Oklahoma State is in Indianapolis to take on Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournamnent. So, how comfortable are the Cowboys on the eve of their first NCAA game with head coach Brad Underwood. Are the Cowboys ready for Big Ten Tournament Champion Michigan?
You have the maize and blue and the orange and black, so Irish eyes likely won't be smiling on either of these teams on St. Patrick's Day as the Oklahoma State Cowboys (20-12) take on Michigan (24-11) in the 7-10 game in the Midwest Regional at 11:15 a.m. in Indianapolis. Both teams went through their workout today in the Banker's Life Fieldhouse. Both teams had an hour to shoot around and then also had their time on stage in front of the cameras and microphones. In a repeat question asked several times since Sunday's selection announcement, Cowboys senior guard Phil Forte III was asked about Michigan being the focus and having the spotlight on them after the events of late last week and the way they handled it running through the Big Ten Tournament.
"Rightfully so. The circumstances they had to go through, they've handled it very well and kind of made it a national story," Forte answered. "The way they played in the Big Ten tournament, they're one of the hottest teams in the country, so coming in, we just have to try to focus in on our game plan and just take it four minutes at a time and really try to focus in on what the coaches are telling us."
If any school in the country can appreciate a critical travel situation, especially involving air travel then Oklahoma State can. The 2001 plane crash still seems more recent and more immediate to many in the Oklahoma State family and that was followed by the 2011 loss of Cowgirls basketball head coach Kurt Budke and his assistant Miranda Serna in a plane crash on a recruiting trip to Arkansas.
Tradition means a lot at both these schools, Michigan and Oklahoma State last met in the NCAA Tournament when Eddie Sutton coached in his first NCAA Tournament back against the Fab Five in Lexington, Kentucky. The Cowboys didn't win that game, but they won a lot of NCAA games under Coach Sutton, but have won only one since Sutton left the program.
"I think we have a long history at Oklahoma State of success in the NCAA tournament. And obviously, Coach Sutton's Final four runs, you go back a little further into the Coach Iba's time and winning national championships," Underwood said citing his history correctly. "This should not be a foreign place for Oklahoma State basketball. The history of our program proves that out. I think, at different times, programs go through little lapses or whatever it may be, but we're excited to be here. I think you go into every game with the opportunity to win it. I think no matter whether you have a 16 seed or number 16 by your name or have a ten like we do, you have a great opportunity in today's basketball world, and I'll look back to my team last year.
"We were a 14 and beat a three," Underwood continued. "It's a great opportunity. And Oklahoma State belongs in the tournament and we should be happy for us, not something that just happens every so often."
Okay, Oklahoma State belongs in Indianapolis. I agree. Michigan belongs too, so how do the Cowboys engineer making their stay longer than that of the Wolverines. Part of that is handling the emotions.
"I just take it as just another game, you know, just coming out here, just having fun, just playing my game. I'm glad to have another game with my teammates," said star guard Jawun Evans.
"We've been in that situation before, playing in the Big 12," added Forte on being the underdog. "We play a lot of good teams. So it's not anything we're really worried about. It's more just us going out there and playing the game that we're capable of playing and making sure we go out and execute the game plan that the coaches draw up."
The other part of it will be handling John Beilein's Michigan offense and even defensive schemes including the pick and pop game.
"They do a tremendous job of reading whatever you do. I think whatever way you choose to guard them, it's to a certain extent, you pick your poison," Underwood explained. "Teams that have switched can give up rebounds. Teams that don't force you into rotations and you're talking about four guys or five guys on the perimeter that have great spacing.
"That's what makes what they do so difficult is John does an incredible job of spacing the floor," Underwood continued. "They force you an extra step or two because they can shoot it, and then you've got a guy like Irvin who is a very good driver. So you pick your poison with whichever you choose, and you've got to make it difficult and not allow them to be as comfortable as they want to be, and then you've got to contest shots."
One suggestion and I'm pretty sure it is in the Cowboys scouting report of answers for tomorrow is pick up the pace, make Michigan play just a little faster than they'd like to.