A Coaching Tree Grows in Stillwater…

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2016

West Virginia’s renaissance under Bob Huggins is by now a familiar story — perennially relevant hoops brand endures an uncharacteristic drought of postseason success, only to right itself with an overhaul of the team’s identity focused on frenzied defense, relentless offensive rebounding, a rare degree of unselfishness and staggering depth. Some 1,100 miles away, though, Brad Underwood – a former disciple of Huggins — is hard at work resurrecting Oklahoma State in a similar fashion.

Brad Underwood is Up to Plenty of Good in Stillwater (USA Today Images)

Brad Underwood is Up to Plenty of Good in Stillwater (USA Today Images)

Last Saturday, Underwood’s Cowboys dominated Wichita State 93-76 at Intrust Bank Arena to move to 9-2 on the season. The result didn’t get much national attention because of a surplus of good games that afternoon, but Oklahoma State dismantled a team that had gone 116 home games without allowing so much as 80 points to an opponent. The victory gave a significant boost to Oklahoma State’s non-conference resume in the wake of missed opportunities against North Carolina and Maryland, and come Big 12 play, opponents would be ill-advised to overlook the Cowboys in much the same way they overlooked the Mountaineers two seasons ago.

Now, Underwood wasn’t involved in West Virginia’s transformation over the last few seasons, but he seems to have taken a page from their new-look playbook during his first year in Stillwater. It would be unfair to compare this season’s Cowboys to Huggins’ current iteration of “Press Virginia,” but a quick statistical look shows that a more sensible comparison might be the Mountaineers of 2014-15 — the first go-round for Huggins’ new system:


Both teams utilize tight defenses that are exemplified by high turnover, steal and foul rates as well as the average length of their defensive possessions, but it’s worth noting that while the trademark of West Virginia’s press it their penchant for guarding the length of the court, Oklahoma State’s defense tends to pick up at midcourt. On the other end of the floor, the two teams get after it on the offensive glass and draw whistles on a regular basis. It should also be noted that the Pokes’ current shooting and playmaking ability provides a slight edge on Press Virginia I, which relied heavily on second-chance opportunities to generate points.

If you follow Big 12 hoops, you’ve gotten to know Phil Forte and Jawun Evans over the years — both are hyper-efficient guards who have thrived even more with Underwood’s uptempo style. To help shoulder the physical demands of the faster pace, the Cowboys have leaned on freshmen Lindy Waters (21.4 MPG), Brandon Averette (15.3 MPG) and Thomas Dziagwa (10.1 MPG). Against Wichita State, this trio contributed 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting in a hostile road environment, suggesting that while they’re likely to take some lumps in league play, they may not be as fazed by the heightened competition that typically humbles young and inexperienced players.

The Cowboys aren’t without their weaknesses, of course. The low post continues to be an adventure on both ends of the floor, marked by the absence of a true paint presence and a sky-high foul rate. In other words, Thomas Walkup isn’t walking through that door. Due to those factors, among others, TeamRankings.com currently gives the Cowboys just a 42 percent chance of making the NCAA Tournament. There’s certainly plenty of work to be done in Stillwater, but don’t be surprised if, come March, we’re looking at a familiar reawakening from a traditional basketball power.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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