Oregon v Oklahoma St

Does Marcus Smart’s return make Oklahoma State the Big 12 favorite?

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Marcus Smart made it official on Wednesday afternoon: he will be returning to Oklahoma State and will not be entering his name in the NBA Draft.

“I think I made the right decision,” Smart, who had a chance to be a top five pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, said at a press conference. “I am aware of how much money I am giving up.”

As long as he was fully informed and educated about all his available options, Smart’s decision to return to school was the right one. And it creates what will end up being one of the most intriguing storylines throughout the 2013-2014 season: Can Oklahoma State end Kansas’ nine-year run of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles?

On paper, it looks like they have a great chance to do so.

The Pokes not only bring back Smart, but he’ll be paired with Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash, giving Travis Ford one of the nation’s most talented perimeter attacks. Throw in role players like Brian Williams, Michael Cobbins and Phil Forte, and Oklahoma State has the makings of a top ten team.

But is that enough to take down Kansas?

There’s a reason that the Jayhawks have won at least a share of nine straight regular season titles, and his name is Bill Self. Remember, this isn’t the first time that Kansas has had their roster devastated by graduation and early entry to the NBA Draft. In 2006, they started all freshmen and sophomores. In 2009, they lost six players to the NBA Draft and returned just Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding season, and the Jayhawks made the national title game. With Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor gone, 2013 was supposed to be a rebuilding season as well, but the Jayhawks still managed to earn a No. 1 seed.

So what will happen next year?

Kansas will have a roster loaded with highly regarded recruits, and they are still in the mix to land the No. 1 prospect in the country in Andrew Wiggins.

Oklahoma State will be talented, but NC State was talented this season as well. A lot of people predicted the Wolfpack would be a top ten team and would win the ACC. Look how that worked out. Baylor was predicted to be the favorite in the Big 12 in 2012 and they ended up finishing third in the conference.

And while Travis Ford isn’t necessarily regarded as a markedly better coach than Mark Gottfried or Scott Drew, he does have Marcus Smart at his disposal once again.

Smart’s one of those guys that earns all of the cliches — winner, coach on the floor, etc.

He’s gets all of them.

NC State and Baylor didn’t have a player like that on their rosters.

Is that enough to be a difference?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Illinois’ injury woes continue as starting center needs knee surgery

George Niang,Abdel Nader,Mike Thorne, Jr.
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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Illinois suffered another blow in what has already turned out to be a brutal season.

Mike Thorne is expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his meniscus. He reportedly underwent surgery on Monday to repair the injury.

Thorne, a transfer from Charlotte, was starting at center for the Illini and doing a good job of it as well. He was averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 boards, although Illinois has started off the season 3-4.

The reason for that slow start has mainly been those injuries. Tracy Abrams is already out for the season after tearing his achilles, and the Illini training room looked like a M.A.S.H. unit. Kendrick Nunn just returned two games ago from surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. LeRon Black is still getting back to speed after offseason knee surgery. Jaylon Tate is back after dislocating a finger. Jalen Coleman-Lands was slowed by a stress fracture.

John Groce entered this season on the hot seat, and dealing with all of these injuries certainly isn’t helping his cause.

NEW PODCAST: Recapping Feast Week

Kris Dunn
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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We talk about a lot of stuff of the podcast today, mainly because a lot of stuff happened since we last spoke with you all.

For starters, we need to discuss the ‘realness’ of Syracuse and Xavier. Are they both truly top 15 teams, or do they just have top 15 resumes? We also dive into Chris Mack’s epic troll-job of Dayton at the Advocare Invitational final.

Other topics we touched on: Whether or not Scott is ever going to apologize to Wayne Selden, Wichita State’s tournament hopes, Texas A&M and whether we’d take Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn or Denzel Valentine today.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes right here. It’s the quickest way to get access on your cell phone or tablet.