Oklahoma State faces tough opening test against Michigan
INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan and Oklahoma State — teams that certainly have faced adversity this season — meet Friday in Midwest Regional opening-round action in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
No. 7 seed Michigan (24-11) survived a scary travel experience this past Wednesday when its plane slid off the runway in Michigan as it attempted to take off, bound for the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C.
While no one was seriously injured, it was emotionally harrowing. The team flew to Washington on Thursday, then beat Illinois, top seed Purdue and Wisconsin to win its first Big Ten tournament championship since 1998.
Michigan is led by guard Derrick Walton, Jr., (15 points a game) and forward Zak Irvin (12.8). The Wolverines come in having won eight of 10. The program has advanced to the Final Four seven times, winning the title in 1989.
“We’ve handled prosperity thus far, but now, we have to handle it again with a difficult game Friday,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “This team has bonded, not just because of the events of last Wednesday, but in the last month. We had lost a home game to Ohio State, and the kids felt bad about that. They’ve come together since.”
Walton, the Big Ten tournament MVP, likes the way his team is playing heading to Indianapolis.
“Going into the NCAA Tournament, we have a lot of confidence,” Walton said. “I think we’re a really dynamic team. We can score in a lot of different ways. We think we pose a huge threat against other teams.”
Oklahoma State’s adversity this season centers on basketball-related issues.
First-year coach Brad Underwood’s team began Big 12 Conference play with six consecutive losses but fought back to finish the regular season 9-9 in the league and is 20-12 overall as it prepares to play the Big Ten’s tournament champions.
The Cowboys have dropped three in a row and have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2009.
Oklahoma State is led by guard Jawun Underwood, who averages 19 points and 6.2 assists, and 6-foot-6 forward Jeffrey Carroll, who averages 17.4 points and 6.6 rebounds.
It will be the first meeting between Oklahoma State and Michigan since 1997.
Underwood’s message to his team is a simple one as it prepares to play one of the nation’s hottest teams.
“They need to understand how fun this is,” Underwood said. “If you can’t have fun doing this — this is what all the hard work in the offseason and all the workouts is all about.
“You forget about the 0-6 start. Now, we all are fresh at 0-0. You have to win six, dream big and have fun. It goes fast. You want to make sure your kids have this memory that lasts forever.”
The winner will play either No. 2 seed Louisville or No. 15 seed Jacksonville State in Sunday’s second round. Louisville defeated Michigan in the 2013 national championship game.