Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 10/21/13
For more preseason coverage of the 2013-14 college basketball season, click here. There is a lot to be excited about in Stillwater this season. Head Coach Travis Ford and Oklahoma State bring back a wealth of talent from a year ago and are certainly one of the favorites to not only win the Big-12, but also make a deep tournament push. However, the looming question for the Cowboys this season won’t be IF they will be good, it will be HOW good? Last year, the March Madness gods did not smile on the fifth seeded ‘Pokes’ as they lost to an unquestionably under-seeded No. 12 Oregon Ducks team in their first game. After the game, Ford admitted that it was a “bad end to a good season.” But the bitter aftertaste of that defeat was diluted when freshman phenom and Big-12 player of the year Marcus Smart announced he was returning to OSU for his sophomore season. First and foremost, Smart’s return to the lineup is unquestionably huge for Oklahoma State. He does so much more than his 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 3 steals per game illustrate. For one, his aggressive drives to the hoop not only result in points for himself, but also induce fouls and create assist opportunities for open teammates as the defense collapses. Smart is built like a 6'4" linebacker who can play the post and rebound in the trenches, which creates mismatches for smaller guards. In short, his return is a critical boost for the Cowboys, and his placement on many preseason All-American lists is certainly justified. And the scariest part is he still has room to improve. He turned the ball over too many times last season and his jump shot was inconsistent. If he polishes his game, take cover. Smart’s return to the lineup is huge for Oklahoma State. He does so much more than his stats illustrate. While Smart is the headliner, the rest of the lineup is certainly no less impressive. Oklahoma State brings back four starters from a year ago, and Ford hopes that the added experience will pay dividends. Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash, specifically, are two other vital components. Both chose to remain in Stillwater for another season as well, maintaining Oklahoma State’s fearsome back court. Brown is a “grizzled veteran” who has already played 100 games in an OSU uniform entering his senior season and holds the school record for most blocks ever by a guard (78). Not to mention, Brown made All Big-12 2nd team last season averaging 15.3 points per game (just off Smart’s torrid pace). Nash is a dynamic scorer in his own right, averaging 14 PPG last season, and is 167 points away from 1,000 in his Cowboy career. At 6'7", he creates a lot of match-up problems. Guards Brian Williams and Phil Forte figure to contribute consistently as well. Williams was sidelined for much of last year with a wrist injury and said he only felt "60-70 percent" when he did return. He is back 100% healthy this season, adding another scoring dimension and a defensive presence. Meanwhile the freshman Forte put in a team high 68 threes last season. Freshman Stevie Clark looks to figure into this mix as well. The front court is where most of the questions surrounding OSU will have to be answered. Junior Michael Cobbins has added weight to his 6'8" frame in the off-season and hopes to shoulder the load down low. However, although Cobbins is athletic, he isn’t a “true” big man, and it remains to be seen if he will produce. Kamari Murphy, another 6'8" forward, JUCO transfer Gary Gaskins, and 7-footer Marek Soucek will all look to fill the role as well. Altogether, OSU returns 96% of it scoring, 84% of its rebounding, and 97% of its assists and steals from a year ago. Keeping the nucleus of such a talented team intact is impressive, and immensely encouraging going into the season if you’re a Cowboys fan. Their experience and talented back court will probably carry them through many games. But whether Cobbins and company can assert their authority in the paint will be the difference between a “good” and a “great” season. As Smart said in the off-season regarding the ceiling of his team, “There is none….It’s up to us. We control our destiny.”

This article first appeared on The Sports Post and was syndicated with permission.

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