On Sunday, March Madness brackets were released, as Oklahoma State was ranked as a No. 4 seed in the Midwest region. Being ranked No. 4 came as quite a surprise to many despite losing the Big 12 Championship game to Texas, considering Oklahoma State beat 3-seed West Virginia twice in their last two matchups.
While many fans may feel as if the NCAA has a bias against Oklahoma State, there’s no time to be thinking about it, as OSU will play 13-seed Liberty, Friday in Indianapolis. Liberty comes into March Madness with a 23-5 record, after winning the ASUN title game against North Alabama, 79-75. As the Cowboys look for their first March Madness victory since 2009, there are a few keys to be addressed before playing one of the best defensive teams in the NCAA.
No. 1: “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”
Oklahoma State’s biggest offensive strength this season has been with their inside scoring. With Cade Cunningham, Kalib Boone and the emergence of Avery Anderson carving up opposing defenders inside, 54% of all points scored in their past five games have come from the paint. While Liberty has the third lowest average in the NCAA in points allowed per game, one of their biggest defensive weaknesses has been containing the paint.
When analyzing Liberty’s stats, their biggest weakness is with the lack of rim protection. This season, Liberty ranks 285th out of 347 in the NCAA in blocks per game, at just 2.3.. With the Flames lack of rim protection, it is crucial for the Cowboys to score over 60% of their points from the paint, getting to the free throw line early on.
No.2: Lock up the perimeter
Excluding the Big 12 Championship game against Texas, the Cowboys perimeter defense has almost been on a lockdown level. Liberty’s offense lives and dies by the 3-pointers, averaging over 26.4 attempts per game. Leading the offensive charge for the Flames is Darius McGhee. McGhee has been an offensive flamethrower for the Flames, averaging 15.6 points per game, while shooting 41% from deep on eight attempts. The sharpshooting doesn’t end there, as both Elijah Cuffee and Keegan McDowell are shooting over 40% from outside as well.
Their consistent deep shooting is why Liberty has the sixth highest offensive rating in the NCAA, 116.0, Liberty’s offense has flamed out when shots aren’t going in. In all five of Liberty’s losses this season, perimeter shooting has been the main culprit, shooting 27% on 26.6 attempts per game. Darius McGhee has also played a vital reason in all of the Flames losses, shooting 33% from the field, as well as 21% from three. With Cade Cunningham and his seven-foot wingspan covering Mcghee, controlling the perimeter will be vital for OSU to advance.
No. 3: Crash the glass
Besides games against Texas, Oklahoma State has improved with their rebounding capabilities. With Issac Likekele back to full health, rebounding will be one of the biggest keys for OSU. When going up against Liberty, the Flames are only successful when out rebounding their opponents. Four out the five losses for the Flames have come when being outrebounded, going 3-4 when giving up 31 or more rebounds.
Luckily for the Cowboys, OSU has been tested to the max on its rebounding abilities, having to go up against players like Jericho Sims, Derek Culver and Mark Vital, all top five rebounders in the Big 12, over the past two weeks. Throughout the season, OSU has had over 20 games of grabbing 31 or more rebounds, meaning Liberty will have to step up to the plate in order to keep themselves in this game.