Andrew Wiggins. Jabari Parker. Julius Randle (basically Kentucky’s entire incoming class). Those were the headlining freshmen entering the 2013-2014 season.
Through the first two weeks they haven’t disappointed. Last week, Wiggins led KU to a win over Parker and Duke in the Champions Classic in Chicago. Parker went over 20 for the fifth time this season on Tuesday night and Randle has posted double-doubles in his first five collegiate games.
Tuesday night, No. 7 Oklahoma State welcomed No. 11 Memphis to Stillwater, and Marcus Smart reminded the nation that he, a sophomore, should be receiving just as much attention as the heralded freshman, as the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year delivered a statement, 39-point performance in the Cowboys’ 101-80 thrashing of Memphis.
Twice during the first half, Smart scored 12 consecutive Oklahoma State points. The first bunch occurred in the opening minutes. When Memphis trimmed the lead to 17-16, Smart again went for a dozen straight Cowboy points, hitting three threes — the knock on him is that he can’t shoot, by the way — and the other trio coming from the foul line after being fouled behind the arc.
Oklahoma State held an 18-point lead heading into the break. It didn’t get much better for Memphis in the second half. The rout was on.
This was the No. 11 team in the nation, featuring arguably the best perimeter attack in the country with four experienced and talented guards. Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford combined for 21 points of 8-of-34 shooting. Smart had 26 of 8-of-16 shooting after 20 minutes.
He posted a career-high (previous was 28) without forcing it, and went to the line 16 times, where he sunk 12 of his attempts. He also lead the defense with five steals and two blocks and brought energy that livened the Gallagher-Iba Arena. He didn’t do it alone, Markel Brown was great with 20 of his own and Brian Williams added 15, while the rest of the Cowboys played an incredible team defense, challenging everything the Tigers put up.
But it was clear, this was Smart’s game. His way to reassert himself among the best players in college basketball today.
Smart faced questions and criticism about returning to OK State for his sophomore campaign. He had unfinished business after an early exit to Oregon in the NCAA tournament and even more fuel was added to his fire with all the hype surround the freshmen, which led him to call out his top contender for the preseason Big 12 player of the year crown.
He was a Conference Player of the Year, an All-American, and an overlooked star heading into this season. On Tuesday night, he set the bar for Wiggins, Parker, Randle and any of the other player of the year candidates.