2011-2012 Record: 15-18, 7-11
Returning Players of Note: F Le'Bryan Nash, G Markel Brown, F Jean-Paul Olukemi, G/F Brian Williams
Key Losses: G Keiton Page
Key Additions: G Marcus Smart
There are very few teams around the country that can say with some level of certainty that they have a potential lottery pick on their roster. Even fewer are the teams that can say they have two players of that ilk. Oklahoma State is one of them. Freshman phenom Marcus Smart joins sophomore Le'Bryan Nash to form what will likely be one of the more explosive and dynamic duos in the country.
The young combo has fans in Stillwater and coach Travis Ford eagerly anticipating what figures to be an exciting season that hopefully features a return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010. The Cowboys will have to fare better in conference play though, as they've finished a combined 13-21 in the Big 12 over the last two years.
Oklahoma State figures to have one of the more athletic frontcourts in the conference, but size may prove to be an issue. Nash is more of a wing and showed last season that he prefers to play in the mid-range as opposed to inside. Sophomore Michael Cobbins came on late last season and is the leading returning rebounder, pulling down 5.7 boards a season ago. Legal troubles and injuries have raised a few questions about the depth and experience of the Cowboy posts. Darrell Williams was kicked off the team last season and will not be invited back. Similarly, 6'11" senior Phillip Jurick was arrested in the off-season and has been suspended indefinitely. Jurick is also recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. If Jurick doesn't return, the Cowboys will be without a true defensive presence to defend the rim and may also have some struggles on the boards. 7'0" sophomore Marek Soucek, who saw action in 20 games last year may play a bigger role, but OSU also welcomes in 6'9" freshman, Kamari Murphy, who should be able to crack the rotation right away. The Cowboys will get a big boost if senior Jean-Paul Olukemi is ruled eligible for both semesters. Ford is still waiting on the NCAA to make a ruling regarding Olukemi's application for a medical hardship.
While I respected his game, I'm sure fans all around the Big 12 will agree with me that it was time for Keiton Page to go. The Pest of the Midwest was a thorn in one too many sides and I couldn't be happier to see him gone. The trouble is, Oklahoma State upgraded in a big way. If you haven't heard of Marcus Smart, familiarize yourself with him fast, because at this time next year, he'll likely be pulling down a seven-figure paycheck and preparing for his NBA rookie season. Smart is a prolific scorer that draws comparisons to guys like Eric Gordon and Dwyane Wade. At 6'4", 225 lbs, he's got an NBA body and a versatile enough game to play both guard positions and even spend some time on the wing. It'll be intriguing to see who lands more highlight reel plays between Smart and junior Markel Brown, who you may remember. Brown came onto the scene in a big way as a sophomore and is a jack of all trades sort of athlete. Sophomore Brian Williams is another long athlete in the Cowboy's backcourt. He figures to lose some minutes with the addition of Smart and if Olukemi is granted eligibility, but he might be better suited for a 6th man type role anyway. The real question for this team is who is going to man the point guard duties. Smart and Brown may end up playing some combo guard and if Ford wants to have his best guys on the floor, that's probably the best way to go. Cezar Guerrero saw action as a freshman but likely needs some more seasoning before he's handed the reigns. Freshman Phil Forte could be an option. Tell me if this sounds familiar - Forte is a 5'10" sharpshooting guard who happens to be white (seriously, this can't be happening again, can it?).
Why They'll Finish 6th
Ultimately, I see a 10-8 conference record for the Pokes. They'll spring a few upsets and Gallagher-Iba will hopefully return to being "the rowdiest arena in the country". The lack of height and inside depth could be a concern, especially if Jurick isn't either welcomed back or hasn't recovered from his injury. Similarly, who mans the point is still up in the air. Having Smart assume that role is probably the best option Ford has, but that's not his natural position. Finally, this is a team that was killed on the boards a season ago and didn't shoot it very well from outside. Unfortunately, I don't see that changing much this year either.
Why I Don't Know Shit
With all of the talent and athleticism on this team, Oklahoma State is going to be able to hide their deficiencies. Smart, Brown and Williams are all long, athletic guards that will rebound well for their positions, and could give smaller backcourts some real trouble. As it pertains to the outside shooting, if they can just make enough shots to be respectable, defenses will have to step out and that's where the one-on-one ability of Smart, Nash and Brown will come into play. I'm very curious to see what type of developments Nash has made to his game. He was terribly inefficient offensively last season, converting on just 39.4% of his field goal attempts and clanking away at a clip of 23.5% from three-point range. If Nash has developed a post-up game and made improvements to his shooting touch, the sky is the limit for him.
Gallagher-Iba is bar none, one of the best basketball arenas in the nation...when it's rocking. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case much of late. With bad basketball, usually comes bad attendance and that's understandable, but with a young team, I hope Cowboy fans realize that if they pack the house, night in and night out, this team could become borderline unbeatable at home. I'm really looking forward to watching this team and more importantly, looking forward to the return of good basketball in Stillwater.