Big 12 Team Preview #6: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 7th, 2012

Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Oklahoma State at the #6 position is next on our list. 

The Skinny

  • 2011-12 record: 15-18 record, 7-11 in the Big 12
  • Key contributors lost: Cezar Guerrero, Keiton Page, Fred Gulley
  • Head coach: Travis Ford, 5th season
  • Projected finish: 6th

The 2012-13 season is the most important in Travis Ford’s coaching career. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Years one and two: back-to-back NCAA appearances with fourth and sixth place finishes in the conference. Years three and four: one NIT birth with seventh and ninth place finishes in Big 12 play. Time is running out for head coach Travis Ford, a coach who enters his fifth season under the most fire with perhaps the best roster he’s ever had. Sure he gets credit for making the Tournament in 2009 and 2010 but the reality is key guys (like James Anderson, Obi Muonelo and Byron Eaton) were holdovers from the previous Sean Sutton era. Once Ford’s players came around, that recliner of his soon became a hot seat.

The Personnel

The question isn’t whether Ford can bring talent to Stillwater but if he can win with that talent. Le’Bryan Nash was a huge get in 2011 and Ford was able to add his second five-star recruit in two years with the signing last year of Marcus Smart. Accomplished head coaches like Billy Donovan and Mark Few were still yukking it up about the freshman’s game and attitude more than a full month after coaching Smart’s team to a gold medal in the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships. The Cowboys also got some good news about J.P. Olukemi: The NCAA has granted him a full year of eligibility instead of the fall semester exclusively. Considering he played in only 13 of 33 games last season, any Olukemi is better than no Olukemi.

Big 12 coaches voted OSU to finish third in the Big 12 and the only thing apparently holding them back from such a season has been injuries. Ford announced at this year’s Big 12 Media Day that Brian Williams (9.6 PPG in 2011-12) has suffered a wrist injury and is out indefinitely. The word “indefinitely” in this context could mean a large part of or the entire season — nobody knows. In last week’s exhibition versus Ottawa University, guard Michael Cobbins injured his big toe one minute into the game and did not return. Ford said afterward that he’s not sure when Cobbins will return to the floor. It’s as if the college basketball gods hate Travis Ford and want to make his life a living hell.

What they have left is still good enough to contend. Markel Brown was becoming a consistent secondary scorer (10.5 PPG in 2011-12) for the Cowboys but now he’ll be called on for a much larger role with two starters essentially out for a large chunk of the season. Kirby Gardner is Oklahoma State’s “only true point guard” according to Ford and will see key minutes with Cezar Guerrero’s departure for Fresno State. The main goal for this team is to be more effective on the offensive end. OSU finished 195th in the country in points per game (66.9), 221st in team field goal percentage (42.5%) and a paltry 11.4 assists/game, good for 282nd out of 345 D-I schools.

Why They Might Be Better Than You Think

They have to get healthy, first and foremost. If they do, they can have the season many experts are projecting for them. The roster as it stands with Nash, Smart, Olukemi, Brown as the core should be good enough for a middle-of-the-pack finish in the Big 12 (between fourth and sixth place) and will probably have to sweat out Selection Sunday in order to get in the field of 68. Remember, Ford is probably going to pull out all the stops this year since he’s basically coaching for his life. They have a nice mix of talent and veterans that will allow them to hang around with Texas, K-State or West Virginia. Getting Cobbins and Phillip Jurick back will determine where they find themselves in the conference standings.

It’s good to have you back, J.P. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Potential Roadblocks

Other than injuries, a major roadblock for the Pokes is their relative youth. Nash is a sophomore. Smart is a freshman. Those are their two best players. Another freshman not getting much publicity is Kamari Murphy, who has earned a starting spot on the team. Ideally, I’d like to see talent override experience and help return OK State to their rightful place near the top of the Big 12.

The Sleeper Candidate

I believe it is Kamari Murphy, a true freshman forward out of Brooklyn, NY. According to his AAU coach, he sees Murphy as a “combo forward who is athletic and can score and rebound well.” Andy Borman, Director of the IMG Basketball Academy said in August 2011 about Murphy that he “is good enough to be in college right now. When he goes to Stillwater, he’ll be a freshman eligibility-wise, but a sophomore mentally.”  Then you have Ford who had this to say about Murphy: “He’s got to do more with it when he gets the ball. But he runs the court.” Way to be a buzzkill, coach. Any time a freshman is starting on a team expected to contend, you should definitely keep an eye on him.

Final Projection

I’m really rooting for Travis Ford. While he hasn’t been able to have success with his own guys that shouldn’t mean he can’t have a chance to make his mark at Oklahoma State. The Pokes are looking at a 21-24 win season, 9-10 conference wins and a fifth or sixth place finish in the Big 12. Ford should keep his job, for another year at least.

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One response to “Big 12 Team Preview #6: Oklahoma State Cowboys”

  1. […] Good OSU bball preview here. (Rush the Court) […]

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