It's been a while.
In "my day," OSU basketball was NOT something to write home about. From 1966 to 1990, Cowboy hoops made the NCAA tournament just once (1983, lost in 1st round to PRINCETON).
Then came Eddie, who quickly returned OSU to the glory days of Iba, with OSU qualifying for the post season in each of his 16 years as head coach (OSU was invited to the NIT in 1995-96, but declined), 13 of those to "The Dance" with two Final Four appearances.
Sutton's unceremonious exit took with it the energy and momentum of the program. While OSU's post season presence continued for the next 5 years, 3 of those visits were 1st or 2nd round exits from the NIT, and 3 of those seasons saw losing records in Big 12 play. The vast expansion of college basketball's post season tournaments greatly benefited the Cowboys, but still, 21 straight post season invites are nothing to diminish.
Which makes 2011-2012 even more difficult to think about. I'll leave it at that.
Then came, as Pistols Firing has often opined, OSU's basketball "Jesus."
Credit to Coach Ford for FINALLY assembling a group of players capable of doing significant basketball "things," but credit Marcus Smart (and to a lesser degree, Phil Forte) for changing the culture and attitude of the program. The energy is almost always there, the chemistry is obvious, and I honestly believe Coach Ford would take a bullet for each and everyone one of them. GIA is filling back up, and the fans have been rewarded with some great games, and wins.
I put out a poll last Friday asking folks what they felt this team needed to do to finish the season on a positive note. Not a lot of votes, but got the obvious results. A whopping 76% said either a sweet 16 appearance or win at least 1 game in each of the tournaments (30% included a win over KState) as the necessary finish for a positive outcome to the season. Only 1 person felt that the season was a success, regardless of the outcome.
But 16% agreed that none of this matters if Marcus Smart leaves for the NBA, which prompted this response from OSUtopia...
but seriously, those that voted the last option, come on, enjoy the moment. When this ride ends, lets retire the number 33.
I'll freely admit being one of those, and I'll freely accept being called out. After watching the replay of this game, I'm so impressed with EVERY player that steps on the floor.
Marcus Smart is just too much. A freshman that plays like a senior, most of the time. Mature, selfless, and positive, he rises to every challenge. His attitude and effort transformed this team, PERIOD.
Markel Brown is maybe the only big change this season that wasn't directly a result of Smart's presence. I've said before, whoever he worked with to improve his outside shooting should become a guru to many. He is the most underrated passer on the team, and his highlight reel plays will become the stuff of OSU legend.
Le'Bryan Nash has taken a lot of heat over the past two seasons for his attitude and inconsistent effort. Smart's affect has likely been felt the greatest in Nash's performance, especially in the last 5 games, where he is averaging almost 20pts/gm (19.6). He has obviously embraced his place on the block and has accepted the need to go strong to the rim. OSU will not face many teams that can physically match up with him. As Ford has said many times, and reiterated in his KState post game comments, when Nash is in "5th gear" he is hard to handle. His defense has improved somewhat, but he still gets lost sometimes on switches and rotations. If I'm an opposing coach or team, I really don't want to see his "mean face."
Micheal Cobbins' put back dunks and post-block finger wagging have become staples of every game, and should warrant tshirts just like #LobStilly. He plays a LOT taller and more physical than he really is. While he doesn't score in bunches, his 8 pts/game are the most predictable thing about OSU hoops, next to Smart's stat line.
Phil Jurick made the most of what many would consider a second chance on two fronts. His recovery and performance following his Achilles injury have been nothing short of remarkable, especially for a big man. Throw into that his mixup with the law last year, and he could have very easily been done. Instead, he does exactly what his team needs from him each game (interior defense and protect the rim), and has improved in staying out of foul trouble. While matchups often limit his playing time, he has been a very key part of this team.
Phil Forte has hit a wall of sorts with his stroke from behind the arc, but he still occupies a very valuable place in the rotation. His energy and effort equal Smart's, and he is one of our better "on the ball" defenders despite his size. He has many big steals and hustle plays in crunch time, and his 90% FT number AND turnover/possession ratio make him a must have participant at the end of games. I could very easily see this being "his" team in a couple of years.
Brian Williams is the gift that keeps on giving. When he went down with the wrist injury and was declared out for the season, we collectively hung our heads. Now, along with Forte, Murphy, and Gardner, he has become a part of a bench rotation that loses NOTHING in defensive ability or intensity. His wrist is admittedly only 60-70%, but I would argue this run since mid to late January is largely due to his and Cobbin's returns and Nash's acceptance of the block.
Kamari Murphy is ANOTHER freshman who has played a bit above his years. He has adjusted to losing some time due to Cobbins and Williams, but does a great job spelling our big men. He will step into a much larger role next season with Jurick's departure.
Kirby Gardner probably carries the highest value to minutes played ratio on the team. He is not counted on for points. His sole responsibilities have been to take care of the ball and run the offense when Smart needs a blow or a break from running the point, and he has performed MAGNIFICENTLY. There is no drop off in ball handling and little on defense. This was easily Ford's most valuable pickup in the offseason, especially with how late it materialized.
Since I updated the data I used in this previous post, a couple of observations:
- Of the 23 "major opponent" games listed, OSU is 9-6 when Smart accounts for 20% or more of their points. In the other games they are 7-1;
- Likewise for Nash, OSU is 9-2 when Nash accounts for 20% or more of their points. They are 7-5 otherwise;
- As for Brown, OSU is 11-4 when Brown accounts for 20% or more of their points. They are 5-3 otherwise;
#Okstate finishes Big 12 play 10-1 when scoring 70+. Only loss at Hilton. That's their "Mendoza" line.— Robert Whetsell (@MFC_CRFF) March 9, 2013