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4-on-4: Ending The Season



Are things looking up in Stillwater?

Photo Attribution: Icon SMI

As a sort of termination to the woeful 2011-2012 OSU basketball season I again asked John Helsley, Jimmie Tramel, and Anthony Slater to join me in answering questions about this (and next) year’s team. You should be following all of them on Twitter.

Hope you enjoy the 4-on-4.

1. Why should OSU fans be excited about next season?

Jimmie Tramel (Tulsa World) – Nothing excites fans more than “next guy” and, in this case, that’s McDonald’s All-American Marcus Smart, who allegedly will bring the Charlie Sheen intangible (winning) that was missing last season. With two All-Americans (Le’Bryan Nash is the other) on the squad, can the Cowboys possibly miss the NCAA Tournament? Only twice in OSU history have the Cowboys had two All-Americans on a basketball roster. James Anderson and Byron Eaton settled for an NIT trip in 2008, but they advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2009.

John Helsley (Oklahoman) – There’s reason for optimism, based on the core of players coming back — assuming Darrell Williams is one of them, too — and the quality of the guys coming in. Marcus Smart is pegged as a big-time winner, the kind of player who make others look better. That bodes well for Markel Brown, Darrell Williams, Le’Bryan Nash, Michael Cobbins, et al. And for the Cowboys.

Anthony Slater (O’Colly) – You had five freshman in the rotation. You had three of them (Nash, BWilliams, Cobbins) show they were capable starters. You had a sophomore (Markel) begin to blossom. You have the top recruit in Texas (Marcus Smart) coming in. You have talent returning from injury/suspension (Olukemi, DWilliams?). Everyone else in the conference is worrying about what they are losing (UT-J’Covan Brown, ISU-Royce White, KU-Taylor/Robinson, BU-entire rotation may go to league). You are getting almost everything back, and then some.

Kyle Porter (Pistols Firing) – Why shouldn’t they be excited? You have the Big 12 Freshman of the Year coming back, an eclectic, if not dangerous supporting cast and a coach frothing at the mouth to win 20 games. Plus all the Ewing Theory potential you can handle with Keiton exiting stage right. I’m more excited for basketball next season than I am football.

2. What NCAA Tournament team should OSU look to and say “that’s what we’re trying to achieve”?

Jimmie Tramel (Tulsa World) – North Carolina State. Why? N.C. State and OSU share similar NCAA hoops history. Both have won two championships. OSU has been to six Final Fours. N.C. State has made five Final Four trips. Both programs hit a recession after reaching Sweet Sixteens in 2005. From 2006 through 2011, OSU made two NCAA appearances and won one game. During that same span, N.C. State made one NCAA Tournament trip and won one game. This season, the Wolfpack busted out of the dregs to reach a Sweet Sixteen. If the Cowboys can do likewise next season, everyone in orange and black (and, I suppose, gray) should be happy.

John Helsley (Oklahoman) – How about Marquette, an athletic transition team that is fun to watch? For whatever reason, Marquette keeps having to prove itself. The Cowboys will be in a show-me state next season. Not sure that OSU will be afforded the same high seed as Marquette, but style wise, they’re worth copying.

Anthony Slater (O’Colly) – Last season, an inexperienced yet talented Indiana team struggled through a frustrating 12-20 season, including a 3-15 record in the Big 10. They showed glimpses at times and Tom Crean promised they were heading in the right direction. But Hoosier fans were wary. No NCAAs. No NIT. No CBI. Not with that record. Fast forward one season and that Indiana team, filled with essentially the same core, will be playing Kentucky for a spot in the Elite Eight on Friday. Their die-hard hoops fanbase is in a frenzy, delirious over how quickly their talented young team matured. In college hoops, things change at a rapid pace. It’s the perfect blueprint for Oklahoma State.

Kyle Porter (Pistols Firing) – Marquette. They run, they come at you, they don’t settle for crappy, off-balanced threes, and they win. That should be this team’s identity, whether it will or not is another question.

3. Does Travis Ford have to make the dance next year to keep his job?

Jimmie Tramel (Tulsa World) – (I assume we’re not talking about the spring formal.) I don’t think it’s carved in stone that we can jump to that conclusion. But he needs to get momentum back on his side. OSU fans are weary of young teams that are classified as “overachieving.” They would rather see some legit achieving.

John Helsley (Oklahoman) – I don’t know, have a difficult feel for this. If there are clear signs of progress, maybe that’s enough. Of course, progress may be defined as an NCAA Tournament berth. The seat will be warm next season, no doubt. And the goal should be top five in the Big 12 — and a Tournament berth — nothing less.

Anthony Slater (O’Colly) – It would certainly calm the masses, but I don’t think it’s a one-year ultimatum. That’s too simplistic. The decision would depend on what happened. If the team struggles through the season, shows little fight and a few players leave, then Ford would most likely get the axe. But if three starters go down with injuries and an undermanned team gets snubbed by Lunardi’s bubble, things would be different. It’s circumstantial. But a trip to the NCAAs is clearly the expectation and goal.

Kyle Porter (Pistols Firing) – I say no. Not because it’s the right thing but because Holder has other things to worry about and the voice of the alumni is weakening when it comes to basketball. As in, not enough alumni care as long as football is doing well and KD is doing KD things in OKC. It’s sad, really, that OSU hoops isn’t relevant enough anymore that missing the tournament three years in a row probably won’t warrant a firing.

4. Quick Hits

MVP – No doubt about this. It was Keiton Page. Little Country gave a clinic on how to end a career. He’ll be a folk hero around these parts forever. At some point, his legend will grow to the extent that people will say he had a blue ox that he rode to the arena on game days.
Improved – Markel Brown. As a freshman, he was so athletic that you looked at him as someone who could help you win a track and field competition. As a sophomore, he was someone who could help you win a basketball game.
Disappointing – The “Lobstilly” phenomenon. Pretty dunks. Losing record. What’s to celebrate? I’m all in favor of young guys having fun, but I remember when the bar was set higher. I haven’t talked to him about this, but I bet old school Cowboys like Randy Rutherford agree with me.
Biggest shock – Season ticket prices were lowered during the offseason. And season ticket sales fell again. And this was before the season went south, so fans found a reason to be disenchanted even before they had a valid reason to be disenchanted.
Stock rising – Le’Bryan Nash. Doug Gottlieb — he’s way smarter about basketball than I can pretend to be — told me Nash will be a different player when he is a sophomore. Players often make a big jump from year one to year two.
Stock falling – The state of hoops in our state. For the second year in a row, no team from Oklahoma reached the NCAA Tournament. Ohio, meanwhile, became the first state to put four of its schools in the Sweet Sixteen in the same season. For the first time since WKRP, I’m jealous of Ohio.
Most to prove next year – Whoever is in charge of keeping players on board. Recruiting and retention are the keys to sustaining a program. Recruiting is going to be fine when because the Cowboys are recruiting to a phenomenal locker room (orange pool table, NBA pinball machine, big screen TVs). But it’s not possible to give the Cowboys a passing grade in the retention department.
Buying – I absolutely buy Travis Ford’s theory that overscheduling played a role in OSU’s first losing season in 24 years. If people aren’t going to pack Gallagher-Iba Arena for nonleague games, you might as well load up the schedule with bums and keep yourself on the NCAA Tournament bubble for as long as possible. Everyone knew before league play began last season that the Cowboys had already played themselves out of the tournament. That’s no fun for anyone.
Selling – The pre-game and during-game songs played over the public address system at Gallagher-Iba Arena. The pep band is always cool, regardless of what songs are played. But I’m tired of the piped-in stuff because I’ve heard all the songs too many times. Will somebody please change the records in that juke box?

MVP – Keiton Page. The Pawnee Pistol showed great leadership, literally willed the Cowboys to several wins and shouldered a major load when in truth, he’d have been better suited playing off some other capable and consistent scorers.
Improved – Brian Williams. Brought a real energy to the floor, played hard always and his skills continued to develop as the season went on.
Disappointing – Injuries. They just kept coming, all the way to the end, robbing the team of depth and momentum.
Biggest shock – Ford not going gray, or completely bald, with all the “stuff” he had to deal with this season.
Stock rising – Cobbins. Finished just behind B-Will on the improved list, with his offensive game growing throughout the season. Another year of gaining weight and lifting weights should do him wonders.
Stock falling – Gallagher-Iba as a home court to be feared. Until the fans start showing up en masse again, it’s a nice building with some history.
Most to prove next year – Cezar Guerrero. At times, he looks like the point guard of the future. Other times, he looks lost. There’s a role for the good Guerrero, but he’s going to have to continue to work and understand what Ford wants — no, demands — out of his point guards.
Buying – All the advance hype on Marcus Smart. And I said I wouldn’t fall for this stuff anymore. But I saw him play in person and have talked to enough people in the know to believe he’s just the piece the program has been missing.
Selling – The need for a juco point guard. Between Smart and Guerrero, the Cowboys should have the position covered. Bringing in a juco point could only create problems when it comes to playing time. We’ve seen how that works out.

MVP – Keiton Page. The stretch to end his career was unbelievable.
Improved – Team chemistry. Uncomfortable and awkward early in season. Developed nicely before late injuries.
Disappointing – Nash’s injury. Would have loved to see him compete at B12 tourney.
Biggest shock – Cezar’s UTSA game. Did that really happen?
Stock rising – Brian Williams. Great role player. Doesn’t make mistakes. You could make a Final Four with him in your rotation.
Stock falling – JP Olukemi. Coming off knee surgery, it will be tough for him to snatch minutes from Nash/Williams.
Most to prove next yr – Le’Bryan. He’s pumping himself up like a future lottery pick. Time to show it.
Buying – NCAA tourney in 2013. Soft nonconference schedule. Weakened B12. Going dancing.
Selling – Phil Jurick’s scoring. I made the bold statement early in the year that he’d end the season with more points than blocks. I followed the back-and-forth race all season. Then, late in conference play, he went on a mini-block binge before tearing his Achilles. 47 blocks. 44 points. I was crushed.

MVP – ugh…Keiton, but not because he was great…because he’s the default answer.
Improved – Nash, he’s the only one who consistently got better as the season went on.
Disappointing – Jurick showed signs of being a game-changer but he really turned out to be pretty mediocre when he was in. Didn’t change much besides the foul totals.
Biggest shock – Cezar’s last three games. He looked like a legit PG, I didn’t know he had it in him.
Stock rising – Marcus Smart. If he’s half of what people say he is, the next four years will be a blast.
Stock falling – The legal system. Just make a decision on Darrell. Get it over with.
Most to prove – Cobbins. If he’s great next year, this team will have no choice but to be great.
Buying – The new basketball uniforms rumor. And apparently they’re “some of Nike’s favorites.”
Selling – Having too many good players is a good problem to have. No, it’s just a problem.

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