In the NCAA Tournament, the field has been cut down to 16 teams, and those teams are referred to as the "Sweet Sixteen." Washington State and Oklahoma State are among the last 16 teams of the NIT, and it is sad that there hasn't been a fancy name for that.
Henceforth the second round of the NIT (I refuse to say "NIT Tournament" because the T already stands for tournament and that bugs the heck out of me. Just like on my Comcast channel guide when it says "MLB Baseball") shall be known as the "Neat Sixteen."
So welcome to the Neat Sixteen basketball fans! Thanks to Northwestern's victory over 1-seeded Boston College, the Cougars and Cowboys are playing for the right to host a game in the yet-to-be-named round of eight.
Let's take a look at what WSU can expect this evening at Friel Court.
When the Cowboys have the ball...
The Cowboys performed very well on the offensive end during a non-conference schedule that featured some decent opponents in Gonzaga, Virginia Tech, and Alabama. However, in conference play OSU's offense has been abysmal. Oklahoma State ranked 11th out 12 teams in offensive efficiency during conference play.
OSU only posted single-game efficiency ratings over 100 (average) on the road twice in conference play. The last time it happened was January 29th. The Cowboys didn't win a single road conference game all year (and have lost 8 straight true road games overall). Against Big 12 opponents, Oklahoma State struggled mightily, placing last in eFG% and 3P% (shooting only 26% from three).
The Cowboys' two saving graces are an ability to stay far away from their biggest weakness and their frequent trips to the free throw line. Oklahoma State only shoots three pointers on 26.5% of their field goal attempts, 307th in the country. The Cowboys were second in the Big 12 at getting to the free throw line, posting a 47.5 FTR in conference.
The good news for the Cougs is that OSU's biggest offensive strength has also been WSU's biggest defensive strength. Washington State led the Pac-10 in free throw rate allowed during conference play. Additionally, because of Oklahoma State's increased reliance on the two-point shot, WSU's stellar 2-pt defense (second in the Pac-10) will come into play. It would appear that Oklahoma State does not possess the ability to attack what was Wazzu's achilles heel during conference play...3 point shooting. Now that I have said that, the Cowboys will undoubtedly have the game of their lives from beyond the arc.
The key offensive performers for OSU are Marshall Moses and Keiton Page. Moses is the major interior presence. He has posted a 111.2 efficiency rating and is a good offensive rebounder. Page is reasonably good at getting to the line, and is almost automatic when he gets there (90%). He shoots a lot of three pointers, and while his percentage isn't all that great (31.5%), Page has the potential to be streaky.
When the Cougs have the ball...
The Cowboys are very good at stealing the ball. They ranked second in Big 12 play in steal% and that helped them turn opponents over 20.0% of the time (4th in conference). The leading "thief" on the team is surprisingly 6-8 Matt Pilgrim, who steals the ball on 3.8% of opponents possessions.
The absolute thorn in OSU's side on defense has been their propensity to put opposing team's on the line. They were last in the Big 12 in free throw rate allowed, giving up over half a free throw per field goal attempt. The national average is about 3 free throws for every eight field goal attempts. What made matters worse for the Cowboys was that their opponents shot lights out from the line, knocking down 76.5% of their attempts (insert joke about needing a free throw defense coach here).
You may see there be a significant foul disparity in the Cougs favor in the beginning of the game, as Oklahoma State is significantly more foul proned than WSU. This also may mean the refs decide to even up the fouls in the second half. This is your warning.
WSU has kept themselves afloat offensively in conference play with solid shooting inside the arc. Oklahoma State has been about average in defending the two point shot, but they also do not have a significantly imposing presence down low. The opportunity is there for DeAngelo Casto to have a good offensive game.
The Cougs are the favorite in this one and they do have the better team. KenPom predicts a 71-64 WSU win with 75% confidence. However, their advantage is not so great that they can play poorly and still scrape for a win. Oklahoma State is very aware that a victory will have them back home, where they play pretty well, with a chance to get to Madison Square Garden. They will bring their best effort.
It seems like WSU comes to play their best when they are in an emotionally charged atmosphere (see the Husky games, the Gonzaga game). Let's hope the ZZU CRU is rested up from Spring Break and ready to bring it. I don't know why they wouldn't be excited, a win means at least one more chance to watch Klay Thompson play (let's also make sure the "one more year" chants are frequent and loud).