Oklahoma State to put Michigan through its paces
Ann Arbor — Who is going to set the pace?
Michigan has proven over the course of the season it can push the tempo, slow it down in the half court and even switch gears during a game.
But when the seventh-seeded Wolverines take on No. 10 seed Oklahoma State in Friday’s NCAA Tournament first-round game in Indianapolis, it’ll be a chess match to decide which team dictates the play.
“Coming from the conference that they play in (Big 12), that’s one of the most uptempo conferences in the country and I think we’ve been great in transition defense over the year,” senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. said.
“We love to get out and run and I think what makes this team so successful is we’re able to adapt to each and every game. We can play slow ball, we can play fast ball and I think that’s what makes us successful. I don’t really have a preference. I like to run, but overall I just take what the game gives us.”
And what Oklahoma State is going to give Michigan is not much time to think, similar to what the Wolverines experienced at UCLA in early December.
Against the Bruins, there was no time to dwell on any mistake, missed shot or failed opportunity during the back-and-forth affair because the ball was immediately heading the other way. UCLA’s quick-strike offense wiped out a seven-point deficit in the final minute before halftime and turned a five-point game into a double-digit lead within a blink of an eye in the second half.
“Events can change quickly,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “While we do want to run and we want to take the advantages of that, we got to make them spend some time with their offense so that they don’t get easy looks.”
That’s easier said than done considering that Oklahoma State likes to work quickly and get off shots early in the shot clock. Behind sophomore Jawun Evans, whom Beilein compared to Minnesota guard and All-Big Ten first team selection Nate Mason, the Cowboys are averaging 84.5 points on 45.5 percent shooting, 63 field goal attempts and 10.8 offensive rebounds over their last six games.
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The Cowboys also rank 15th nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage at 40.1 percent and are unselfish on offense. Starting guards Jeffrey Carroll and Phil Forte are each shooting at least 42 percent from beyond the arc and have combined to make 140 3-pointers this season.
For comparison, the Wolverines put up at least 63 shots in a game once (74 field goal attempts in its overtime loss at Iowa on Jan. 1) and Walton and Duncan Robinson, Michigan’s top two long-range shooters, have combined for 147 made 3-pointers.
“They are really downhill. There’s some downhill guards that don’t see the floor and (Evans) sees the floor like crazy,” Beilein said. “They’re hungry, they’re good and I never talk about our seeds but they’re probably more like a six or a seven seed because of the way they played this year.”
Michigan’s biggest obstacle to Oklahoma State’s get-out-and-go style is Walton. Beilein said during his recent hot streak, the aspect of Walton’s game that jumps out has been his pace of play and effectiveness on defensive switches.
“It just comes with experience. When you’re younger you just play fast because you feel like if you don’t go at a fast pace the opportunity dwindles,” Walton said. “So being able to be patient and outthinking guys and just playing at your own speed is vital for me.
“It’s about execution and being in position to even execute in the first place.”
And after executing game after game against some of the top Big Ten teams en route to the conference tournament title, Michigan will face an Oklahoma State team that’s similar in size and has only two players taller than 6-foot-8.
But even with Michigan’s flexibility, height advantage in the frontcourt and recent stretch of success, Walton said it’s no time to become complacent.
“I know we got a lot of momentum but records are wiped and one bad performance can cost us an entire game,” Walton said. “What’s happened in the past is in the past at this point. It’s about continuing to build going forward.”
No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State
What: First-round game in NCAA Tournament
Tip-off: 12:15 p.m. Friday
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Records: Michigan 24-11, Oklahoma State 20-12