Jan 14, 2012; Waco, TX, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Le

Oklahoma State Cowboys Basketball Season Preview

The college hoops season is right around the corner, and Busting Brackets is here to whet your basketball-starved appetite. Over the next five weeks, we are publishing season previews team by team, conference by conference, to offer a glimpse into the upcoming season. Busting Brackets is giving you the lowdown on the biggest storylines, offseason changes and x-factors for each team and each league as we roll into the 2012-13 season. Our complete season preview archive can be accessed here. Buckle up, peeps.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Last Season 15-18 (7-11 Big 12)
Lost to Missouri in Big 12 quarterfinals
No postseason
Key Returning Players: Le’Bryan Nash, F
Markel Brown, G
Jean-Paul Olukemi, G/F
Michael Cobbins, F
Philip Jurick, C
Key Additions: Marcus Smart, G (Marcus HS)
Kirby Gardner, F (San Bernardino Valley College Transfer)
Phil Forte, G (Marcus HS)
Kamari Murphy, F (IMG Academy)
Key Losses: Keiton Page, G
Brian Williams, G/F (Lost for season with wrist injury)
Cezar Guerrero, G (Transferred to Fresno State)
Reger Dowell, G (Transferred to Texas-Arlington)
Fred Gulley, G (Transferred to Arkansas)
Top Non-Conference Games: *Nov. 16 vs. Tennessee (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
*Nov. 18 vs. Penn State / N.C. State / UMass / Providence
Dec. 1 @ Virginia Tech
Dec. 5 vs. South Florida
Dec. 31 vs. Gonzaga
*Assuming top seeds advance, as expected
Top Conference Games: Jan. 5 @ Kansas State
Jan. 21 @ Baylor
Feb. 2 @ Kansas
Feb. 6 vs. Baylor
Feb. 9 @ Texas
Feb. 20 vs. Kansas
Mar. 2 vs. Texas
Mar. 9 vs. Kansas State
Breakout Player: Marcus Smart. He presents the biggest matchup problem of any Big 12 guard regardless of class. The freshman shooting guard is advanced physically, with a center’s body packed tight in a 6-foot-4 frame. He’s not the quickest player, and won’t blow you away with athleticism or a slick handle, but his combination of strength and toughness allows him to out-perform his raw tools. Smart is a stereotypical Big 12 player: a tough-minded two-way player and lockdown, on-ball defender. An active rebounder who lives inside the paint, Smart uses his strength to out-muscle smaller defenders. He is a unique, unconventional guard who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. Smart has won at every level in which he’s played, most notably leading Texas Assault to an Adidas Super 64 championship in Las Vegas. Now he’s charged with leading a fast-moving rebuilding process in Stillwater, where his winning pedigree will be put to the test for the first time at the college level.
X-Factor: Young backcourt. The Cowboys backcourt has undergone a facelift over the last calendar year. Travis Ford lost a pair of guard transfers midseason, Cezar Guerrero to Fresno State (to be closer to his ailing mother) in August and endured the biggest blow of all with the graduation of the program’s all-time 3-point leader, Keiton Page. In their place, Oklahoma State welcomes in the Marcus HS tag-team of Marcus Smart (for those wondering, the school was not named after him) and Phil Forte, whom the Cowboys hope becomes a Keiton Page clone. OK State’s backcourt renovation recently took a huge hit, however, when the school lost versatile swingman Brian Williams for the season with a wrist injury. Without a big chunk of last year’s backcourt rotation, the Cowboys will turn to the freshman duo of Smart and Forte in addition to do-everything, junior combo guard Markel Brown. Coach Ford ran a lot of four-guard lineups last season; Le’Bryan Nash, a natural small forward, for example, spent most of his time playing the 4. But with his backcourt gutted, Ford may be handcuffed with the lineups he puts on the floor this season. A backcourt line of Brown, Smart and Nash can still be one of the best in the Big 12 (despite the youth), but the depth behind that line is limited. The Cowboys caught a break earlier this week when the NCAA granted senior swingman Jean-Paul Olukemi a waiver that will allow him to play the full season (previously, he had only one semester of eligibility remaining). Still, the Cowboys likely won’t have the depth at guard to run their trademark four-guard lineup. The upshot? Expect extended minutes for Smart and Forte and an expanded role for oft-used pivot Philip Jurick.
Best Case: After a relatively disappointing freshman campaign, Le’Bryan Nashes bounces back in his sophomore season, showing why he was a consensus top-25 recruit in the class of 2011. Smart is the best freshman guard in America, a different maker on D and a matchup nightmare for opposing guards on offense. Phil Forte provides the shooting lift needed in the absence of Keiton Page. While he isn’t as prolific as Page, Forte becomes an offensive spark off the bench for the Cowboys. Markel Brown emerges as one of the premiere dual-threat (scoring and rebounding) guards in the conference, serving as a wing man for Smart and as added punch offensively. Oklahoma State is improved defensively from a team that was already stout defensively last season (39th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency). With Smart replacing the defensively-limited and undersized Page, the Cowboys boast one of the premiere defenses in college basketball. Jurick, a fifth-year senior and former Tennessee-turned-Juco transfer, is an emergent presence inside, dominating the boards and becoming a larger offensive threat in an expanded role. With promising young talent and returning veterans playing with chips on their shoulder, Oklahoma State finishes third in the conference and returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons with a favorable seed.
Worst Case: Smart isn’t supernatural. Or even a sure-fire superstar. He’s just another talented freshman subject to the same growing pains as other college newcomers. Page’s outside shooting is not reproduced by anyone on the roster, and without his outside shooting touch, Oklahoma State is one of the worst perimeter shooting teams in college hoops (bear in mind the Cowboys were a bad perimeter shooting team last season even with Page). The trickle effect is a team that becomes all-too reliant on scoring inside, allowing opposing defenses to pack in their D and double-down on post-ups. Not good news for Marcus Smart, who flourishes inside the 3-point line. Without Page, Williams and a sophomore Cezar Guerrero, OK State must replace more than 32 points per game in scoring. The freshmen, along with junior college transfer Kirby Gardner and improved production from returning players, are unable to make up the difference. Le’Bryan Nash is still error-prone, reckless and inefficient as a scorer. Minus the necessary senior leadership or frontcourt talent, and wrought with youthful mistakes, the Cowboys fall disappointingly short of preseason expectations. Oklahoma State finishes in the bottom half of the conference–despite being picked third in the preseason coaches’ poll–and again misses the NCAA tournament. Forecasts of an imminent program turnaround are premature.
Projected Finish: Regular Season: 19-11 (10-8 Big 12), 5th place Big 12
Lose in Big 12 tournament semifinals
NCAA tournament No. 9 seed

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