Marcus Smart, Jordan Tolbert

Oklahoma State’s win over No. 5 Kansas a tale of two Marcus Smarts

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The story of Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart in relation to the 2013-14 campaign is well-known by now. From the All-American guard surprising all of college basketball by returning for his sophomore year to his regrettable actions in Lubbock, Texas, the point guard has been one of the biggest stories of the season.

But where will the story’s final chapter be written: the NCAA tournament or the NIT? Given the Cowboys’ struggles, at one point losing seven straight games, it can be argued that the outcome of Saturday’s game against No. 5 Kansas would determine the answer to that important question.

And after struggling mightily for the first 28 minutes Smart came to life, leading the Cowboys to a 72-65 victory over the Jayhawks.

Smart finished the game with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists, but the box score doesn’t fully illustrate the fact that it was a tale of two nights for the sophomore. Smart missed his first seven shot attempts and also committed two turnovers in the first half, and some of those misses came as a result of Smart taking shots the team did not need at the time. Clearly the Cowboys need Smart to be productive in order to be successful, but just as important is the need for him to make sound decisions with the basketball and that wasn’t happening.

To Smart’s credit he did a far better job of this down the stretch, seizing the moment while not making the reckless decisions that contributed to Kansas building a ten-point second-half lead despite being far too lax with the basketball. Smart accounted for 14 points and three assists in the final 11:53 without committing a single turnover, providing the leadership Travis Ford needs from his point guard.

Let it be noted that Smart wasn’t the sole reason for Oklahoma State picking up a much-needed quality win for its resume, with Markel Brown scoring 21 points and Le’Bryan Nash adding 16 to go along with four rebounds. But Smart’s struggles, with his three-game suspension simply adding to the problems experienced in the games prior, were a big reason why Oklahoma State found itself mired in that seven-game slump.

Oklahoma State will go as far as Smart can lead them. At times it hasn’t always looked pretty, and that can be used to describe both Saturday’s game and the season as a whole. But the opportunity for Smart to put together a fitting conclusion to his sophomore season remains, thanks to his performance in the final 12 minutes of a game the Cowboys had to win.

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.