January 26, 2009

A storm in Stillwater: Bedlam Big Monday

There's a storm coming to Stillwater tonight.

While a sheet of ice could make for a hard time getting home, Blake Griffin could make for a hard time for Oklahoma State in the first round of Bedlam. The No. 5 Sooners skate to Stillwater looking for their sixth win in eight games against the Cowboys. The game will be featured nationally on ESPN's Big Monday and will tip off at 8 p.m.

The Pokes (13-5 overall, 2-2 Big 12) come into this one after picking up a nice road win against Nebraska on Saturday. The Cowboys and Cornhuskers needed extra time to decide the game, with OSU able to edge NU out thanks to the superb play of Marshall Moses, who scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. James Anderson has 18 points of his own while three others scored in double figures.

OSU winning on the road is important and the win on Saturday helps to overcome the home loss to Missouri last Wednesday, but a win tonight in Big Monday could be a signature victory the team needs to make a case for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament in March. That will be no easy task, however. The Sooners come in with a 19-1 record (5-0 Big 12) and feature one of the best players in the game in Griffin. The Oklahoma City native averages 22.2 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. He's also 6-10, which means he'll be a big matchup problem for Travis Ford's merry band of guards. The only player who is in his neighborhood height-wise that sees any action for the Cowboys are Malcoln Kirkland and Anthony Brown, who are both only 6-8.

So how can the Cowboys tackle the Sooners? Letting Griffin do his thing while containing the other threats OU has might be the best way to go. Guards Willie Warren (15.1 ppg, 2.8 assists per game) and Tony Crocker (10.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg) are capable of big nights while guard Austin Johnson (8.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) is adept at distributing the ball.

As a team, the Sooners average 80 ppg and allow 64.8 ppg. The Pokes score 85.4 and allow 74.1 ppg, so OU's defense looks to be the unit that could factor most into the final outcome of the game. OU's defense has allowed a .376 opponent shooting percentage so far this season, so they'll have a challenge in keeping OSU below its norm of a .470 shooting percentage.

This will be a tough game for OSU to win, no doubt. OU is strong inside and OSU doesn't really have much to match down low. But the Cowboys have two advantages: homecourt and hot shooting. The Cowboys are tough to beat inside Gallagher-Iba Arena and if they get the hot hand early in the game from outside, things could be interesting. But just the same, if they start off shooting poorly it could be a very long night. The task against the Sooners looks insurmountable, but OSU has enough scoring options to keep OU's defense honest. If OSU can figure out a way to keep other players not named Griffin from hurting it, the Pokes could pull it off. But OU is the real deal this year and it doesn't look like the Sooners will suffer many losses this season.

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