Oklahoma St Players Return Basketball

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 24-9, 13-5 Big 12 (3rd); Lost to Oregon in the Round of 64

Head Coach: Travis Ford (6th season at Oklahoma State: 104-63 overall, 44-40 Big 12)

Key Losses: J.P. Olukemi, Philip Jurick

Newcomers: Stevie Clark, Jeff Carroll, Leyton Hammonds, Gary Gaskin

Projected Lineup

G: Marcus Smart, So.
G: Markel Brown, Sr.
F: Brian Williams, Jr.
F: Le’Bryan Nash, Jr.
F: Michael Cobbins, Jr.
Bench: Gary Gaskins, Jr.; Kamari Murphy, So.; Phil Forte, So.; Stevie Clark, Fr.

They’ll be good because …: Travis Ford has managed to amass as much perimeter talent as any team in the country. Let’s start with the obvious: Marcus Smart. After an all-american freshman season that had him projected as a top five pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Smart made the decision to return to school for his sophomore season, giving the Pokes arguably the best player in the country. He’s a point guard in a shooting guard’s body whose biggest contributions have much more to do with the intangibles and things that don’t show up in the box score than the 15.4 points, 5.8 boards and 4.2 assists he averaged last year.

Smart’s not alone, either. Markel Brown may be the most underrated guard in the country, proving last season that he is more than just a dunker. Brian Williams is finally healthy and should be a lock down defender on the wing, while Le’Bryan Nash is an immensely talented combo-forward that has yet to reach his potential. Throw in high-scoring little guards Phil Forte and Stevie Clark, and Oklahoma State is going to be able to give opponents multiple different looks.

AP photo

But they might disappoint because …: Michael Cobbins was productive as a sophomore, averaging 6.9 points, 6.1 boards and 1.5 blocks last year, and should be in line to see a jump in those numbers. The same can be said for sophomore Kamari Murphy. Both are athletic 6-foot-8 forwards with long arms that can make some plays on the glass and on the defensive end of the floor. Gary Gaskins is a 6-foot-10 pogo stick, but he weighs all of about 20 pounds.

The problem, however, is that neither of those guys are what you would consider a bruiser inside. That role was played by Philip Jurick last season, and he graduated. Can the Pokes survive without that big body in the lane?

Outlook: Travis Ford probably hates Andrew Wiggins. If Kansas hadn’t landed the No. 1 recruit in the country, Oklahoma State would be heading into this season as the favorite to win the Big 12. The Jayhawks have had an unprecedented run of success, dominating the league over the last nine years; the last time that Kansas didn’t win at least a share of the league title was back in 2004.

Oklahoma State has a real chance to bring that streak to an end this season. This is the best team that Ford has ever coached, and it may be the best team that he ever will coach. Smart is an all-american and arguably the most valuable player in the country, and his supporting cast will be better than it was a year ago. It’s a stretch to say that Oklahoma State should win the conference, but given how weak the rest of league is outside of Kansas, anything less than a second place finish in the Big 12 would be a disappointment. There’s enough talent on this roster to make a run at the Final Four come March.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.