One of these programs is the only one in the entire NCAA Tournament that is top-10 in the nation in 3-point percentage (38.8) and 2-point shooting (56.7%). To add to its opponents’ woes, it is lethal at the line, too, sinking 77.8% of its free throws, among the country’s top 20 at the stripe.
No, that squad is not the 20-8 Oklahoma State Cowboys and 6-foot-8 NBA-bound freshman guard Cade Cunningham.
That team is Liberty (23-5), which will give its Big 12 foe a mountain of mayhem inside Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, especially from the perimeter.
- Oklahoma State -7.5 vs. Liberty, Total 140.5, Friday, 6:25 pm ET
- Action: Liberty +7.5
In all of college hoops, Gonzaga sports the longest winning streak, at 30 games that stretches to last season. San Diego State has won its past 14, Colgate 13.
Liberty’s skein is 12, the fourth-longest stretch in the country. Sports betting aficionados should take notice.
|DraftKings Sportsbook Promo Code & App Review||Point Spread||Moneyline||Totals|
|Oklahoma State||-7.5 (-110)||-345||O 140.5 (-110)|
|Liberty||+7.5 (-110)||+275||U 140.5 (-110)|
If the Cowboys are wise, they will heed that success, not take the Flames lightly and respect the opponent in the coliseum.
If not, Oklahoma State is in a world of trouble. The line was sliced from 9.5 to 7.5 within the 48 hours after Selection Sunday revealed the March Madness brackets, and we say that the money movement has been correct. NCAA odds can be fickle, but savvy bettors will pick up on the trends and capitalize.
Liberty’s calling card is, well, shooting well from everywhere. Mostly, it takes a lot of 3-pointers. Of all of its field-goal attempts, 47.4% are from beyond the arc, the 15th-highest rate in the land.
In the Flames’ past seven games, they’ve sunk 79 of 171 (46.2%) from downtown. That’s quite a barrage, and the main instigator is 5-9 guard Darius McGhee, a junior from Roxboro, N.C.
Over that stretch, McGhee has hit 36 of 67 (53.7%) from long range. On the season, he has sunk 40.3% from the perimeter. At the line, he’s an 84.8% shooter. He will run rings around the Cowboys.
The Atlantic Sun player of the year tweets out stuff like “3 … 2 … 1… Action.” He has a keen feel for center stage and the bright lights, and he delivers.
Clash Of Styles
Cunningham will cruise around the perimeter and search for openings.
Inside the perimeter, he will seek sophomore forward Kalib Boone (64.5% 2-point shooter), freshman forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (52.4%) and sophomore guard Avery Anderson (52.7%).
In the Big 12, though, Oklahoma State hit only 71.1% of its freebies. Liberty has that edge, a vital points differential to help cover the spread.
The Cowboys also have a penchant for turnovers, but they showed the stickiest 3-point defense (keeping the other guys at 32%) in the conference.
Can the Flames have early success from long range, and can they slow down the Big 12’s fastest squad? Do empty possessions pile up for Oklahoma State? This is a grand clash of styles, very slow against very fast. Taking the points means the answer is yes to those questions.
McGhee’s key partners include senior guard Chris Parker (double-digits in points in eight of nine games, 55 in his past four), sophomore forward Kyle Rode (at least 10 points in six of his previous eight games), and sophomore forward Blake Preston, a 63.2% shooter.
Liberty is deliberate (its average possessions of 63.1 were lowest in the A-Sun and among the 10 fewest in the country), efficient (the best offensive efficiency in its conference) and smart, with the lowest turnover percentage, at 15.2, in its league.
These Flames aren’t just content to be here, either. Two NCAA Tournaments ago, well-traveled coach Ritchie McKay guided them to their first victory on the game’s grand stage, an 80-76 triumph over Mississippi State in San Jose.
That gives McKay the all-time NCAA Tourney victory edge over Oklahoma State boss Michael Boynton, at 1-0. In overall games coached (at major programs), McKay is up, 539-128. That’s an invaluable experience advantage.
In 12 minutes off the bench in San Jose against Mississippi State, McGhee missed the sole shot he attempted in that game. In this one, his impact will be much greater.
Protecting The Ball
This will come down to taking care of the ball, and Liberty does that better—much, much better—than the Cowboys.
The Flames turn it over only 15.6% of the time, a top-20 national rate. Seven of their top eight players average more assists than turnovers. On the season, their ratio is 1.498, seventh-best in the country. Over their past three games, that’s improved to 1.633.
Oklahoma State’s season ratio is 0.830, among the game’s bottom-20-percentile. Only two of its top nine players have a positive assists-turnovers rate, and one of those (senior guard and Ole Miss transfer Bryce Williams’s 2.00-1.85) is by a sliver.
Cunningham is a bona fide talent, but his assists-turnovers rate is a brutal 3.60-4.16. NBA millions await him. This is just another game to him, and he and his teammates will take these Flames lightly, and get burned.
Here’s the kicker … of the 68 teams in the NCAA field, Liberty is fifth with a non-steal-turnover rate of 7.0%. This is a measure of true sloppiness, and the Cowboys are 55th, at 10.3%. This game is more important to Liberty than Okie State.
Does Liberty win outright at +300 on the moneyline? That would impress, but getting 7.5 points with a team that so covets each possession screams value. (A third to a half of a spread wager, though, on that moneyline might be worthwhile.)
As for McGhee … Three, two, one. Action!