Gonzaga Completes Sweep of Big 12, But OSU Stands as Sole Challenger to Kansas in League PlayPosted by KoryCarpenter on January 2nd, 2013
For the Big 12’s sake, let’s hope Gonzaga is as good as their No. 10 ranking suggests. Because with their win against No. 22 Oklahoma State Monday night, the Bulldogs have completed a 5-0 run against the Big 12 this season. They opened the season with a 34-point walloping of West Virginia at home, beat Oklahoma in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, defeated Kansas State in Seattle, held off Baylor at home last week, and traveled to a riled up Gallagher-Iba arena Monday night to escape with a 68-67 win.
While a win Monday night would have been great for Oklahoma State’s NCAA Tournament resume, it should have solidified most people’s thoughts that this is a two-team race in the Big 12. Because going forward, are the Cowboys any better of a team if freshman point guard Marcus Smart had made both of his free throws with eight seconds left to tie the game? Not really, but the narrative would have been much different about the Cowboys if he had dropped both attempts in. Smart had 23 points and six assists in the loss and the Cowboys risk dropping out of the next Top 25 on Monday, leaving only Kansas at #6 to represent the Big 12. As for OSU, they attempted 23 three-pointers in each of its losses this season. For a team that shoots just a paltry 32.5% from deep, that number is too high, especially with a distributor like Marcus Smart and a talented slashing guard like Le’Bryan Nash capable of creating opportunities at the basket. It seems to be an easy teaching point for head coach Travis Ford: if we settle for too many long jump shots, we will lose. Of course, it is rarely that easy. The Cowboys shot 22 threes (making eight) in their upset of then No. 6 North Carolina State in November.
As long as they don’t fall in love with the three-ball, the Cowboys can challenge Kansas for the Big 12 regular season championship. That is a big “if,” though. They have attempted over 20 three-pointers in seven of their 12 games this season. When they shoot fewer than 23 three-pointers, they are 7-0. When they attempt 23 or more treys, they are 3-2. There are not enough consistent shooters on the roster to shoot so many threes a game. It certainly isn’t the primary strength of their perimeter players such as Smart, Nash, and Markel Brown. The sooner they realize that, the sooner they can approach their ceiling, which is a legitimate shot at the conference title and a subsequent deep run in March.