MILWAUKEE (AP)—Put Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech together, and you’d pretty much have the perfect team.
Oklahoma State’s James Anderson and Obi Muonelo are one of the best guard combos in the country, guys who can—and do—score from just about anywhere on the floor. Georgia Tech counters inside with freshman phenom Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, bruisers who can outmuscle anyone who gets in their way.
Something—somebody—is going to have to give Friday, when the seventh-seeded Cowboys (22-10) and 10th-seeded Yellow Jackets (22-12) meet in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“We’re not the biggest team in the world,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford said Thursday. “But our guys have figured out how to compete. We’ve played against some big teams. Kansas was big, Texas was big and Baylor’s big. You go down the line, there’s some big teams in the Big 12.
“We just hope maybe on the other side, because we do play a little bit of an unconventional lineup, maybe it can affect the other team a little bit.”
Only one of Oklahoma State’s starters—Matt Pilgrim—is taller than 6-foot-6, and Keiton Page is just 5-9. Compare that to the Yellow Jackets, who bring Favors (6-10, 246 pounds) and Lawal (6-9, 234), and whose shortest starter is 6-5.
Don’t think the Cowboys aren’t aware of their shortcomings.
Pilgrim has been hearing about Favors every since the pairings were announced Sunday night. The ACC freshman of the year leads the nation with 61.2 percent shooting and has scored in double figures the last nine games, when he’s averaged close to a double-double. Favors has 24 blocks in that span, too.
Just as big is what Favors hasn’t done. After struggling much of the season with early foul trouble, he entered the second half with one foul or less in the last five ACC games.
“I’ve said it all season, if he’s on the floor he’s going to dominate,” said Lawal, no slouch himself with 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. “As you saw in the (ACC) championship game, that’s the types of things he can do night in, night out—blocking shots, rebounding, finishing strong, putbacks, everything. It definitely makes life a lot easier having him on the floor than him sitting on the bench.”
While Favors is a special player—he’s expected to be a lottery pick in this June’s NBA draft—the Cowboys have proven they’re quite capable of handling the big boys. They handed Kansas one of its two losses this year, and also beat Kansas State and Baylor.
In last year’s Big 12 championship game, the Cowboys held Blake Griffin to 17 points in a one-point victory.
“No, I’m going to shy away from it,” Pilgrim said, smirking, when asked if he’s looking forward to guarding Favors. “I know they’re big, they’re strong. But we’re strong, too. We’ve got Marshall (Moses) and me, and Obi ain’t no little guy, either. We lift weights, too.”
Oklahoma State also has the ultimate security blanket: Anderson.
Anderson is the nation’s third-leading scorer with 22.6 points per game, and you have to go back to last season (Feb. 4, 2009, to be exact) for the last time he failed to reach double figures. He’s shooting 46 percent, including 35 percent from 3-point range, and except for two games down the stretch, has kept a lid on his turnovers.
“There’s nothing he can’t do,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “He shoots the 3, he’s good with the dribble, he’s great from the foul line. The only thing I haven’t seen him do consistently is post up. I’m sure if he needed to, he could do that, too.”
If that’s not enough for Georgia Tech to handle, Anderson isn’t very happy with the way he played in last weekend’s Big 12 tournament.
Though he scored 27 points in the quarterfinal loss to Kansas State, he shot less than 40 percent. In the opening win against Oklahoma, he had just 11 points, only the fifth time this season he failed to score 15 or more points.
“We’re just trying to look forward and prepare for the game tomorrow and just come out and play like we normally do,” Anderson said, “together as a team and hit them first before they hit us.”
Which will likely mean trying to take advantage of the Yellow Jackets from long range.
Anderson, Muonelo and Page have combined for 223 3-pointers this season, and all are shooting 35 percent or better from beyond the arc. Ray Penn has kicked in another 23 treys.
“They’re very unique. I’ve never seen a team really play the type of basketball they play, but it works for them,” D’Andre Bell said. “The type of 3s they take, contested 3s, in-transition 3s—whether a hand is in their face or not, it goes in for them.”
Inside or outside, take your pick.
“Just play the game,” Hewitt said. “We’ll find out.”
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