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Oklahoma State Basketball: Freshmen Five providing foundation for Brad Underwood

The future of Oklahoma State basketball is starting to look brighter with each passing week.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Oklahoma State at Connecticut Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma State Cowboys are off to a hot start. With wins over UConn, Georgetown, and then a road thrashing of Wichita State, it appears the program is beginning to turn a corner.

At 9-2, their only losses come against then-3rd-ranked North Carolina, and a one-point loss on the road against Maryland. In that game, they led for most of the contest.

Now, the Cowboys are starting to gain some attention. For the first time all season, they were featured in the “receiving votes” category of the AP Top 25. The last time they cracked the top 25 was back in week 15 of the 2014-15 season.

One could argue a variety of reasons for the turnaround this season. For one, a healthy Jawun Evans and Phil Forte provides more depth and talent. Second, I don’t think coaching can be understated. This team is playing a high level of basketball right now, and as Mitch Holthus noted during the game on Saturday, they are beginning to take on the personality of their coach; feisty, tough, gritty, hard-nosed. They’re hitting the glass at a level that they haven’t in years, and they’re scoring a ton of points in the process.

There’s another key reason for Oklahoma State’s early-season success: the Freshmen Five. Five freshmen for Oklahoma State are currently averaging over 10 minutes per game; Lindy Waters (21.2 MPG), Cam McGriff (18.2), Brandon Averette (15.2), Lucas N’Guessan (12.5), and Thomas Dziagwa (10.1). These five freshmen are currently in the top 11 on the team in minutes played per game.

While making an emphasis on providing the young players an opportunity to grow, they’ve also won games in the process.

Look back at that Tulsa game. With an injured Jawun Evans sidelined for the game, true freshman Brandon Averette played 37 minutes and poured in 17 points. In that same game, Dziagwa came in and hit three clutch three-pointers right when the Golden Hurricane started to close the gap. Lindy Waters would hit a deep step-back shot to give the Pokes the win at the end of the game.

The Freshmen Five jumped on the scene that day.

Against Wichita State, they announced they were here to stay.

In a rowdy environment against a team that had won 116 straight non-conference home games, they stepped up. They took pressure off of Jawun Evans who only played 26 minutes due to foul trouble. They picked up a slumping Phil Forte.

Their defining moment came late in the first half after Evans picked up his second foul. Underwood would go with a lineup that included four freshmen and Jeffrey Carroll. When Underwood went with that lineup, the Cowboys were up nine. They would immediately push the lead to 18, and ultimately go to the half up 16.

That’s salty.

I wrote this in the game recap, but it’s worth mentioning here:

Look at what this group has been able to do this season with a healthy Evans and Forte, but look at what they did on Saturday without them. Evans had a sparkling game, but only played 26 minutes. Forte had 12 points, but was a virtual non-factor again.

You’re probably going to lose Evans to the draft next season. Jeffrey Carroll looks like an All-Big 12 First Team candidate, and Phil Forte will exhaust his eligibility. I think Underwood knows how important this season is to get his freshmen some experience. This team is young right now, but next season, they’ll be even younger. And not the Travis Ford definition of young.

Look at what is coming in for Underwood, though. Three four-star recruits, a potential five-star point guard in Trae Young who says OSU is a “serious candidate,” and a freshman class that is rapidly improving.

This season has incredible potential. But the Freshmen Five for are building a foundation, not only for Brad Underwood and this season, but for the extended future of the program.