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Underwood, Cowboys live underdogs against No. 1 Kansas

March 4, 2017 11:45 AM
Phil Forte is a hot shooter for Oklahoma State, which is 10-2 in its past 12 games. @USA Today Sports Images.

By Matt Youmans

VSiN senior editor

No longer is Brad Underwood an underrated coach. That might have been true a year ago or maybe even six weeks ago. It’s only the case now for those who are oblivious to what he’s doing at Oklahoma State.

In mid-January, the Cowboys were 0-6 in the Big 12 Conference. Buried in such a negative situation, most teams would be six feet under. But Underwood brought his team back from the dead, winning 10 of the past 12 games with each of the losses by three points.

Underwood is set to return to the NCAA Tournament, a year after he guided 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin to a first-round beatdown of West Virginia. The Cowboys are 20-10 overall and 9-8 in the league.

The Big 12 is eating up some good coaches this season. Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger and Texas’ Shaka Smart are at the bottom of the pile.

Bill Self is on top again, of course, with Kansas winning its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season championship. The Jayhawks clinched and staged their Senior Night celebration for point guard Frank Mason III, the favorite for national Player of the Year, and now head to Stillwater, their least favorite place to play.

It’s wrong to say Kansas has no incentive to win. Self said he’s coaching to win the game, not limiting his starters’ minutes, and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament still is on the line.

But the Jayhawks have lost three in a row at Gallagher-Iba Arena, where a sellout crowd is waiting to ambush the nation’s top-ranked team.

The oddsmakers are not blindfolded fools. There are good reasons for the No. 1 team being only a 1-point favorite today. The line, which opened pick’em, is not offering any real value on the underdog, but I’m still siding with Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys rank No. 2 nationally in offensive efficiency (behind UCLA) in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Sophomore guard Jawun Evans is a dynamic playmaker, and senior Phil Forte is a phenomenal shooting guard. Jeffrey Carroll, a 6-foot-6 junior swingman, plays inside and out.

This is a good spot for Oklahoma State, and a letdown spot for Kansas. Underwood’s stock continues trending up.

Four more college basketball plays today (home team in CAPS):

Duke (plus-7) over NORTH CAROLINA: In what appears to be an obvious spot to support the Tar Heels, who are off an ugly loss and out for revenge against their rivals, I’ll look the other way. The Blue Devils are 8-2 in their past 10 games, with narrow losses at Syracuse and Miami. Grayson Allen is hobbled, but Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum are playing at their highest levels. Duke has enough firepower to hang within this number.

NEVADA (-6½) over Colorado State: The Rams are riding a lucky roll, twice beating San Diego State by one point on last-second shots. Their roll will end in Reno, where the Mountain West title is on the line and a hostile crowd awaits. Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman has four double-figure scorers — Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver, D.J. Fenner and Jordan Caroline — and Colorado State will struggle to keep pace.

Loyola Marymount (plus-8) over Brigham Young: A week after stunning Gonzaga as 20-point underdogs, the Cougars arrive at the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas in a lookahead spot. BYU is eyeing a semifinal matchup against Saint Mary’s and a possible rematch with the Zags in the title game. So this is a tricky spot against the Lions, who are led by a senior guard, Brandon Brown, and a sharp veteran coach, Mike Dunlap.

Santa Clara (plus-1) over San Francisco: In a WCC matchup of underrated coaches, expect a defensive grinder. I favor coach Herb Sendek and the Broncos, who rank 34th in the nation in scoring defense (64.9) and boast one of the league’s top scorers in senior guard Jared Brownridge.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 7-3

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