Redemption for Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State Last Night Against KansasPosted by Eli Linton on March 2nd, 2014
Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Kansas and Oklahoma State.
Before Saturday night’s critical matchup between Kansas and Oklahoma State, the two teams were headed in opposite directions. Oklahoma State, which had been touted as a preseason favorite for both the Big 12 championship and a Final Four run, collapsed in February. A seven-game losing streak and the suspension of Marcus Smart threatened to make this season one of the biggest disasters in school history. Kansas, on the other hand, was once again riding its sensational talent to its 10th straight conference title. While the Cowboys were simply hoping to be find a way into the last four in the Big Dance, Kansas had its sights set on the Final Four. But on Saturday night, it was Marcus Smart’s team that found redemption, just when it seemed they had let the season slip away.
A lot of deserving criticism has been leveled at Smart for the part he played in the Cowboys’ downfall, but on Saturday he was the best player on the floor, leading the Cowboys to a come-from-behind 72-65 win. After a one-point, 0-of-7 first half line, Smart put up 20 points, four assists, two steals and just a single turnover in the second stanza. “Our focus was different tonight,” said Smart. “Losing those seven straight games opened our eyes. We were extra-focused tonight.” It was the biggest win of the year in the most desperate time for the Cowboys. Already on the NCAA bubble, another loss would have been devastating, but this quality win over #5 Kansas will likely earn them a bid. I am sure bubble talk was a conversation they were hoping to avoid to start the year, but they will take it and move forward. In a stroke of irony, Kansas was still able to clinch the Big 12 title outright thanks to both Texas and Iowa State losing earlier, but according to Bill Self, there will be no celebration.
“We’re not going to celebrate,” he said. “To me, we missed our opportunity to celebrate.” Self and Kansas have much to be concerned about, as this game exposed several weaknesses in the Jayhawks’ attack. This was especially true at point guard, where Naadir Tharpe went for a forgettable 2-of-8 from the field with six turnovers. Most of those miscues seemed to come at the worst times when momentum was swinging in favor of Oklahoma State. Andrew Wiggins had another below average game of his own. He led the team with 15 points, but struggled shooting the ball, hitting only 5-of-16 from the field and committing six turnovers. This was the first time I have seen Wiggins in person, and I didn’t see anything that would indicate he is even the best Jayhawk player this season. He needs more time to develop in college, but that’s not going to happen. Joel Embiid was impressive with 13 points and 11 rebounds in his 29 minutes of action, but his recurring back spasms are a major concern as the calendar turns over into March.
Kansas can hide a lot of problems with its perimeter defense when it can play Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis in the post, but Oklahoma State took the rock to the hole far too easily and way too often when Embiid was off the floor. Leaving the Jayhawk bigs on an island by themselves won’t work in the Big Dance. For Oklahoma State, this was the rallying point for a season that was on the ropes. Their defense was once again very good against one of the nation’s top teams. If Travis Ford’s team can run the table on the rest of the regular season and at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, it will be right back in the conversation as a dark horse contender. The original hype surrounding this team is gone, but the ultimate goal is still intact. Smart, who proved he has the talent to be spectacular, will ultimately determine what March Madness means for Oklahoma State this year.