Big 12 Season Preview: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 27th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Oklahoma State.

Strengths. This offseason saw a lot of roster turnover in Stillwater. Marcus Smart left after an up-and-down sophomore year and Markel Brown graduated, but those losses were presumed all along. The departures of Kamari Murphy, Brian Williams and Gary Gaskins via transfer, however, caused a bigger dent, but even after all that attrition, the Cowboys return a very solid core. Le’Bryan Nash finally improved his efficiency as a junior; the sharpshooting Phil Forte is back for a third campaign; the return of Michael Cobbins from a significant Achilles’ injury will help inside; and LSU transfer Anthony Hickey provides a steady hand at the point that can also shoot a good enough deep ball to keep opposing backcourts from cheating towards Forte.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys hopes Le'Bryan Nash can wipe away the nightmares of the 2013-14 season with a strong senior campaign. (AP)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys hope Le’Bryan Nash can wipe away the nightmares of the 2013-14 season with a strong senior campaign. (AP)

Weaknesses. The biggest questions here come from a depth perspective. Down low, Travis Ford will have options, but we won’t really know what the Cowboys are capable of until they get a few games under their belts. Marek Soucek and Leyton Hammonds are the most experienced returnees inside, but neither did enough last season to inspire much confidence. Freshman Mitch Solomon will also be available, as will 7’1″ JuCo transfer Anthony Allen, so Ford will have to hope someone emerges as a last line of defense. There are unknowns in the backcourt, too, as Jeff Newberry and Tyree Griffin will get backup opportunities, but it’s tough to say how they will work out. There’s a nice amount of talent in Stillwater, and the starters have enough experience to play well, but it’s tough to see that as enough to muster a top-half finish in the Big 12 without a few breaks.

Non-Conference Tests. Fans should take solace in the fact that not only are this year’s non-conference opponents quite beatable, but the toughest challenges come at the back end of the slate. The hope is that Ford uses the early cupcakes to get a feel for his rotation and subsequently gives his team a shot at some resume wins down the road. The Pokes warm up with gimmes against Southeastern Louisiana, Prairie View, D-II Northwestern Oklahoma State and Milwaukee before heading west to Las Vegas. There, they’ll square off against Oregon State and either Auburn or Tulsa before returning home for a match-up against North Texas. After that, the heat turns up a notch with trips to South Carolina (for the Big 12/SEC Challenge), Memphis (for the third meeting in the last two years!) and Missouri. Those battles are sprinkled in with home tilts against Maryland and Middle Tennessee State. The strongest challenge will likely be the roadie at Memphis, which is a team going through transitions of its own. Aside from that, expect a fight from Auburn or Tulsa, but there aren’t many other land mines here, nor are there powerhouses that would just overwhelm the Cowboys.

Toughest Conference Stretch. So let’s be a little optimistic and suppose Oklahoma State has a nice run through non-league play. Nash continues to show good shot selection, Hickey settles in nicely as a floor general with some capable tools around him and Cobbins stays moderately healthy. Maybe the Cowboys have a few losses as the calendar turns, but things aren’t quite as ominous as the narrative around Ford lets on. You’d think keeping the good vibes going into Big 12 play may not be as difficult as it sounded last season, right? Well, not if the Big 12’s giants have anything to do with it, because there may not be a team in the conference with a more daunting path at the front of its schedule. First, Kansas State comes to town on January 3, then the Cowboys make a trip to Iowa State three days later and return home for a meeting against Texas four days after that. What’s in store for the following week? Oh, just a trips to Lawrence and a date with up-and-coming Oklahoma at the Lloyd Noble Center. That’s five games in the first two weeks against the teams comfortably expected to finish #1-#5 in the league in some order. There’s no hiding — we’re going to learn a lot about Oklahoma State very quickly.

If Everything Goes Right… Nash explodes and becomes the Big 12’s best all-around player not named Georges Niang. Hickey, Forte and Cobbins are productive and healthy as the team steals two of its three road games in non-conference action. Redshirt freshman Jeffrey Carroll steps up to provide additional scoring to counteract the problems experienced by the Cowboys’ interior defense. While Ford’s cushy contract makes it tough to believe his job is in serious jeopardy, the team combats a rough start to conference play with a strong finish against the dregs to finish above .500 in Big 12 play, taking some of the public scrutiny away from their coach.

If Nothing Goes Right… The back line struggles all year to get consistent performances, which allows opposing defenses to provide extra help on Nash and Forte. The compounding issues lead to Hickey forced into taking more of the scoring load, which doesn’t suit him, and those calls for Doug Gottlieb to patrol the sidelines in 2015 become more than just fun speculation.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Anthony Hickey (Sr., 8.4 PPG, 3.7/1.3 AST-TO ratio, 34% 3FG for LSU last season)
  • SG Phil Forte (Jr., 13.3 PPG, 44.1 3FG%, 86.9 FT%)
  • SF Le’Bryan Nash (Sr., 13.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 52 eFG%)
  • F Michael Cobbins (Sr., 6’8″ 230 lbs, 15.3 DReb%)
  • F Leyton Hammonds (although he could get supplanted by Anthony Allen)

Hickey, Forte, Nash and Cobbins are locks to begin the season as starters, which provides some security for a team that lost as much as it did. The last spot is a much bigger question, though. Hammonds has the inside track as an experienced returnee, but it’s far from a given. The rash of defections meant that Ford had to scramble to find some replacement bigs, but the 7’1″ Allen is more than just a warm body; he’s a big-time shot-blocker who, at 245 pounds, is also capable of running the floor.

Key Reserves

  • G Jeff Newberry (JuCo transfer)
  • G Tyree Griffin (Fr., 5’10” 165 lbs.)
  • F Jeffrey Carroll (RS Fr., 6’6″ 205 lbs.)
  • C Mitch Solomon (Fr., 6’9″ 225 lbs.)

Newberry and Griffin both fit better as point guards than shooting guards, but when the Cowboys need points off the bench, Ford will look to Carroll, whose identity as a long-range gunner is so entrenched that Cobbins nicknamed him “Clip” (as in “emptying the clip”). Senior guard Christien Sager saw action in 29 games last season and received an extended opportunity while Smart served his infamous suspension, but he’s not someone the team wants to count on long-term. There’s an abundance of questions that need answering on this bench, so look for Ford to use it liberally at the start of the season.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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