By: Will Burchfield
Michigan is the feel-good story of March Madness — but one with an expiring shelf life, according to basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb.
The seven-seeded Wolverines take on the ten-seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
“I’m fascinated to see it, I think it’ll be a great game,” Gottlieb told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. “But I do think Oklahoma State’s going to win.”
Disclaimer: Gottlieb is a graduate of Oklahoma State, where he played basketball for three years. But he isn’t just picking the Cowboys based on personal ties.
“The reason I like the draw for Oklahoma State is Michigan comes in with all the emotion of last week,” Gottlieb said, referring to the Wolverines’ Big Ten Tournament triumph after a near-tragic plane accident, “and you’re like, ‘Damn, now we got Oklahoma State’ — who shouldn’t be a 10 seed. They should be probably an eight, nine, maybe a seven seed themselves, and one that matches up really, really well (with Michigan).
“Any of the things that Michigan does well, I think Oklahoma State does as well or better. For example, Derrick Walton’s been probably the best player in the Big 10 over the last month, but I frankly just think Jawun Evans is better.”
Jawun Evans is Oklahoma State’s All-Big 12 sophomore point guard who led the team with 19 points and 6.2 assists per game. Like Walton, Evans has played his best basketball of late, averaging 22.7 points and 8.7 points over the Cowboys’ last seven games.
“I would say he’s the most similar (college) player to Chris Paul since Chris Paul,” said Gottlieb. “He’s incredible off of ball screens, he’s a very good shooter-scorer, also an adept passer. He’s not a great defensive player, but that’s probably the point, Chris wasn’t a great defensive player in college either. So I’m saying Chris Paul in college, that’s who this kid is.”
Evans was the driving force of an Oklahoma State offense that scored a whopping 85.5 points per game.
“Evans is incredible with the ball. Everything they do offensively, in transition or the half court, emanates from him,” Gottlieb said.
But the Cowboys aren’t a one-man show.
“They have Phil Forte, a fifth-year senior, who has deep, deep, deep range. I mean, he’ll shoot a ball from a step inside the mid-court line and nobody will flinch. They have Jeffrey Carroll, a three-man who’s been the most improved player on this team, 6’6, very athletic, good three-point shooter. And then Leyton Hammonds, who wasn’t healthy early in the season, at the four and the five, really athletic, can shoot the three.”
As a team, Oklahoma State shoots over 40 percent from three, led by Forte (42 percent), Carroll (43 percent) and freshmen Lindy Waters III (44 percent) and Brandon Averette (46 percent).
Oklahoma State, like Michigan, struggled out of the gate in conference play, but rebounded to win 10 of its final 13 games in the Big 12.
“When they started the year, they were pressing, they were pressuring, they were ball-hawks, and they were playing quite well. Then they got into the Big 12, a really good conference with very good guards, and they just got exposed defensively. So they backed off a little bit defensively, played more solid and really took off from there,” Gottlieb said. “They struggled against the top of the league, but outside the top of the league they were easily the third- or fourth-best team in this league at the end of the season.”
Both the Cowboys and Wolverines are looking forward to Friday’s showdown.
So is Gottlieb, who believes his alma mater is prepared to show Michigan the door.