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Four on Four – On Oklahoma State’s Best Player

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Photo Attribution:Emily Nielsen

Big thanks to Jimmie Tramel (Tulsa World), John Helsley (Oklahoman), and Anthony Slater (O’Colly) for joining me to talk some Cowboys hoops and hopefully answer a few questions as OSU heads into a wicked 5-game stretch of conference games. Hope you enjoy the banter.

1. Who is the best player on this team right now?

John Helsley, Oklahoman: Hmmm, that’s actually a tricky question. Le’Bryan Nash is the best player, he just doesn’t always play like the best player, although his energy level is improving. Brian Williams may be the most impactful player right now, with his energy and willingness to work hard on both ends a major boost. Keiton Page is the most valuable player, for all he does, including holding things together.

Jimmie Tramel, Tulsa World: OSU’s best player is, period, Keiton Page. Forget every other stat. If you want to know who a coach thinks is his best player, just look at minutes played.

Despite missing a game due to injury, Page has played 53 more minutes than anyone else on the team. And 53, by the way, was the jersey number of Darryl Dawkins, whose birthday is coming soon (Jan. 11). Sign me up for a piece of Chocolate Thunder birthday cake. And sign me up as being on the Keiton Page bandwagon. If he wasn’t on this team, the Cowboys would average somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 points a game.

Anthony Slater, O’Colly: Le’Bryan Nash is clearly the most talented player, but Keiton Page has been the best, and most important, this season. Production-wise, he scores in bunches, demands constant defensive attention and stabilizes the point guard position. But the most influential part of Page’s game has been his leadership. During tumultuous times, he has become the unquestioned captain, guiding a young an untested team through adversity and kept them afloat.

Kyle Porter, Pistols Firing: Right now, right this minute, gun to my head, I say Le’Bryan. Though if you want to go most consistent in Big 12 play there’s a strong case to be made for Brian Williams. Nash just does too many things so well for this club that I can’t not say him. By the way, the most famous #53 in OSU hoops history might just be one Nolan Cox (mostly because I don’t know of another).

2. Will we look back at OSU’s rugged non-con schedule and view it as beneficial for Big 12 play or a hindrance to getting in the NCAA tournament?

John Helsley, Oklahoman: Beneficial. A softer non-conference schedule would have helped the non-con record, but the Cowboys were still going to have a hard time navigating the Big 12 well enough to earn an NCAA bid. The Cowboys were 12-2 after non-con play a year ago, and it was a mirage. Check out this year’s Oklahoma team for another example of fool’s gold.

Jimmie Tramel, Tulsa World: The Cowboys overscheduled in hopes that it would be good prep for league play, but the nonconference schedule is ultimately going to be viewed as a detriment.

When you lose six games before the start of league play, it has a buzz-kill effect regarding NCAA Tournament hopes. I don’t know if players realize this (they’re usually either naive or blissfully optimistic in regard to how difficult it is to reach the NCAA Tournament), but older folks know that you can’t take that many nonconference lumps and still make the field of 68 unless you happen to pull off a miracle in conference play. This is a year when OSU needed to get fat on cupcakes and go into league play with something like an 11-2 record so they could ride the bubble for as long as possible.

Anthony Slater, O’Colly: Both. It seems like the brutal early-season slate toughened up the younger players, weeded out the ones who weren’t prepared and readied them for a tough conference. Just look at Bedlam. OSU was probably looking at the Sooners as one of its easier games this season. For the Sooners, OSU was probably better than anyone they played in nonconference. And I think that was a factor. That being said, those seven nonconference losses might be the difference between NCAA and NIT. Most teams with a legitimate shot are starting conference play with at least double-digit wins. The Cowboys had seven.

Kyle Porter, Pistols Firing: A detriment, if only because the goal of any season is to make the big dance, and starting 8-6 heading into one of the deepest, toughest conference schedules in the country is not…um…the recipe to do that. In Travis Ford’s defense, I think he thought this team would come out of the gate stronger than it did, in which case the non-con schedule would have been more justifiable.

3. What should OSU’s crunch time five be?

John Helsley, Oklahoman: Page, Nash, Brown, Williams, Cobbins. This five gives you the best scoring options, solid FT shooting, decent defense and no feat that Jurick will have to go to the foul line in a tight game. There are times offensively when Guerrero should be on the floor — if he rediscovers his shot — for ballhandling, a 3p threat and another strong FT shooter.

Jimmie Tramel, Tulsa World: Crunch time starting five? Keiton Page has to be on the floor all the time and not just in crunch-time. Cezar Guerrero earned his way to an end-of-game role by what he did against UTSA and in double-overtime against SMU. Give me Markel Brown because somebody has to get defensive stops. And, citing track record, I’ll take Michael Cobbins, whose blocks in regulation and overtime extended a game against SMU. The fifth guy? I’m going to cheat and split it — Le’Bryan Nash on offense and sub him out with Brian Williams on defensive possessions.

Anthony Slater, O’Colly: There may be slight alterations depending on the game, but their best five right now is Page-Williams-Brown-Nash-Cobbins. It’s a super-athletic foursome playing with its sharpshooting leader. They push the pace and play solid defense. Guerrero, Jurick and Soucek will get minutes, but these are the five Ford trusts.

Kyle Porter, Pistols Firing: Markel, Keiton, Le’Bryan, Williams, and Cobbins. I’m a firm believer in the “get your best five guys on the court at the end of the game unless they’re in foul trouble” method. These are OSU’s best five guys right now. And it’s not really close.

4. Fact or fiction: OSU will finish in the top half (top 5) of the Big 12 this season.

John Helsley, Oklahoman: Fiction. This team just has to grind too hard for points and regularly gets battered on the boards. Against the better teams — Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State, that’s right, Iowa State — those will be fatal flaws. Still, I think this squad is showing signs of improvement. And with the exception of Baylor, the league is down. So, who knows…

Jimmie Tramel, Tulsa World: Fiction. The Big 12 season (18 games) is more of a marathon than ever before and OSU, with only eight healthy scholarship players, isn’t built for a marathon. The Cowboys committed 29 fouls in their only league road game so far and there will be a road game — or games — when so many players get into foul trouble that walk-ons will be pressed into duty.

Anthony Slater, O’Colly: Fiction. There is a clear hierarchy in the Big 12. Missouri, Kansas, Baylor and K-State will battle it out for the top four, with an underrated Iowa State team providing intrigue. After those five, OSU fits in. The Cowboys should fall anywhere between 6-8, showing about as much promise as Texas and Texas A&M.

Kyle Porter, Pistols Firing: I’ll actually say fact, and say they finish #5, because there’s no way they’re cracking that top four. Tech is terrible, OU is 0-3, A&M is 0-2, and Texas and Iowa State haven’t really proven anything yet other than that they’re both going to be up and down all year (we’ll know more about Iowa State after they host Mizzou this weekend). If Ford lets this squad open it up a little bit they can steal a few road wins and they should protect home court for the most part. Down year, Le’Bryan’s maturation, and the emergence of Cobbins/Williams sounds good enough for 5th to me.

You can follow Jimmie on Twitter here, Helsley here, Slater here, and of course me here.

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