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Five Thoughts as OSU Basketball Gears up for Big 12 Conference Play This Week

What to expect as OSU heads into conference play this week.



Oklahoma State’s football season ended on Friday. This upcoming Saturday, its basketball season will begin in earnest.

Big 12 play kicks into gear on Jan. 4 for the Cowboys, and it starts with a doozy: a road tilt against the reigning national runner-up Texas Tech Red Raiders. Before we dive head-first into league play, some thoughts on what to expect and where the team stands.

1. Likekele’s back, and the timing is perfect

OSU’s starting point guard missed a month recovering from an undisclosed illness, but he finally returned to the court Sunday in OSU’s blowout win over Southeastern Louisiana. In its 82-31 win, Likekele played 20 minutes, scored 9 points and added 4 assists and 3 boards. The stat most relevant to his return: OSU still has not lost a game this season when he’s in the lineup.

Likekele’s bulldog mentality as a perimeter defender and tough-nosed style of play earned him some buzz amongst NBA scouts, but he’s fallen off the radar a bit after missing the last month. Just as easily as he’s fallen, though, he can jump right back into the mix. It’s clear he’s OSU’s best player at this point in the season, and what he brings to the table on both ends of the floor is enough to give OSU a real boost into top-four contention in the league this season. With Tech looming, he’s back at just the right time — even if he’s still wading back into action with ease.

2. Tough opening schedule

There’s never a night off in the Big 12, but OSU’s opening road in the conference isn’t particularly kind. It faces Tech on the road Saturday, West Virginia at home two days later, another road trip to Texas to face TCU, then Texas at home. Two of those four teams are projected by KenPom to finish top-four in the conference, and combined they all four have a 37-9 record.

Even after that four-game stretch, things don’t really lighten up. OSU gets Baylor at home and Iowa State in Ames before the SEC/Big 12 challenge against Texas A&M. Currently, KenPom projects OSU to go 3-4 in its next seven. After losing three of its last five, that’d be … less than ideal.

3. Jonathan Laurent’s role, expanding

Marshall Scott had some expanded game notes on this on Sunday and it stuck out to me. Jonathan Laurent is a grad transfer who came to OSU via UMass as a touted sharpshooter who can space the floor and knock down 3s, but this season he’s not gotten much run. Then Sunday he notched an OSU career-high 11 points, playing an OSU career-high 18 minutes. His usage has slowly ticked up a bit and he’s taking advantage of it.

I think Laurent can be a difference-maker. He’s not an All-Big 12 player, but he fights on defense, has good size (6-6), and can make open looks at a respectable enough clip that defenses have to defend him. If this rise continues, I can see him growing into a rotation guy at the 3 or 4. He’s definitely earned more reps.

“He’s been really good for about a two and a half week stretch now,” Boynton said Sunday. “I think going into finals week is where he started to kinda figure out, ‘OK, this is what I need to do to help this team.’ Sometimes it takes a little while for a new guy, even though he’s a grad transfer.”

4. Bench depth is real

NBA coaches trim their rotation in the playoffs to guys they trust most, and college coaches do the same when conference play (and tournament play) rolls around. Still, OSU has 10 (!) guys averaging 10 or more minutes per game this season. Remember when OSU was holding mid-season walk-on tryouts to just try and get bodies for practice? That seems like it was pre-Travis Ford now!

I don’t expect Boynton will go 10 deep every single conference game — in fact, I’d bet against it. But having real, quality depth from your guys on the 6-10 rotation matters. OSU is deep at guard and forward and can swap bodies in like hockey rotations if it needs to. It won’t mean much now, but when the conference play grind becomes real a month from now, having fresh bodies at the end of the bench can mean the difference between wins and losses.

5. Lockdown defense

OSU is allowing 89.4 points per 100 possessions this season, according to KenPom. And that’s factoring in not having Likekele over the last month. That rate rankings No. 25 in the country and fifth in the Big 12 behind Kansas, Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

On a points per game basis, OSU ranks 41st, allowing 61.8 points per game.

What matters is that those marks won’t be going away. OSU’s length is going to affect Big 12 games. Here’s the length of OSU’s rotation:

G: Likekele (6-4), Anderson (6-2)
G: Harris (6-3)
F: Dziagwa (6-4), Waters (6-6)
F: McGriff (6-7), Laurent (6-6), Keylan Boone (6-8)
C: Yor Anei (6-10), Hidde (6-10), Kalib Boone (6-9)

That’s not to mention that Anei ranks second in the Big 12 this season in shots blocked per game. OSU has perhaps one of the most dynamic inside-out defensive duos in Likekele and Anei. Even when shots aren’t falling for OSU, it can bank on being disruptive on the other end of the floor this season.

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