This preview and more on Oklahoma State and the Big 12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 8 Oklahoma State Facts & Figures
Last season: 24-9 (13-5 Big 12)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Travis Ford (104-64 at Oklahoma State)
Big 12 projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash stood together before a packed and energized Oklahoma State Student Union in April, pledging another year to the program.
And in turn, propping up the Cowboys for a run at a potential special season.
In Smart, Brown and Nash, the Cowboys boast the top three returning scorers in the Big 12 and a trio of likely NBA Draft picks.
And there’s more — much more — with Mike Cobbins, Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy all owning significant starting experience and Phil Forte back as the team’s top 3-point shooter and a sniper off the bench.
At this level, OSU projects as one of the Big 12 favorites and a squad capable of a long NCAA Tournament run.
“I think the ceiling on this team is really high,” Smart said. “We’ve got a lot of talent. A lot of experience. And we’re hungry.”
The Cowboys lack bulk inside, yet can create problems with an athletic array of forwards, led by Cobbins and Murphy, and also Nash, who splits his time playing inside and out depending on the matchup. Since they want to push the pace and run — and so few teams boast legitimate true big men anyway — the Pokes’ collection of forwards is a better fit.
Cobbins led OSU in rebounding and blocked shots a year ago, taking over as the starter down the stretch in the Big 12. A high-percentage shooter who has worked at adding a reliable baby hook to his arsenal, Cobbins’ continued development has elevated his status as a scoring threat.
Murphy was forced into duty as a true freshman early last season due to injuries, and he responded well. Following a mid-season slump, he bounced back to provide quality depth, and he gives OSU its most physical inside presence.
Nash is most effective in the frontcourt on the offensive end, where his ability to slash and score at the rim gives defenders fits. After envisioning himself as a perimeter player early in his career, Nash now embraces his work in the post.
There’s hope that junior college transfer Gary Gaskins, another athletic big man at 6-10, can provide help off the bench. Marek Soucek, a 7-footer who is the Cowboys’ thickest post player, is finally adapting to the American game in his junior year, after arriving from the Czech Republic.
Smart’s return, after he was projected near the top of the NBA Draft, stunned those outside and inside the program alike. The Big 12 Player of the Year as a freshman, he changed the culture of the program with his unselfishness and competitiveness. He ranked among the conference’s top five in scoring and assists and led the league in steals, leading OSU’s charge back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence.
And he’s back to do it all, and more, again.
“You only get to be a college player for so long,” Smart says. “I love these guys, and I love this program and I’m excited about what we can do together.”
Brown took a major step in his third year, becoming a consistent and versatile scorer after previously being known strictly as a dunker.
Forte surpassed expectations, getting major minutes and giving the Cowboys a fourth double-digit scorer, as well as an outside threat capable of extending defenses. Williams, a lockdown defender, missed the first half of the season after shattering his wrist, then returned to play a limited role. Healthy again, he should be a major addition on the defensive end, but also as an explosive scorer.
Stevie Clark, a 4-star recruit, will spell Smart at the point and give the Cowboys another major offensive threat. Jeffrey Carroll, another freshman scorer, is trying to fight through the logjam at guard and find a role.
Stevie Clark ranks fifth in Oklahoma career high school scoring with 3,312 career points. Offsetting a slight build, 6-10 junior college addition Gary Gaskins is an explosive leaper who could help on the defensive end. Jeffrey Carroll and Leyton Hammonds are Texas prep stars who could find minutes hard to come by, with redshirt seasons possible.
Factoid: 94. The Cowboys return 94 percent of their point production from a year ago, including their top six scorers and four players who averaged double figures.
Smart sparked an OSU resurgence last season, putting the program back on the map. His return to lead a veteran and talented squad warrants national attention.
The Cowboys will have to manage rising expectations, deal with a challenging schedule and find minutes for a potentially deep rotation. But there’s motivation, too, after underrated Oregon sent OSU packing with a quick exit from last year’s postseason.
“We have unfinished business,” Brown says.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
8. Oklahoma State
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
25. Wichita State