NCAA Tournament 2021 Odds, Picks, Predictions: Oklahoma State vs. Liberty (March 19)

NCAA Tournament 2021 Odds, Picks, Predictions: Oklahoma State vs. Liberty (March 19) article feature image
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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images. Pictured: Darius McGhee.

  • Updated odds for Oklahoma State list the Cowboys as a 7.5-point favorite over Liberty in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
  • Oklahoma State will live and die by star Cade Cunningham, and faces a Liberty team that will slow down the pace and shoot a lot of 3-pointers.
  • Our staff breaks down the game and gives their Oklahoma State vs. Liberty pick below.

Oklahoma State vs. Liberty Odds

Oklahoma State Odds -7.5
Liberty Odds +7.5
Moneyline -345 / +275
Over/Under 139.5
Time Friday, 6:25 p.m. ET
TV TBS
Odds as of Thursday evening and via DraftKings.

Led by potential No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State is a bona fide Final Four threat.

The Pokes also just aren’t a one-man show with an extremely underrated supporting cast.

However, they must first avoid an upset in the first round against a tricky Liberty squad that upset a power conference team as a No. 12 seed in the most recent NCAA Tournament.

Can the Flames do it again as a No. 13 seed? On paper, they certainly have a style and scheme that could give Oklahoma State some issues. Let’s take a closer look.

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Oklahoma State Cowboys

Shane McNichol: The Cowboys are one of the most surprising entrants to this year’s tournament. Yes, Oklahoma State has tons of talent (more on that in a moment), but it was believed until mid-season that the Cowboys would be serving a postseason ban. It was a big deal that top recruit Cade Cunningham chose to stick with Oklahoma State despite the lack of postseason opportunity.

Well, the Cowboys’ appeal of their ban is still sitting with the NCAA and has yet to be ruled on, leaving Oklahoma State free to participate this season. That’s great news for the program considering how good the team is this season.

That starts with Cunningham, the presumptive top pick in this year’s NBA draft. He controls the Oklahoma State offense as its point guard but does nearly everything offensively. Cunningham is a smooth scorer off the bounce and will punish teams who double him using his elite court vision to find open teammates. Few teams have a player with the size, speed, and smarts to contain Cunningham for 40 minutes.

His teammates have stepped up in recent weeks, making the Cowboys a more complete and dangerous team. After scoring 9.5 points per game on 6.8 field goal attempts through January, sophomore Avery Anderson has grown into a viable secondary scorer, notching 13.7 points per game on more than 10 field goal attempts nightly.

The entire Oklahoma State roster has elevated its play on both ends of the floor in recent big wins to close conference play. The Cowboys played at the fastest pace in the Big 12 but were still able to defend effectively. Mike Boynton’s team full of long, rangy athletes allows for frequent switching and aggressive help defense.

Liberty Flames

BJ Cunningham: The Flames cruised through the Atlantic Sun once again this season, going 14-2 and 23-5 overall.

Liberty has a very similar offense to that of Virginia in the fact that it plays at an incredibly slow pace, ranking 348th in adjusted tempo. However, its offense is incredibly efficient and dominated the Atlantic Sun, averaging 1.12 points per possession.

The reason the Flames are so efficient is because they are one of the best shooting teams in the nation, ranking fourth in the entire country in effective field goal percentage. Liberty can bomb 3s and shoot teams out of the gym because it takes 3-pointers on 47.4% of its field goal attempts and hits them at a 38.8% clip, which is the 10th0highest rate in the country.

The Flames also have the 19th-lowest turnover percentage, so they are incredibly difficult to stop. However, they have one of the lowest offensive rebound rates and free-throw rates in the country, so they truly rely on the jump shot for most of their points.

Liberty is also the best defensive team in the ASUN, allowing only 0.94 points per possession during conference play. However, it doesn’t rank that high defensively nationally, as it’s 168th in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.

The Flames hardly force any turnovers and have one of the lowest block rates in the country, so they truly rely on stopping the opponent from the floor.

One positive is they rank 14th in defensive rebound rate, so Oklahoma State won’t have very many second-chance opportunities.

Either way they’ll have to find a way to shut down Cade Cunningham.

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Matchup & Betting Analysis

Stuckey: Liberty is an obscenely efficient offense that plays at one of the slowest paces in college basketball. The Flames rarely turn the ball over (19th) and rank fourth in effective field goal percentage (per KenPom) and in the 100th percentile nationally in Points Per Possession (per Synergy).

It’s either a very good look at the rim or a shot from deep. They simply do not take inefficient 2-point jump shots. In fact, only Alabama and UC San Diego took a fewer percentage of 2-point jump shots this season.

They’re also almost automatic from the line, which you love when betting on a team.

Liberty is extremely reliant on the 3, shooting it at the 15th-highest rate nationally, but that’s not as big of an issue when you shoot 38.8% (10th in D-I). The name “Flames” is fitting for the group of flamethrowers on this roster. Seven players in the rotation shoot at least 36% from deep with five of those seven at over 40%.

On the other side, head coach Ritchie McKay is known for his compact pack-line defense. It forces teams to beat the Flames over the top. And despite their lack of size, it also allows them to control the defensive boards (14th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage) and defend at the rim (30th in field goal percentage at rim).

Liberty won’t expose some of Oklahoma State’s turnover issues, but its defensive scheme could still pose a few problems here.

First, the Cowboys aren’t a great 3-point shooting team, and their offense is not built around taking perimeter shots (295th in 3-point rate).

They are extremely reliant on getting to the rim and crashing the offensive boards. In fact, only Stephen F. Austin and Buffalo take a higher percentage of shots at the rim.

Additionally, Oklahoma State loves to get out in transition where its elite athleticism shines. It ranks 17th on the season in transition rate, per Synergy.

However, Liberty’s compact defense (and the fact it doesn’t crash the offensive glass) really limits teams in all three of those areas. The Flames rank in the top 20 in the country in transition rate, defensive rebounding percentage and rim rate.

Now, when the Cowboys can get out and run (they want to play fast), they will have the advantage, but they just won’t get as many opportunities as they would like.

Also, one of the things I love about this Oklahoma State team is how much it can switch its defenses up. Head coach Mike Boynton will throw out a press and different zone looks to confuse opponents. However, zoning or pressing Liberty is not a good idea.

Cunningham probably takes over late and gets Oklahoma State the win, but I think Liberty will battle here as long as the shots are falling.

And if it goes nuclear from 3 (which it’s capable of), it could pull off this upset. If the Flames have a completely off-shooting night, they probably won’t cover. But that’s rare for Liberty.

Pick: Liberty +7.5 or better.

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