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The Oklahoma State Cowboys will look to push through the Big 12 to the 2014 March Madness Tournament - Playboy's College Basketball Preview

Team Preview: 2014 Oklahoma State Cowboys

By: Dan Ilika

Coach: Travis Ford, 104-63 at Oklahoma State

2012-13 record: 24-9 (13-5 in the Big 12)

Marcus Smart wants to be a winner. Period. That’s why the star combo guard, projected by many NBA types to be a lottery pick in this year’s draft, decided to hang back in Stillwater for his sophomore year. The question is whether the Cowboys’ roster improved enough to see Oklahoma State best its 2013 Tournament performance that saw the squad bounced in the round of 64. If all goes according to plan, Coach Travis Ford and the gang will look to improve upon last year’s finish and maybe even make a Final Four appearance. If not, then Smart missed out on a couple of fat paychecks this year.

Strongside: The good news for Cowboys fans is Smart is still paired with shooting guard Markel Brown, who returned for his senior year in Stillwater. Together, the duo make up one of the most dominant backcourt tandems in the country, providing stellar shooting from beyond the arc—something Smart worked on in the off-season—and distributing the ball nicely. Helping dish the rock for OSU is freshman guard Stevie Clark, who is much smaller than fellow point man Smart but provides a fresh look when the latter needs a rest. On the wing, Le’Bryan Nash and Brian Williams provide perimeter D and the opportunity to put up points when Smart and Brown are smothered.

Weakside: The trouble for OSU starts on the glass, where the team lacks a dominant big man to crash the boards. Defense may be a team effort, but it’s all for naught without someone to clean up and get the ball moving in the other direction. You can’t teach height, as the old saying goes, and that will hurt the Cowboys in tournament play, where bigger opponents will control the glass and ultimately the tempo.

Floor spacing can also be a bit of a problem at times for Oklahoma State. While Smart has improved his outside shooting since his freshman year, the team needs to work on moving the ball to get open looks.

All told: OSU is a bit of a ‘tweener when it comes to the point where performance meets expectations. The Cowboys aren’t likely to dethrone the Kansas Jayhawks from the top of the Big 12 heap. You also couldn’t call the Pokes an underdog. No, the team is stuck in a bit of a no-man’s-land, chasing after top dog Kansas while expectations in Stillwater put the team on a pedestal.

But crazier things have happened in the tournament known as March Madness, and Oklahoma State doesn’t need to win the conference to make a splash in the big dance. Last year’s early tournament exit, combined with the collective drive of Smart and Brown to win before taking their games to greener pastures in June, may be the recipe for success Oklahoma State needs to take that next step.

Coach Ford’s job may depend on it.


Dan Ilika is a Toronto-based journalist who writes about business. He once had a beer with Jerry Rice. Follow him on Twitter at @ParkdaleDan if you want.

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