oklahoma state marcus smart

Oklahoma State continues to improve with win over Kansas State

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In mid-February, Oklahoma State looked like they were in deep trouble, as the Cowboys had lost seven consecutive games and were reeling after Marcus Smart’s suspension.

But since Smart’s return, Oklahoma State — and Smart himself — have looked like its a completely new season and the recent inspired play of the Cowboys continued on Monday night as Oklahoma State took down Kansas State for a 77-61, Big 12 win on Senior Night. Oklahoma State has now won four consecutive games to move to 20-10 on the season and 8-9 in Big 12 play.

The Cowboys did a tremendous job of sharing the ball on offense, moving the ball with consistency and taking good shots on Monday as they clearly outplayed Kansas State in the second half. Phil Forte led the Pokes in scoring at 23 points — including 6-for-11 from the three-point line — but Marcus Smart was a huge reason for Oklahoma State’s Monday-night success.

The sophomore guard had 18 points (on 5-for-8 shooting from the field), five assists, six rebounds and three steals on Monday while also helping hold Kansas State freshman Marcus Foster to 4-for-16 shooting.

Smart’s play on both ends of the floor was fantastic and it always appeared like he was in total control of his play. There were no reckless drives to the basket hoping to draw contact and there weren’t many forced looks. When Smart had a smaller defender guarding him, he tried to attack him off-the-dribble or go to the mid-post. This was the patient, high-basketball-IQ Marcus Smart we saw at the beginning of the season and not the Marcus Smart that was forcing things during the losing streak.

While Smart played well, Markel Brown also had a really good outing against Kansas State. During Smart’s suspension, Brown became one of Oklahoma State’s primary handlers and facilitators after the dismissal of Stevie Clark and with Smart and Brown both taking intelligent shots and finding open shooters like Forte or getting the ball inside to LeBryan Nash, suddenly this Oklahoma State team is really dangerous once again on the offensive end.

On the defensive side of things, with Smart locking down Foster, the rest of the Cowboys stayed aggressive as they limited the Wildcats to 34 percent shooting and 20 percent three-point shooting.

When Oklahoma State shoots 47 percent from the field, 41 percent from three-point range and makes 28-of-34 free throws — as they did Monday — there aren’t many teams in the country that can beat them.

If Marcus Smart continues to play like this and doesn’t try to force things, it rubs off on his teammates as this team’s leader and best player. Is Oklahoma State back to being a major threat in March? That still remains to be seen, and questions will still linger about the Cowboys’ depth, but Travis Ford has to be thrilled with the way his team is playing lately and Oklahoma State is playing great ball heading into Saturday’s Big 12 finale at Iowa State.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.