Your correspondent took in Oklahoma State's games against Kansas, @ Baylor, and West Virginia to get a feel for Michigan's first-round matchup in the tournament. These were all Okie State losses against very good teams, the first two competitive. The last not so much. None of those teams is remotely like Michigan—Kansas is super athletic, wild at times, and up-tempo, Baylor is super athletic and runs a bizarre 4-out zone in front of a seven-foot shotblocker, and West Virginia is a ruthless pressing turnover machine—but there was a limited selection on the tubes. Also Big Twelve basketball is apparently Big Twelve football just like Big Ten basketball is Big Ten football.
Evans defines Oklahoma State's style
THE FASTER AND THE FURIOUSER. Watching Oklahoma State's recent game against Kansas was a jarring experience after the Big Ten Championship game. "Methodical" is probably the best descriptor for the latter; in comparison the Big 12 game was like watching an And-One mixtape.
Oklahoma State is fast. PG Juwan Evans is fast. The color guy doing their game against Baylor early in the year repeatedly stated that Brad Underwood, the Cowboys' coach, wants his guys to get a shot up in the first seven seconds of the shot clock. They've taken this to heart. Their #87 tempo on Kenpom will feel like a jet airplane to Michigan fans, but that doesn't quite encompass it.
27% of their shots are classified by hoop-math as "transition"—ie, within the first ten seconds of the shot clock. That's a full 50% more than Michigan (18%) and 24th nationally. A lot of the teams in front of them are very bad low majors trying anything to disguise their halfcourt offenses; the only more transition-oriented teams in the tournament are Creighton, UCLA, Kentucky, and Arkansas.
Okie State is going to try to play this game at light speed.
This is a good matchup against a good team, numbers edition. Okie State is a very good ten seed according to Kenpom, and that's reason for consternation. The way they play and Michigan's previous outings against turnover-dependent Ds and transition-dependent Os should give you confidence. Some data:
- As you might expect from a team that rarely turns the ball over and largely abandons the offensive glass, Michigan's transition D is good relative to their halfcourt D. They provide very few opportunities (18% of opponent shots). Their transition eFG defense of 53% is barely worse than halfcourt (51%). Meanwhile Okie State's transition is often forced; they're only middling at converting transition opportunities.
- By contrast, when Michigan does push the ball they are lethal at 64% eFG. That's 11th nationally. Unlike Michigan, Oklahoma State has made many sacrifices on defense to make their offense so good. They crash the glass, sometimes in inexplicable situations, leading to a relatively large number of transition opportunities ceded (23%) at an efficient conversion rate (57%). Their turnover acquisition is often of the chancy variety, leading to broken rotations and open threes. They were 9th of 10 in league play at preventing threes from being launched.
- Michigan is significantly better in eFG terms in every situation—transition, half-court, late-clock, and putback—without even considering turnovers. In that department Okie State is middling on offense and very good on D; Michigan is superb on O and—surprise!—good on D.
The main worry is that Michigan gets in one of those games where the opposition rebounds half their misses. The Cowboys crush the offensive boards (#6 nationally). That will make up for a projected turnover deficit, and probably then some. Still, without an anomalous shooting performance Michigan should expect to win this game if they can acquire—or even approach—shot parity.
there is a 95% chance this was assisted or a putback
Good news, personnel department. Okie State has no post-up game. Starting C Mitchell Solomon takes some elbow jumpers and will get shots at the rim when he's provided the ball off pick-and-roll action and on putbacks. He's not going to threaten Michigan with foul trouble and incessant four foot jumpers like Isaac Haas. He doesn't create his own shots.
Ditto his backups. Seven-foot freshman Lucas N'Guessan has fallen entirely out of the rotation, so the backup 5 is 6'7" Cameron McGriff. This is not a team that is likely to get Michigan in the post foul trouble that's their bugaboo. They may in fact be more vulnerable to it than Michigan: Solomon averages a whopping 7.7 fouls per 40. For comparison, perpetually foul-beset Mo Wagner is at 4.5. Solomon is the main motive force behind those OREBs and a hypothetical absence will hurt the Cowboys on both ends despite his peripheral role in the first-shot offense.
Bad news, personnel department. Point guard Jawun Evans is fast as hell and can seemingly get in the lane against anyone.
Michigan's had trouble with gentlemen of his description for years. Derrick Walton's been awesome but I don't think Evans is a good matchup for him on D, especially in open court situations.
Forte looks like a walk-on until he hits a 35 footer
This could be a game where you see a lot of Xavier Simpson and Michigan's two-PG lineup. Okie State's SG, Phil Forte, is listed at 5'11" and is more or less Spike Albrecht after a power mushroom. Against Baylor he took and hit insanely deep threes twice, and then got himself a three just behind the arc after successfully shot-faking from about 30 feet. He's got Jimmer Fredette range. He's hitting 43% on the year from 3. He's a 95% FT shooter. You're going to take one look at the dude and think "scrub"; nope. He is Not Just A Shooter. And he's also a world-class shooter. He takes trash shots and makes them.
Since the only other backcourt player to get appreciable time is PG-of-the-future Brandon Averette, Michigan's going to have a size advantage and quickness deficit whenever X isn't on the floor.
Good news for people who love bad news. The flip side of that is there's no way Okie State can switch everything. This was the Big Ten's response to Wilson and Wagner's dual takeoffs and intermittently frustrating down the stretch. The Cowboys are going to have two guys on the court a foot shorter than Wilson and Wagner at all times and are going to have to play it straight up, or bank on their 7.7-fouls-per-40 center to check Walton while their mini-me guards try to box out.
Expect junk zones. Early in the year Okie State was picking up point guards at half-court in a half-press. That slowly evaporated over the course of the season as it got torched and the Cowboys settled back into mostly man to man; under duress they will switch to a 3-2 zone and perhaps other exotics. If Michigan runs out to a quick lead chances are high that they see an extended zone of some sort.
Irvin's D is going to get a test. "Defensive stopper Zak Irvin" is suddenly a thing and hoo boy does he have an acid test here. 6'6" wing Jeffrey Carroll lights up Kenpom leaderboards; he's a high-usage, high-efficiency wing who has been super accurate (80/59/43 shooting) and does not turn the ball over. He's a handful. Closeouts will be key: he's had all of two unassisted threes this year. He's not going to rise up on you.