The bracket for the 2021 NCAA Tournament is set as Liberty is back in the Big Dance for the third straight season and sixth time in school history. The Flames are a No. 13 seed in the Midwest Region and will face No. 4 seed Oklahoma State in the first round on Friday at Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. Tipoff is set for 6:25 pm Eastern on TBS.
Here are 10 quick things to know about the Flames’ first round opponent – the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
1. THE COWBOYS ARE 20-8 THIS SEASON
Oklahoma State was 7-0 in the non-conference including wins over Texas Southern, Marquette, Oral Roberts, Wichita State, and Arkansas. The Cowboys earned the 5th seed in the Big 12 Tournament following their 10-8 mark in conference play. Oklahoma State has won eight of their last 10 games with star freshman Cade Cunningham leading the way.
2. MIKE BOYNTON IS IN HIS 4TH YEAR AS HEAD COACH
Mike Boynton is in his fourth year as head coach at Oklahoma State, the first head coaching job for the 39-year old. He played his collegiate basketball at South Carolina, and has been an assistant coach at Furman, Coastal Carolina, Wofford, South Carolina, Stephen F. Austin, and Oklahoma State. During his two years at Coastal from 2005-2007, Boynton and the Chanticleers were 4-0 against the Flames and former head coach Randy Dunton. Boynton is 71-57 at Oklahoma State and 31-41 in Big 12 play. This year is his 2nd 20 win season as a head coach.
3. THE COWBOYS ARE RANKED NO. 11 IN AP TOP 25
In Monday’s AP Top 25 poll, Oklahoma State checked in at No. 11, up from last week’s ranking of No. 12. After entering the Big 12 Tournament this past week as a No. 5 seed, the Cowboys made a run to the championship game where they fell to Texas, 91-86, on Saturday night. Oklahoma State defeated No. 4 seed West Virginia in the quarterfinals and then upset No. 1 seed Baylor in the semifinals.
4. CADE CUNNINGHAM IS EXPECTED TO BE THE NO. 1 PICK IN THE 2021 NBA DRAFT
Liberty will be facing perhaps the most talented player the Flames have ever faced on Friday when Cade Cunningham takes the floor. The 6’8″ 220 athlete has point guard like skills and is expected to be the number one overall draft pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He’s scoring 20.2 points per game to go along with 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contests. Cunningham is shooting 45.4% from the field during his freshman season and has made 56 three pointers at a 41.2% clip. Oklahoma State is 8-5 in the 13 games Cunningham has scored 20 points or more, including a season high of 40 against Oklahoma. The Cowboys are 12-3 when he fails to reach the 20 point mark. Cade’s brother, Cunnen Cunningham, is an assistant coach for Oklahoma State.
5. THE NCAA HIT OKLAHOMA STATE WITH A POSTSEASON BAN LAST SUMMER
The Cowboys almost didn’t make it to the 2021 NCAA Tournament as last summer the NCAA hit the program with a postseason ban for recruiting violations committed by a former assistant coach not on Boynton’s staff. Oklahoma State is appealing the ruling and is still awaiting the NCAA’s decision, allowing them to play in this postseason.
6. THE COWBOYS HAVE ZERO NCAA TOURNAMENT EXPERIENCE
Unlike the Flames, who are making what would be a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance if last year’s event wasn’t canceled, Oklahoma State is making their first tournament appearance since 2017. Not a single player on their roster has ever appeared in an NCAA Tournament game. Oklahoma State has not won a game in the Big Dance since 2009, losing in the first round in their last five tournament appearances, including twice as the higher seeded team.
7. ISAAC LIKEKELE IS THE TEAM’S TOP REBOUNDER AND DISTRIBUTOR
The 6’5″ junior guard is averaging 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. His 9.6 points per game is fourth on the team.
8. AVERY ANDERSON III IS 2ND ON THE TEAM IN SCORING
The 6’3″ sophomore guard is averaging 11.7 points per outing, the only other Cowboy in double figures outside Cunningham. Anderson is shooting 48.2% from the field and 34.0% from three, making just 18 from behind the arc.
9. OKLAHOMA STATE WILL BE FAVORED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A WHILE
The Cowboys opened as 8 point favorites, a line that has moved to 9.5. It marks the first time Oklahoma State has been favored for nine games, as they were the underdogs in their past eight contests, winning six of the eight.
10. OKLAHOMA STATE IS RANKED NO. 29 IN THE NET
The Cowboys enter the Tournament at No. 29 in the NET and No. 30 in KenPom. They have 10 Quad 1 wins this season, the second most in the country to Illinois who has 11. Oklahoma State is 10-6 this season in Quad 1 games. They will be the highest ranked KenPom team Liberty has faced since Purdue in the season opener back in November. The Boilermakers are currently ranked No. 13 in KenPom.
11. LIBERTY AND OKLAHOMA STATE HAVE ONE COMMON OPPONENT
We said 10 things to know, but here’s a bonus number 11. Liberty and Oklahoma State have one common opponent from this season, with the Cowboys going 0-2 against TCU and Liberty losing their only contest against the Horned Frogs. Oklahoma State lost to TCU, 77-76, in Stillwater, Oklahoma on Dec. 16 and also lost to the Horned Frogs, 81-78, in Fort Worth, Texas on Feb. 3. The Flames fell to TCU, 56-52, on Nov. 29 in Kansas City.
*photo courtesy Tulsa World