Assessing the Season: Oklahoma State CowboysPosted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2013
As the season winds down and Big 12 teams continue to find themselves eliminated from the post-season, we’re taking a look back on a team-by-team basis at the 2012-13 season. Next up: Oklahoma State.
Final Record: 24-9 (13-5)
The Expectations: Oklahoma State was considered a mixed bag before the season began. There were whispers that Travis Ford should worry about his job status, and even though he’d brought in stud freshman Marcus Smart, Ford had gained an undesirable reputation as the Guy Who Recruits But Can’t Coach. Everybody universally agreed that with Smart, sophomore Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and several other returning contributors, this team had good enough individual players to compete near the top of the Big 12. But would they be the right assortment of pieces? This had been a bad team a year ago, and heart-and-soul guard Keiton Page had graduated. Luckily, scouts and opposing coaches raved about Marcus Smart in the preseason. They told us he wasn’t a typical freshmen — that he was mature beyond his years and the missing piece that would help Nash reach his expectations as a scoring wing. He wasn’t necessarily a natural point guard, though, so there were questions as to whether he’d be effective in that position.
The Actual Result: Smart can play point. Pretty freakin’ well, actually. So well that he was named Big 12 Player of the Year. As the team’s top defender, top scorer, top assists man and second-leading rebounder, Smart was that rare freshman leader who demanded respect from his teammates and completely revamped the attitude within his program. He opened up more opportunities for Nash, and that was evident right away. In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the Cowboys dismantled North Carolina State thanks to 43 combined points from Smart and Nash — the Wolfpack were ranked in the top-10 at the time. The Cowboys struggled from a New Year’s hangover and lost four of six games from December 31 to January 21. They couldn’t close the deal at home against Gonzaga in one of the more anticipated home games at Gallagher-Iba in quite some time, and then they lost three road games at Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor. That’s when the light truly went on in Stillwater. On February 2, the Cowboys won at Kansas and rode into mid-February with a seven-game winning streak. With a chance to take control of the league and sweep Kansas on February 20, Oklahoma State dropped a double-overtime heartbreaker to the Jayhawks an in ugly game that set basketball back by at least five decades. It couldn’t break KU’s hold on the Big 12, but it prevented Kansas State from winning the league outright by knocking off the Wildcats at home in the regular season finale. KSU returned the favor by handling OSU fairly easily in the Big 12 semifinals the next week. Then, the NCAA Tournament selection committee decided to play a cruel joke on Oklahoma State, rewarding its 24-win season with a #5/#12 match-up against Oregon. The Ducks, ranked in the Top 25 for much of the year, were probably under-seeded by at least four lines. At least. Guess what happened? Oklahoma State lost.
Highlight of the Year: February 2. It didn’t seem like it could really happen. But as the seconds ticked away at Allen Fieldhouse, Oklahoma State held on for dear life against Kansas during its comeback attempt. It had led the whole way, but you just got that sense that Ben McLemore would bank in a three or the Jayhawks would do something crazy to pull out the win. That didn’t happen. Oklahoma State won, and then Marcus Smart did a backflip and became Public Enemy Number One in the state of Kansas.
Player of the Year: Marcus Smart. Smart was so hyped in the preseason that he almost became a caricature of himself. By the time October ended, we’d heard so much about his maturity, leadership and intangible qualities that we just wanted to see the kid play. When he finally did, we saw what everybody was gushing about. His transition to the point guard spot was seamless, so much that it’s a wonder we ever questioned whether he could do it in the first place. Smart was terrific in every aspect of the game. Even his defensive contributions were often overlooked. The dude averaged three steals a game, for goodness sake! He’s a true star on every level.
Surprise of the Year: Markel Brown. He was always that guy who could throw down sick dunks every so often, but after a stellar junior year, he’s now so much more than that. Brown grew as an offensive player this year in a lot of ways. He improved his outside shot and became more engrained in the offense. The Cowboys seemed to know better how to utilize Brown, which helped him get more shots and add another scoring option next to Smart and Nash.
Overall Season Grade: B-plus. There was a point early in conference play where it looked like OSU might crash and burn, but that win at Kansas turned everything around. Had the Cowboys not gotten saddled with the Ducks in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, there’s no telling what they could have done.