Cowboys have thrived. Oklahoma State is an impressive 9-5 against quad one teams.
The key contributor Isaac Likekele just returned from injury. In the 2020-21 season, Likekele averages 9.8 points and 6.9 rebounds. In his return against West Virginia, Likekele shot 66% while scoring 10 points and crashed the glass with seven rebounds. Getting this level of production back at the beginning of postseason play is huge. Without Likekele, the Cowboys defeated Oklahoma twice, West Virginia once and played close with the Big 12 Champion Baylor. The Cowboys will only improve with Likekele’s return.
In the last month Oklahoma State has beaten:
Current #12 Arkansas
#17 Texas Tech
#7 Oklahoma (twice)
#6 West Virginia
What a run for the Pokes
— Bryan Keating (@KOCOKeating) March 6, 2021
Guards that can completely dominate games in the NCAA Tournament are extremely scary. The Cowboys could have two scoring guards capable of taking over games. Anderson has been a reliable scorer averaging 11.1 points. However, the sophomore guard is capable of more. Recently, Anderson has erupted on the offensive end. In the past five games, he is averaging 16.6 points while shooting 55.6% on shot attempts. In back-to-back games, Anderson scored 31 and 17 against West Virginia. The 6-foot-3 guard made play after play in crunch time versus West Virginia.
Cunningham, the projected number one pick, is virtually unstoppable. He averages 19.7 points per game shooting 45.5% and a deadly 42.5% from three. The true freshman guard is a special player possessing the ability to do anything needed. February 27th was a rough night for the Oklahoma Sooners. Cunningham lit the Sooner defense up with 40 points and shot a blazing 57.1%. Between Cunningham and Anderson, Oklahoma State has some gifted scoring guards.
Oklahoma State has been considered a four seed for awhile now. With their recent play, they could be moving up to a three seed. The Cowboys have a very high ceiling led by Cunningham and an emerging Anderson. Also, Oklahoma State is nearly firing on all cylinders right now, and with Likekele’s return they could be complete.
The Sweet 16 is a reasonable target for Oklahoma State when considering their recent play. There is room for improvement though, they have the talent to make an Elite 8 or Final 4. With Friday’s matchup against the Baylor Bears, Oklahoma State’s progress can be gauged. Is their ceiling a Sweet 16 or can they get to an Elite 8 and beyond?
All stats courtesy of ESPN, Kenpom, NCAA and Team Rankings.