Sure, Cade Cunningham is gone. But Oklahoma State basketball still looks like a forced to be reckoned with in the Big 12.
Riley’s Ranking: 23rd
Heat Check CBB editor Andy Dieckhoff may disagree with this, but the wrong “OSU” made a deep tournament run. Allow me to explain.
Once Cameron Krutwig torpedoed Illinois’ championship hopes, Oklahoma State’s region opened up like the Red Sea. Consequently, a storybook season for the Cowboys seemed destined to continue. After dazzling the country all year, Cade Cunningham prepared to stamp his place in March Madness lore.
But then, that other OSU got in the way. Oregon State, a squad that only got in by winning the Pac-12 Tournament, took Oklahoma State’s dreams and dashed them against the logs of a beaver dam. Wayne Tinkle’s chaotic 1-3-1 zone proved too much for Cade and the ‘Pokes to overcome.
However, even with Cunningham off to the NBA, Oklahoma State basketball fans need not fear. In addition to some high-upside newcomers, Mike Boynton also returns enough from last season to remain a top-25 fixture.
Notably, breakout candidates pepper both the starting lineup and the bench rotation. But none of them will receive more opportunities to shine than junior Avery Anderson. The 6-3 combo guard upped his points per game from 4.2 as a freshman to 12.2 as a sophomore, and he will engineer the Cowboys offense this season.
With the rock in his hands, Anderson slices through the lane, pin-balling off of defenders that stand in the way. Like a short-yardage running back, he seemingly thrives off of contact. Just check his free-throw rate — a season ago, he ranked third in the Big 12 among combo and point guards. Not bad for a guy listed at 170 pounds.
But don’t think his power entails a lack of finesse. Anderson also exhibits impressive dribble moves to go along with his attack-first mindset. In the clip below, observe how he uses a hard in-and-out to shake his man in transition:
Replacing Cade may seem daunting, but the third-year guard has shown shades of an alpha mentality. If he extends his range beyond the three-point line, he can contend for First Team All-Big 12 honors.
Alongside Anderson, Oklahoma State basketball totes a slew of additional combo guards. Sophomores Bryce Thompson and Rondel Walker will both occupy important roles for the Cowboys. Thompson, a Kansas transplant, likely starts alongside Anderson and will look to improve off of a lackluster first year. An early-season back injury impeded his development in 2020, but the former McDonald’s All-American still has potential as a shot-creator. Walker slots in as a glue guy off the pine who plays unselfishly but can score when needed.
The youngsters will benefit from the veteran leadership of Isaac Likekele and Bryce Williams, two elder perimeter players. Likekele functions as a playmaking wing who rebounds exceptionally well for his position. Also of significance: he looks like he’s made out of boulders. And the senior makes the most of his size on defense — he can lock up any player at any position. Williams, despite a slighter build, provides an equally menacing presence on D. One of the most underrated players in the nation, Williams feasts on a heavy diet of deflections, steals and blocks.
For the guard and wing corps, 3-point shooting marks the one strength they lack. Outside of Cunningham, no one who attempted more than 50 3s made more than 33 percent of them. Sophomore versions of Thompson and Walker should alleviate some of these issues, but they must turn projection into reality.
Turning to the frontcourt, Boynton’s entire unit plays like they’re at a trampoline park. Junior Kalib Boone leads this group as a spring-loaded center with a growing offensive game. Last season, he progressed as a post scorer while continuing his excellence on the offensive glass. But most notably, Boone dominates as a roll-man, hammering dunks home through traffic.
Last year, he finished fourth in the Big 12 in dunks.
Sophomore Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe will start at the 4 next to Boone, and he too showcases eye-popping bounce. The 6-7 Canadian turned in an up-and-down first season, but the ups foreshadow a promising future. In particular, “MAM” looks incredible galloping down the floor in transition. His exceptional coordination and long strides propel him to the hoop, and he’ll even break out a Euro-step when handling the ball. With more touches available, he could evolve into a second or third scoring option.
Two key bench pieces supplement the post — junior Keylan Boone (Kalib’s twin brother) and Memphis transfer Moussa Cisse. The former delivers some much-needed shooting to the big man group. While he converted 3s at a low percentage last year, defenses must at least account for him when he dials up from distance. Cisse, conversely, will probably never attempt another 3-pointer in his career, but he makes up for it with defense. By percentage, the Cowboys protected the rim better than any team in the Big 12, per Hoop-Math; with Cisse coming in to thwack shots into the bleachers, the interior defense will stay elite.
Speaking of the defense, Oklahoma State made monstrous strides on that side of the ball last year. In 2020, the ‘Pokes ranked 46th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. That number rocketed up to 17th in 2021. Boynton’s amorphous defense usually operates as a matchup zone, but he often mixes in some man-to-man. Regardless of the scheme, Oklahoma State basketball uses its length to contest every shot and deny easy passes. The defense will give this squad a high floor as the offense figures out role allocations post-Cade.
Projected starters: G – Avery Anderson (Jr.); G – Bryce Thompson (So.); G/F – Isaac Likekele (Sr.); F – Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (So.); F – Kalib Boone (Jr.)
Projected bench: G – Bryce Williams (Gr.); C – Moussa Cisse (So.); G – Rondel Walker (So.); F – Keylan Boone (Jr.)
Strengths: defense; length; athleticism; multiple ballhandlers who can get to the rim
Weaknesses: shooting; no true point guard
Best player: Anderson
Breakout player: Thompson