The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Canisius Golden Griffins this afternoon to advance to a matinee match-up tomorrow with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Last time I wrote a preview, I was blamed for a narrow loss to Michigan where, clearly, the only explanation is that the Wolverines used my recitation of their actual offensive statistics for motivation.
I will not make the same mistake this time. We will not underestimate the winners of the 1946 National Championship.
The Wild West
When the FBI came knocking a little over a year ago, Oklahoma State was one of the first programs implicated. Lamont Evans, recently promoted to associate head coach, was fired after allegations emerged that he was accepting monthly bribes to funnel players to certain agents. Just a few weeks ago, Brian Bowen Sr. testified that Evans offered $150,000 in cash, $8,000 for a car, and money to buy a house in exchange for the commitment of Brian Bowen Jr. As of now, Evans’ trial is scheduled to begin in April.
Despite the above, Oklahoma State grabbed some positive headlines last year when the Cowboys defeated then-#7 Kansas on the road at Phog Allen and then again when the Jayhawks came to Stillwater. The Cowboys also came away with impressive victories over #6 Texas Tech, #4 Oklahoma, and #19 Florida State. However, despite these marquee wins, the Pokes were on the outside looking in on
Syracuse Selection Sunday and ended their season with a loss to Western Kentucky in the NIT. Shortly thereafter, the team’s top three scorers (Jeffrey Carroll, Kendall Smith, and Mitchell Solomon) graduated.
Based on the attrition that has impacted both teams, this game will feature a lot of youth and inexperience. Oklahoma State returns juniors Cameron McGriff and Lindy Waters while bringing in six (?!) new freshman. The Cowboys are also relying heavily on junior Thomas Dziagwa, who was seen his minutes triple from last year. Coach Mike Boynton (who began his coaching career as an assistant at Furman...) is really riding his starters, with the young bench seeing some of the lowest minutes in the country.
The season got off to a rough start for the Pokes when they lost by a bucket to Charlotte, KenPom’s 304th ranked team. Since then, they’ve tallied wins over UTSA, Charleston, and Memphis. The Pokes are led by junior Cameron McGriff. McGriff averages 17.7 points a game in a little over little 33 minutes. Shooting just over 46% from three, he also averages nearly 8 rebounds a game. He’s incredibly versatile and is essentially a jack-of-all-trade for the Pokes.
Ball-handling duties for the Pokes will likely fall to Miami (OH) transfer Michael Weathers. Weathers, named freshman of the year in the MAC two years ago, he led his prior team in scoring, steals, blocks, and assists. While the season is young, Weathers has posted impressive stats averaging 9 points a game at an efficient 63% from the field.
Villanova will need to watch out for sharpshooter Thomas Dziagwa, who is shooting 61% from deep on nearly seven attempts a game. His offense exists nearly entirely behind the arc and, if he gets hot, it could be a nightmare for the Wildcats. In fact, the Cowboys’ weakness is interior depth and size as their two big men prospects are both freshman projects. As such, unsurprisingly, the Pokes like to shoot from deep and open up the floor. Oklahoma State is shooting 44% from deep as a team, good for 18th in the country. If Villanova gives the Cowboys space, this could become an old fashioned western shootout.
Time to Pony Up
This game is another chance for the struggling Wildcats to measure themselves against a Power-5 opponent. The Cowboys are predicted to finish in the basement of the Big 12 and, if the Wildcats consider themselves even a shadow of what they were last year, this is a game you have to win. With the losses to Michigan and Furman (and Kansas looming), quality out of conference wins are going to be difficult to come by at this point. While Oklahoma State will likely not count as an impressive win (who knows, maybe it will), a loss to the Pokes may not age well for a team looking to improve its seeding.
The game tips off tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN.