Back At It

Campbellsville University

The Oklahoma State Cowboys returned to the hardwood this afternoon and we get our first look at some new and important pieces.

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Oklahoma State played the first of their two exhibition games for the 2013-14 season earlier this afternoon, taking on the Campbellsville, which is where Travis Ford started his head coaching career. Ford was not exactly pleased after the game, saying that the team's play reflected on a poor week of practice, but there were definitely some good moments in what was certainly an exhibition game. There was rust, a disciplinary benching for LeBryan Nash and some miscommunications, but overall I was happy with what I saw.

The first thing that stuck out to me was all of the different zone presses that the Cowboys tried. Sitting in the stands and looking at the floor from the opposing point guard's perspective, you can tell that OSU has the potential to be a turnover forcing machine. The Cowboys have so much length up and down the roster and some hybrd bigs that can move around and cover space quickly (with the exception of the Marek Soucek). They played a soft box press (2-2-1), a diamond look with 1-3-1 pressure and some straight one-man press stuff as well, with everything picking up around three-quarters court.

The zone pressures that Ford was calling weren't as aggressive as the stuff you'll see from someone like Shaka Smart with his Havoc system, and this might be a trend this season with the new hand-checking rules. OSU's press was laid back and relied on jumping passing lanes, creating deflections and using floor positioning to force a pass rather than getting up into the ball-handlers. Essentially, they tried to contain Campbellsville and then pounce on their mistakes rather than attacking them every play. Such a situation is exactly why the NCAA chose to crack down on aggressive defenders this season, and the result should be more creativity with trap and press schemes like the ones we saw today.

The Cowboys often times stayed in zone after their press. My favorite sequence in this game was when Marcus Smart, Stevie Clark, Phil Forte and Markel Brown were on the floor at once, with Soucek in as the only big. The Pokes played a 1-3-1 zone with this group and put Smart on the backline. I thought this was fascinating, and it may be something that Ford uses later in the season. Soucek used his long arms to occupy the middle of the zone (around the free throw line) and Smart did a nice job on the backend as a rebounder (I'm sure he's still getting used to rotating as a center).

When Oklahoma State got into man situations, I thought they did a good job defending without fouling. Smart and Clark specifically did a really good job of washing the windshield, so to speak, keeping their hands active and high and controlling their man's direction with their unbelievable footspeed rather than their hands. I can't imagine how smaller point guards on OSU's schedule are going to fare with Smart using every bit of his wingspan to limit their passing options while keeping up with their dribble because he's a freak of nature when it comes to defensive instincts (as in the photo above).

Offensively, the Pokes came out running a lot of actions (floppy, curl, etc) to get Markel Brown the ball on the wings, and I'm certain this will be the staple of their offense this season. A lot of these sets are initiated with Smart running a high pick-and-roll with Brown getting open on the weakside, so they are designed to give the team's two best players a chance to make a play. When Phil Forte got in, the Pokes had another player that they could run weakside action for and he looked as good as ever coming off of those screens ready to fire. If his shooting percentage can match his natural shooting touch this season, OSU will likely have the elite shooter they need when they play smaller line-ups.

I also loved seeing the Pokes run a staggered pick-and-roll with Smart, Kamari Murphy and Michael Cobbins. Murphy set the first screen for Smart and popped to the three-point line while Cobbins set the second pick. Cobbins' role to the rim forced the help off of Murphy, and he was wide open from deep. The play resulted in a post-up for Murphy, who appears to have been working on his moves, but with a hybrid wing like Nash or Leyton Hammonds, that play would produce a wide open three.

Cobbins looked like he has the ability to anchor this team defensively. He's bulked up without sacrificing his athleticism and he was already solid last season. To effectively replace Philip Jurick, who, while one-dimensional, was a very useful player, he'll have to become a bigger presence on the boards (Jurick ranked in the top 60 in offensive and defensive rebounding rate last season), but Cobbins has always been a good shot blocker, and with the ability to finish on slips to the rim, he should be more than capable to play the minimalist role that we've seen more and more of out of modern day centers.

On the rebounding front, Murphy really impressed. His activity on the defensive side of the floor was encouraging, and he cleaned up the glass whether he was at power forward or center. I think that if there is anybody on this team that will have a much larger role next season once Smart, Nash and Brown head for the pros (outside of Clark), it'll be Murphy. He seems to do all of the little things well - running the floor, rebounding, cutting hard - and I think the skills are starting to come in, too.

And, without question, the star of the show was Stevie Clark. This is due in part to the fact that we'd never seen him play before, but he looks exactly like the sparkplug that I think this offense needed coming into this season.

Clark is incredibly quick with the ball, and he may be better than even Smart at getting around the corner on the pick-and-roll, simply because teams won't be able to catch up to him to be physical. There was one play that ended up being blown dead where Clark rejected the screen going towards the middle and instead crossed over and took off baseline. The defense had no time to react and he floated it in off the glass. I'm also pretty sure that he's got "if I get hot I'm going to pull it from 30" thing going on, which is always most fun when it's the diminutive point guard. He's got a nice looking shot and a great handle, so if Ford wants to run with two-point guard line-ups and give Smart a rest (or if Smart gets in foul trouble), things aren't going to fall apart.

Things are obviously going to be wonky in these first couple of games (particularly against a pretty good NAIA team in Campbellsville), I wouldn't worry too much about some of the defensive mishaps and poor outside shooting numbers (6-of-21 from three) The final score makes me frown a bit, but I thought the Cowboys played pretty well in their first action of the season.

Oh, and if that free throw rate is any indication, the Pokes are going to live at the foulline again this season, which will be a tremendous thing if they are able to compliment it with outside shooting.

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