Who is OSU's secrect ingredient to a deep run in March Madness?

Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Marcus Smart is the only given in this team's driven surge to an NCAA bid, and that's a good thing.

First, I will give credit where it is due.

This post was inspired by a solid discussion over at Pistols Firing about which role player would be key in OSU's chances of making a deep run in the NCAA tourney. Be assured, the Cowboys will be dancing even if they lose their next three games. Their resume is plenty good.

This got me thinking about what exactly is the definition of a role player.

Courtesy of an online dictionary, this was the best thing I could come up with..

"A team athlete who plays mainly in specific situations."

When I coached, I viewed a role player as someone not normally counted on by the team for major production, but when called upon could provide a needed boost.

If I apply those definitions, Phil Forte and Brian Williams are the closest things to role players, as witnessed by Travis Ford's swapping of these two at the end of games for offensive (Forte) and defensive (Williams) purposes.

So I began to focus more on consistent, impactful production, and the only guy that answers that call is Smart, largely due to his stat stuffing (assists, blocks, steals, rebounds). For purposes of this discussion, I used point production for only the "major" non-conference opponents, plus all conference games. Yes, stats are for losers, but numbers don't lie, which resulted in this tweet from yesterday prior to the game...

Results vs Texas? Brown 18, Nash 16. Even I get lucky once in a while...

Anyway, here are the stats on which I based that prediction:

TOTAL PTS SMART BROWN NASH FORTE COBBINS
PTS % TOTAL RANK PTS % TOTAL RANK PTS % TOTAL RANK PTS % TOTAL RANK PTS % TOTAL RANK
TENN 62 17 27% 1.5 13 21% 3.0 17 27% 1.5 3 5% 6.0 DNP DNP DNP
NC STATE 76 20 26% 2.0 6 8% 4.0 23 30% 1.0 17 22% 3.0 DNP DNP DNP
VA TECH 71 18 25% 1.5 11 15% 4.0 18 25% 1.5 5 7% 5.0 DNP DNP DNP
SO FLORIDA 61 15 25% 1.0 13 21% 2.0 6 10% 6.0 6 10% 6.0 6 10% 6.0
GONZAGA 68 23 34% 1.0 16 24% 2.0 9 13% 4.0 15 22% 3.0 3 4% 5.0
K STATE 67 25 37% 1.0 19 28% 2.0 6 9% 4.5 8 12% 3.0 2 3% 6.0
TCU 63 14 22% 1.5 14 22% 1.5 13 21% 3.0 5 8% 6.0 7 11% 4.0
OU 68 10 15% 4.0 19 28% 1.0 12 18% 2.5 12 18% 2.5 8 12% 5.0
TECH 79 3 4% 8.5 21 27% 1.0 9 11% 3.0 19 24% 2.0 8 10% 4.0
BAYLOR 54 12 22% 2.5 2 4% 5.0 24 44% 1.0 4 7% 4.0 12 22% 2.5
W VIRG 80 13 16% 3.0 24 30% 2.0 2 3% 6.0 26 33% 1.0 7 9% 5.0
IOWA ST 78 21 27% 1.0 12 15% 4.0 18 23% 2.0 17 22% 3.0 10 13% 5.0
KANSAS 85 25 29% 2.0 28 33% 1.0 7 8% 5.0 11 13% 3.0 8 9% 4.0
BAYLOR 69 14 20% 1.0 13 19% 2.0 10 14% 3.0 7 10% 6.0 9 13% 4.0
TEXAS 72 23 32% 1.0 17 24% 2.0 14 19% 3.0 2 3% 7.0 4 6% 6.0
TECH 91 10 11% 4.0 25 27% 1.0 6 7% 5.5 14 15% 3.0 13 14% 4.0
OU 84 28 33% 1.0 14 17% 3.0 26 31% 2.0 10 12% 4.0 4 5% 5.0
KANSAS 67 16 24% 2.0 20 30% 1.0 8 12% 4.5 13 19% 3.0 8 12% 4.5
W VIRG 73 14 19% 3.0 16 22% 1.5 16 22% 1.5 2 3% 6.5 10 14% 5.0
TCU 64 9 14% 2.0 7 11% 3.0 28 44% 1.0 2 3% 8.0 4 6% 5.5
TEXAS 78 11 14% 4.0 18 23% 1.0 16 21% 2.0 14 18% 3.0 6 8% 6.0
71.9 16.2 23% 2.3 15.6 22% 2.2 13.7 19% 3.0 10.1 14% 4.2 7.2 10% 4.8
CONF ONLY 72.9 15.5 21% 2.6 16.8 23% 2.0 13.4 18% 3.1 10.4 14% 4.1 7.5 10% 4.7
WINS ONLY 74.3 15.8 21% 2.4 16.1 22% 2.1 14.1 19% 3.0 10.3 14% 4.5 7.4 10% 4.9
LOSSES ONLY 65.8 17.3 26% 2.0 14.5 22% 2.5 12.8 19% 3.0 9.5 14% 3.4 6.6 10% 4.6
LAST 11 (10-1) 76.5 16.7 22% 2.2 17.6 23% 2.0 13.7 18% 3.2 10.7 14% 4.3 7.5 10% 4.9
LAST 5 (4-1) 73.2 15.6 21% 2.4 15.0 20% 1.9 18.8 26% 2.2 8.2 11% 4.9 6.4 9% 5.2

There are some key numbers that stick out for me:

  • In conference play, the big 3 (Smart/Brown/Nash) average 62% of OSU's total points. In the last five games, that number has grown to 67%;
  • In all games on this list, Nash and Forte have BOTH scored in double figures 5 times. OSU has only lost 1 of those games (@OU), additionally, OSU is 5-1 when 4 or more players score 10+ (only loss @OU);
  • In conference play, Nash recorded his 3rd consecutive game in double digits for the first time this season;
  • In conference play, OSU averages 3 players in double figures. However, during this 11 game run (10-1), the Cowboys have had 4 or more in double figures 5 times, and only one game with less than 3 (@TCU);
  • Smart's and Forte's average point variance in game to game production is 7. Brown and Nash both average 10 point swings per game;

For me, these numbers don't point so much to inconsistency as they do to versatility. The Cowboys have 4 players averaging in double digits. Four players who are ALL capable of putting up 20+ on a particular night.

Smart is the most consistent, but his consistency lies in the "other" numbers. While it could be argued that Smart and Brown are both inconsistent scorers, I would argue that they consistently score in double digits. You need that third scorer consistently putting up 10+ points, even if two players are filling that role. Nash and Forte have consistently done that, showing up as the third guy in 18 of the 21 games listed.

As an aside, the other thing that strikes me is the anomaly that was the loss in Norman. Four guys in double figures and still couldn't win. But then I noticed something that was not an anomaly at all.

The score.

On this list, when scoring 70 or more points in regulation, OSU is 11-1 (only loss at Va Tech). When scoring less than 70, they are 5-5.

So while we can argue over who the key player will be in a run through March Madness...Nash/Forte/Cobbins/Williams...I will argue that I don't care. One or two of them will show up, as they have consistently done in conference play.

This team is now 9 players deep, and that depth has resulted in really solid, consistent defense. If OSU can continue scoring 70+ points on a consistent basis, this team could do way more damage in the tourney than any of us dare imagine.

Then my mind drifts off thinking about the possibility of Smart coming back for next season.

[stops thinking, repeatedly breathes into bag]

GO POKES!!!

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