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Will Marcus Smart be the only storyline this season?

That’s right…basketball season is upon us. The women’s team enters the season with raised expectations after last year’s WNIT championship, but those pale in comparison to the intrigue and wonderment surrounding the men’s squad.

Given that, we decided to have a little hoops Q&A with our fellow Oklahoma State blogging brother Kyle Porter at Pistols Firing, as well as Brendon Morris, one of my favorite O’Colly guys. I was granted the privilege of supplying the questions, so here you go.

1. Does this season have a chance to be about anything other than Marcus Smart?

Kyle Porter, Pistols Firing

Yes, I wrote this on Thursday -- I think there's a real opportunity for Ford to assert his three or four best guys and create a mini-positionless revolution in Stillwater this season. Smart will be the focal point for sure but I don't think OSU needs to live and die by him, though knowing Ford they'll certainly try.

Brendon Morris, O’Colly

I don't think so, and it's only because of how he plays the game. From what I've heard (and the handful of minutes I saw him play against Ottawa) he's a mix between LeBron James and Deron Williams. He's a threat to post a solid triple-double, but he's also capable of dropping 40 points without even breaking a sweat. Smart's the type of player that makes everyone around him better because of his attitude and skill set, and I think that alone will make this "The Season of Marcus Smart" no matter what the other people do. The only other thing this season could be is a Markel Brown dunk contest, which I'm okay with too.

Robert Whetsell, CRFF

Simple answer…No. Complicated answer…Yes, but it all revolves around him. I know it was an exhibition game, but this kid was diving for a loose ball at midcourt when OSU was up by at least 30. His stat line for the night was

>5-7 (2-3) from the floor

>1-1 from the line

>6 rebounds (4 def, 2 off)

>6 assists

>0 blocks

>6 steals

>0 turnovers

>13 points

And that was in 15 minutes of play. Yes, this was a vastly inferior opponent, but then that’s what you would expect from your best player. This guy is the real deal, and is already light years ahead of Nash in all the departments other than physical talent.

The two biggest “non-Smart” question marks for the season are will Ford survive and will Nash step further into the stardom that we all unrealistically expected from him last season?

I think the Ford answer is simple. If he has found his floor general (Smart), then this will be more about his x’s & o’s and “crunch time” decisions. Even still, great play from Smart and the improved play he is supposed to inspire from the rest of the team could cover up poor coaching. So in the end, it’s still about Smart and what he will bring to the team.

Sans injuries, or other things out of Ford’s control, I think anything short of respectable in the Big 12, and an NCAA berth or a deep run in the NIT will get him a ticket on the T Boone “don’t let the door hit ya in the ass” express.

As for Nash, would it be fair to say that, fairly or unfairly, almost any improvement would be at least partially attributed to Smart’s leadership, both on and off the court? Nash admitted that he has learned he can’t get by on talent alone, so should we now expect to see him “take over” some games? Hit some big shots? Does any of that happen without Smart getting at least some of the credit?

This conveniently leads us to the next question…

2. What will Nash's legacy be?

PF: Big year for that. He has a real chance to transform himself this year into something special. I think everything will revolve around #33 but in a lot of ways that can be a good thing for Nash. He's going to have to score, yes, but he won't feel like the lone wolf like it looked like he did last year -- both because Smart is in town and Nash has grown up. I think people really underestimate how much everything slows down from year one to year two for college athletes (cue Lunt/Walsh debate) and I think the same will be true of Nash. Don't be surprised if he really opens it up in conference play to the tune of 20-8 en route to his big payday next summer.

O’Colly: I think we're all in for a surprise this season from Nash. I know everyone will shrug that off as me being the eternal optimist, but I really do believe it. Nash was one-dimensional last season, but started to hit his stride at the end. Against Ottawa, he looked completely different than how he did even at the end of last year. He's always been a cerebral guy, and that finally transferred to the court. Instead of putting his head down and trying to do it himself, he was looking for teammates and working the boards. If he continues that (which is what Ford is trying to get him to do), then I think the sky's the limit for Nash. If he reverts to last year it still has a chance to work, but the public opinion on him will be significantly lower.

CRFF: Could this be the quietest “2 & done” ever?

To revisit my earlier comments on Smart, I think if Nash is supposed to be this great NBA prospect then Cowboy fans would not be unrealistic to expect him to absolutely dominate at some point. Not every game, but wouldn’t you think someone with that kind of talent, at some point, would just go off and single-handedly take over a game on at least one end of the floor, if not both? His stat line for the Ottawa exhibition…

>3-8 (o-1) from the floor

>5-7 from the line

>3 rebounds (3 def)

>5 assists

>0 blocks

>2 steals

>2 turnovers

>11 points

And it took him 22 minutes to do this. Honestly, much of the game I wasn’t even aware he was on the floor. The minute Smart, Brown, Murphy, or Forte stepped in, I knew immediately where they were.

Players of that caliber should elevate a program, right? A few experts thought he might be “1 & done.” That sounds like “Kentucky” talent to me. Are we going to find out he’s not “all that,” when he stays for a third year? Would that be a bad thing?

It is true that some players who were not BIG stars in college turn into pretty good NBA guys. The pro game is definitely different than the college version. Is that what Nash might be?

Seems I have more questions than answers for this one.

3. Will the Cowboys be able to do any "real" damage in the Big 12 without "playing bigger" in the middle?

PF: Sure. They can't win the league, nor are they a top four team in my opinion, but they might have the best trio of guards in the Big 12. That means they're going to have to play differently (see Q1) than other squads but it doesn't mean they can't vie for an NCAA tournament spot come March.

O’Colly: It depends on Travis Ford, and I say that because of what happened in the NBA last season. The Miami Heat figured out a way to win without a center on the floor, and that approach is already starting to trickle down to the NCAA. Ford loves an up-tempo, fast break style of offense, and that's easy when you roll out three guards and two forwards. I'm concerned about their half-court game. It's not impossible to be effective without a five, but it's definitely not easy. If Ford can figure out a way to score points in their half-court sets without a center, which he can, then they'll be just fine.

CRFF: Depends on what you define as “real” damage.

If that means beat Kansas, then no.

If that means beat Baylor, then maybe.

If that means beat most of the other teams, then yes.

4. Where will all the rebounding come from?

PF: Ah, well...can we move on to the next question? OSU's rebound percentage (a formula that determines what percentage of missed shots a team collected, devoid of tempo) was 334th in the nation last year. 334th! Out of 345 teams! And now three of its best six rebounders (Cobbins, Williams, Jurick) are out for extended time. So instead of relying on chasing down missed shots, OSU is going to have to force turnovers, which it also wasn't very good at last year (the Cowboys forced turnovers on defense 18.7% of the time -- good 248th in the country).

O’Colly: As of right now, it's Murphy and Le'Bryan Nash. Nash would probably prefer to be on the outside where he can make more things happen, but his height is going to be needed down low until Ford can get Jurick and Olukemi back. Nash said that he's been working on his low-post defense, and with low-post defense comes good positioning for grabbing boards. Outside of him, there's that Markel Brown guy who can guard the 3 and mix it up in the post from time to time. Oh, and I hear he can jump kind of high too.

CRFF: It was just an exhibition, but Ottawa outrebounded OSU 23-20 in the first half. The Cowboys rectified that for the game, but I still think, even with improvement, this will not be a strong suit for this squad. EVER. But I also don’t think it will be a complete vacuum.

Once again Smart will be the catalyst for any improvement in this area. He is all over the floor. But I think Kamari Murphy will be a hidden jewel. Ford has spoken more than once about Murphy’s “motor” always running, and he pulled down 11 boards in 30 minutes of action in the exhibition.

Rebounding is about two things…movement and awareness. If you aren’t moving on the offensive end, you’re easy to block out. When a shot goes up on the defensive end, you need to be aware of where the offensive players are and impede their path to the basket. OSU can do both with the team they have, but it takes discipline, especially against a physically superior group of players (ie: taller, stronger). The discipline part will be the question mark. Smart has it…Forte has it, but he’s the shortest guy on the floor…don’t know about the rest.

5. Who's the player we aren't really talking about yet that will make the biggest impact?

PF: I think Markel's slipping a little bit under the radar. Everybody's all hopped up on Nash and Smart (and justifiably so) but Markel is the one who shot lights out in Europe two months ago and he's also the one who averaged a 13-5-3-1 mark over his last 17 games (all conference + the Big 12 tourney) last year. All people know him for thus far are his highlight reel dunks but after a season as the clear-cut third option I think he could become a legitimate all-conference candidate.

O’Colly: I typed up a huge response about Phil Forte, but after the Ottawa game last week you've probably already heard it. Even with Forte there though, I think it's Kamari Murphy, especially after Cobbins went down. Jurick is coming off of that Achilles injury, and even though he'll be back, he won't be full-strength again for awhile. The same goes for Jean-Paul Olukemi. With them still recovering and Cobbins' status unknown, I think Murphy could make a huge impact in the early stretch of the season and gain some minutes when conference play rolls around. Especially if he keeps his focus on rebounding, as he did against Ottawa last week. He's athletic and smart enough to contribute in the rebounding department, and he's also capable of scoring a few buckets on the offensive end.

CRFF: Goodness…who hasn’t been talked about?

Of the “no names,” Sager obviously has the best opportunity, and got some quality time last year. With Williams out for the season, he’s got a chance to be a valuable body.

Of the regular rotation, I’m going with the slowest guy with the least vertical on the team…Soucek. He strikes me as the guy who ends up with 4-8 points and a few boards, and leaves you wondering how in the hell he did that. I have a soft spot for that type of player. He’s also the only guy over 6’ 8” that is available to play right now (sorry Nolan, I’m not counting on your brother’s “baby hook” just yet), so he’ll get valuable time early in the season out of necessity. If he’s able to play even a little defense without fouling out at the speed of light, then he could really be a valuable piece of the puzzle.

There you have it. The Cowboys' basketball journey starts Friday, 11/9 vs UC-Davis. Thanks again to Kyle and Brendon!