After the incredible success Brad Underwood had at Stephen F. Austin, it should’ve stood to reason that whenever he left for a bigger program that it would be watched exceptionally closely.
Underwood’s three-year run at SFA-an 89-14 record, three straight NCAA Tournament trips and two NCAA memorable wins out of a league in the Southland Conference that has frequently dwelled near the bottom of Division I-put him up alongside names such as Brad Stevens and even Adolph Rupp for the best starts to a coaching career. And yet, his move to Oklahoma State this year has seemed to generate fairly little national interest in a sport where increasingly it seems all many media want to talk about are Duke, Kentucky, freshmen and how badly the sport “needs” to move to four quarters because somehow that would keep players from committing a ton of fouls (huh?).
After Underwood has coached just three games at OSU, it’s already becoming hard to ignore the Cowboys. Okie State has scored 100-plus points in all three of its games to start this season, including a resounding 117-72 rout of New Orleans Tuesday night.
The Cowboys topped 40 points just 10:02 into the game, scored 68 first-half points and certainly could’ve scored more than they did if they had wanted. No player spent more than 21 minutes on the floor, yet so crisp was their offensive execution that six players scored in double figures and a whopping 10 players scored between seven and 15 points.
Underwood has brought to Okie State the style of play that was so successful for him at Stephen F. Austin, with his fast-paced spread motion offense that includes lot of cutting and movement without the ball and his Frank Martin-influenced denial defense that specializes in forcing turnovers. Playing at Gallagher-Iba Arena, OSU was knocking down jumpers in the motion offense with clinical efficiency and also forced the Privateers into 23 turnovers. And it’s not as if UNO has never seen the plays the Cowboys were running, for it is also a member of the Southland with SFA and also returns all five starters from a year ago.
Major conference teams regularly run up scores against overmatched opponents, and the Cowboys’ three wins are over New Orleans, Campbell and Central Arkansas, so it’s way too early to anoint them the second coming of Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount teams. Still, OSU is shooting 52.2% from the field so far and forcing more than 20 turnovers per game, showing that it is executing the new system exceptionally well early on.
Oklahoma State is far from the most talented team in the Big 12; on paper, the Cowboys are probably eighth or ninth of the league’s 10 teams. Underwood showed on a repeated basis at Stephen F. Austin, though, that he could take less-athletically gifted teams and not just compete against but beat top competition. Don’t be surprised one bit if he’s doing it this year, too.
- An absolute stunner in Corvallis, Ore., as Lamar knocked off Oregon State 63-60. The Cardinals finished 11-19 last year, and that makes for a couple wins over football schools for bottom-tier Southland teams a year ago, as Nicholls State already topped Boston College last week. The Beavers had a distinct height advantage in this game against a Lamar team with only two players even as tall as 6-foot-8, but OSU committed a whopping 27 turnovers. Also of note: Stephen Thompson Jr. missed his second straight game due to a left foot injury.
- A second Pac-12 team very nearly went down at home, as UC Irvine had 25th-ranked California on the ropes but couldn’t put it away, and the Golden Bears dominated overtime to win 75-65. Cal played without three starters out with injury-Jabari Bird, Grant Mullins and Ivan Rabb-but freshman Charlie Moore picked up the slack-big time. Moore scored 38 points, breaking Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s school single-game freshman record. The Anteaters also again played without their best player, as Luke Nelson was out again with a hamstring injury.
- Freshman Kamar Baldwin delivered the dagger for Butler, hitting a 17-foot pull-up jumper with :00.4 left to give the Bulldogs a 70-68 win over Northwestern. Butler won a game in which neither team led by more than six and in which it trailed 60-54 late before rallying. Northwestern appeared to do everything right in this game-except finish. Three turnovers and some rushed shots in the final four minutes cost the Wildcats in a game that was there for the taking.
- Miami (Fla.) drilled North Florida on the road 94-56, using a 27-4 run for a 48-20 halftime lead and never letting the Ospreys back in the game. Impressive performance on the road by the Hurricanes, while so far UNF is looking nothing like the team that won at Purdue and Illinois the past couple years.
- Saint Mary’s offense was at full efficiency again, shooting 57.4%, 14 of 33 from three and placing seven players in double figures in a 110-72 win over Prairie View A&M. Another ranked team winning was Indiana, 100-78 over Massachusetts-Lowell.
- LIU defeated Loyola (Md.) 65-61 to move to 2-0, but bad news for the Blackbirds as senior guard Joel Fernandez will miss the rest of the season due to a thumb dislocation he suffered in the team’s season-opening win over John Jay. Fernandez started 30 games a year ago and averaged 12.2 points, and his loss is a significant one for a team that could challenge for the Northeast Conference title. He is expected to redshirt and come back next year.
- The Tire Pros Invitational-nee Puerto Rico Tip-Off-and the Charleston Classic both begin today, with action starting already at 11 a.m. Eastern time with Clemson against Davidson in Orlando (ESPNU) and Western Michigan taking on Villanova in Charleston (ESPN2). The former is maybe the best of the day, and another chance for the Tigers to make an early statement, or for the Wildcats to strike a blow for the Atlantic 10. Other games to watch in these events are Xavier vs. Missouri (1 p.m., ESPNU) and Arizona State against Northern Iowa (4:30 p.m., ESPNU) in Orlando and Mississippi State against Central Florida (5 p.m., ESPN2) and possibly Wake Forest meeting Texas-El Paso in Charleston.
- Very intriguing non-conference game as St. Bonaventure takes on Florida in its home away from home (but still more than just a ‘semi-home’) in Lakeland, Fla. Big early measuring stick for both teams.
- Furman already has knocked off UAB on the road, and now the Paladins get a shot at Georgia.
- The Gavitt Games series continues, with a really good headliner tonight including Seton Hall at Iowa (9 p.m., Big Ten Network). Also, Providence is at Ohio State (7 p.m., BTN).
- The 2K Classic semifinals are in Madison Square Garden and feature a particularly appealing first game with Pittsburgh against SMU (7 p.m., ESPN2). The second also is not bad: Michigan and Marquette meet (9:30 p.m., ESPN2), with the Golden Eagles looking for another nice early season neutral court win after having already beaten Vanderbilt.
- Temple and Massachusetts is a revival of a terrific former Atlantic 10 rivalry.
- Also out East, Lehigh goes to Yale in a matchup including one team that has already beaten a big name (Yale) and another that just missed out with a three-point loss at Xavier (Lehigh).
- Out West, Valparaiso is at Oregon for the second straight year. The Crusaders have been shaky at times early this year, and they’ll face a very motivated team after the Ducks were drilled by Baylor on Tuesday.
- Finally, an intriguing game on a number of levels as Connecticut goes to Loyola Marymount, stopping on by on its way out to the Maui Invitational. The Huskies have already lost to Wagner and Northeastern and now play a road game against a team from the WCC, which has fared very well in the first week of the season.
Enjoy your Thursday.