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.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”