Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a continuing series of articles previewing the 2013-14 Big 12 men’s basketball season and examining each of the conference teams.
No. 2 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Of all the teams in the Big 12 Conference this season, Oklahoma State has the best proven talent, the most experience and is in the best position to unseat Kansas as the conference champion in 2013-14. The Cowboys are led by Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart.
Oklahoma State won 13 consecutive games last season, only the third time in program history they have won that many league games.
The 6-4 Smart, a sophomore point guard was considered a lottery pick in last April’s NBA Draft and would have earned an instant seven-figure paycheck at the next level, but he gave all of that up for at least another year to return to Stillwater, Okla., and help his teammates compete for a championship. In addition to his 15.4 scoring average his freshman season, Smart set a school record for assists (139) by a first-year player, shot 77 percent from the free-throw line, also a school record for a freshman, and had 99 steals, a Big 12 single-season record.
Asked if he was surprised that his freshman superstar decided to forgo the NFL Draft and return for his second season at OSU, Cowboys head coach Travis Ford told a Sports Illustrated writer: I can’t say I was that surprised. The best part of it was that he made the decision he wanted to make I didn’t push him to stay, his parents didn’t push him to leave. It was all on him. That’s usually not the case.”
Smart is joined by two other returning starters with exceptional talent in senior guard Markel Brown and junior swing man Le’Bryan Nash.
Think that’s not a big deal? Smart, Brown and Nash were not only the leading scorers at Oklahoma State last season, they were three of the top 10 scorers in the conference.
Junior 6-8 forward Michael Cobbins, a big-time shot blocker and the Cowboys’ leading rebounder is back to give coach Ford’s team size and strength in the paint. And 6-10 transfer Gary Gaskins will add to that size inside.
“I really like our chemistry on our team right now. I really like the attitude of our team right now,” said Ford at Big 12 Media Days in October. “We’ve just got to manage it all because it becomes such a longer season with the new (earlier) start time.
“We didn’t end last season like we wanted to,” he said “But we had a lot of positive moments last season. We don’t hide from (the fact) that we are supposed to be a pretty good basketball team this year. But we’ve got to understand that we’ve not won anything (yet).”
If it weren’t for snsational freshman recruit Andrew Wiggins at Kansas, the Cowboys would he the heavy favorite to capture its second Big 12 basketball crown.
Oklahoma State is off to a fast start in 2013-14, winning its first four games to begin the new season.
Next up: Kansas