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With College Basketball Getting Older, Here Is How the Cowboys Ended Up So Young

The Cowboys rank 178th nationally in KenPom’s experience metric.

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[Devin Wilber/PFB]

STILLWATER — College basketball has turned into an old man’s game, and the Cowboys are rather green.

The top 10 teams in the NET ranking entering Friday’s games have an average KenPom experience ranking of 97.4 and an average continuity ranking of 129.5. Oklahoma State ranks 178th and 286th in those respective stats, which honestly seem high — boosted by fifth-year guys John-Michael Wright, Jarius Hicklen and Mike Marsh. Still, the Cowboys rank second-to-last among Big 12 teams in experience.

“College basketball is, in general, older than it’s ever been,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “We’ve probably got one more year of those with this senior class having another COVID year. And then it will probably start to peter out, but the reality is I don’t think coaches are gonna get comfortable living with a bunch of young guys all the time because it’s hard. They just don’t understand the urgency and the gravity of every possession now because they never have had to. A turnover is just a turnover. Well, a turnover can be the reason you lose a game — like one of them.”

Of the Cowboys’ 12 scholarship players, six entered this season having not played in a college basketball game. That type of inexperience has undoubtedly played into the Cowboys’ 4-5 start, but in the transfer portal era, teams don’t have to be young anymore. They can fill vacancies with more experience through the portal. But it isn’t exactly that simple.

Among the Cowboys’ five true freshmen, Brandon Garrison, Justin McBride, Jamyron Keller and Connor Dow all signed last November. At that time, the Cowboys had nine players on their roster who were able to return. After a 20-16 season where the Cowboys were the first team out of the NCAA Tournament, only three players did return. So, instead of having Garrison learn under Moussa Cisse and/or Kalib Boone or Keller learn the ropes under Avery Anderson, those two freshmen were asked to step in and contribute.

Boynton and his staff brought in four transfers to supplement the losses from the portal. Isaiah Miranda is one, but he spent only a semester at NC State and didn’t play in a game with the Wolfpack. Hicklen and Marsh both came over as graduate transfers, and Javon Small made the move to Stillwater after two seasons at East Carolina. Boynton said his staff made it a point to not take any two-time transfers that hadn’t graduated because the thought was they would have to sit out a year to be able to play. Well, a ruling came out this week that effectively allows players to instantly play no matter how many times they’ve transferred.

So, building a college basketball team is quite a confusing ordeal in this wild west. When you sign high school kids in November, you have to project who will transfer at the end of the season. When you grab guys out of the portal, you have to question whether they’ll be eligible or not. And as this week’s ruling proved, the rules on that can change on the go. And all of that has to be taken into account with only 13 scholarships available.

“All the [players who transferred out], you didn’t know until after the season,” Boynton said. “You gotta try to sign the best guys you can, hoping you get as many of your experienced guys back. I don’t want to say I was surprised by any of the guys who left at the end, you just gotta deal with it at that moment.

“Then there’s also an element to, you got into the portal and there were a lot of guys who were available that we were told weren’t gonna be able to be eligible. So there’s really no value in taking the guy if he isn’t going to be able to help you bridge that gap for the young guys. So we didn’t take any guys who were two-time transfers, and now they’re all playing. So, we were pretty convinced we had to take either guys who didn’t transfer [before] or grad [transfers]. And that’s what we did with the three guys we got. I like the guys we got. I’m not saying anything against them. I’m just saying the circumstances changed and now they changed again in the middle of it.”

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