Big 12 Team Previews: Oklahoma State CowboysPosted by dnspewak on November 8th, 2011
Predicted finish: 7th
2010-11 Record: 20-14, 6-10 (9th, Big 12)
Head coach: Travis Ford, 4th season
Key losses: G Ray Penn (5.9 PPG), F Marshall Moses (14.1 PPG), F Matt Pilgrim (5.4 PPG)
The Stars: Although he has not played a single minute of college basketball, freshman phenom LeBryan Nash might already be the best player on Oklahoma State’s team. At 6’7”, the wing can do just about anything on a basketball court. Coach Travis Ford says Nash may even see time as a point-forward, simply because he’s such a dynamic player with the basketball. An obvious contender for Freshman of the Year honors both in the Big 12 and nationally, the Cowboys will rely on Nash quite a bit to lead them in the scoring department.
The Veterans: Since arriving in Stillwater as a freshman in 2008-09, Keiton Page has played important minutes for Ford during the past three seasons. With a 5’9” frame and a young face, Page doesn’t always seem to fit in on the basketball court, but he’s grown into a productive starter at guard. He’s known primarily for his shooting ability, but he added a new element to his game last year by increasing his free throw attempts and getting to the basket. Problem is, Page didn’t shoot very well from beyond the arc in 2010-11 (30.4 percent), so that number has to improve for him to have a standout senior season.
J.P. Olukemi is the other returning starter in the backcourt. As a sophomore last year, he averaged double figures in scoring and presented mismatches with his blend of speed and size. Even with Nash in the mix, Olukemi looks like this program’s next star (see below). Page and Olukemi won’t have to do everything alone, though. Ford has the luxury of a deep bench at the guard position, including Fred Gulley, Markel Brown and Reger Dowell. Brown and Dowell played very well in limited minutes last year and could surprise some folks. Gulley is a little more proven, having started the better part of Big 12 play during the 2009-10 season. He missed most of last year with an injury, but he showed off terrific passing and point guard skills near the end of his freshman season.
Already thin up front with the graduation of leading scorer Marshall Moses, OSU is still waiting on the legal system to sort out the Darrell Williams case. He’s not allowed to practice with the team until his rape charges are dealt with.
The Newbies: We’ve already covered Nash extensively, and he’s certainly the best newcomer on this roster. Ford did, however, haul in a few other talents to complement the five-star wing. Freshman point guard Cezar Guerrero will fight for time with Gulley and Dowell, but he’s good enough to see big minutes right away. Junior college transfer Philip Jurick, a 6’11” center from Tennessee who earned All-American honors at Chattanooga State C.C., could also help Ford sort out his frontcourt issues with that big body of his.
Ford also added a late signee in center Marek Soucek, a seven-footer who his coach says “is really what the doctor ordered for us.” Soucek, a native of the Czech Republic, spurned several other high-major schools to attend OSU. Redshirt freshmen Mike Cobbins and Brian Williams will also see the floor for the first time in their OSU careers. Cobbins added a ton of weight while he sat out last season, so he could grow into a nice option in the paint. Williams, on the other hand, is a 6’5” guard with a lot of potential, and the coaching staff appears to be particularly fond of his game.
Breakout candidate: Olukemi enjoyed a productive 2010-11 season, but he has a shot to light up the Big 12 as a junior. Even though Nash is the focal point of this team, Olukemi is one of the better athletes on the roster. He played a little erratically during his sophomore season, but now that he’s got a year of Division I basketball under his belt and should see more consistent playing time, Olukemi could really shine. He has a knack for getting to the free throw line and using his speed to dominate slower defenders. If Olukemi’s three-point stroke improves, we could be talking about an All-Big 12 player.
Why They’re Better Than You Think: Athletically, the Cowboys are on par with any team in the nation. That’s exactly how Ford would prefer it, too. He loves to coach an up-and-down style, and his roster fits that mold this season. If Nash lives up to the hype, this team will have one of the better backcourts around. OSU’s guards are fast, deep and relatively experienced, which is a strong blueprint for any program.
Points of concern: Nash still hasn’t proven anything at this level, and this team probably won’t go very far if he has a bumpy freshman season. Perhaps it’s unfair to put that much pressure on a first-year player. Still, that’s just the situation Oklahoma State finds itself in. The Cowboys are also relying on a cast of newcomers to replace Moses, and there’s no guarantee any of them will step up. At best, OSU could earn an at=large berth in the NCAA Tournament and scare the daylights out of someone with its athleticism and quickness. At worst, though, Ford could find himself with an undersized roster and too much reliance on youth and newcomers.