Marcus Smart, Steven Pledger, Romero Osby

Oklahoma State in great position to make a run at Big 12 title

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At this point, you should expect that every single game that Oklahoma State plays will end up being a thriller, and it was no different on Saturday night as they took on in-state rival Oklahoma in the Bedlam Rivalry.

Marcus Smart finished with 28 points, seven boards, four assists, two steals and seemingly every big play down the stretch of regulation to lead No. 17 Oklahoma State as they knocked off Oklahoma 84-79 in OT.

The win bumps the Sooners into sole possession of first place in the Big 12 — as of now, they are a half-game in front of Kansas and Kansas State, both of whom have yet to play on Saturday — but there’s much more at play here.

For starters, we now know that Le’Bryan Nash isn’t, in fact, hibernating. He’s had an up-and-down season, partially due to how good Smart and Markel Brown has been this season. But on Saturday, his team needed him, and he responded with 26 points and five boards. More importantly, Nash took over in overtime, scoring the first seven points and giving the Pokes a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

It was also nice to see the versatility of the lineups that Travis Ford has at his disposal. Phil Jurick is the rim-protector on this OSU team, but in a situation where the Cowboys were forced to play against a team with two periemter-oriented big men, Ford was able to use Kamari Murphy and Michael Cobbins together, even sliding Nash over to the four spot for stretches.

Oklahoma State has put themselves into a position where they control their own destiny in the Big 12. They still need to play Kansas and Kansas State once more, but they’ll get both the Jayhawks and the Wildcats in Gallagher-Iba. Their one tough road trip — at Iowa State — is a doozy, but the Pokes have already won at Phog Allen fieldhouse.

Oh, and should I mention that they just got Brian Williams back?

Keep an eye on this Oklahoma State team. They’re going to be dangerous in March.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.