October 20, 2013

Oklahoma State's advantage lies with their veteranship, not just Marcus Smart

The air is cooling off and it's the perfect time for pigskin to fly through the air, yet there's a different feel in Stillwater.

The football game on Saturday was well and dandy, and the team played in front of as close to a sellout as you can have in Boone Pickens Stadium, but the Homecoming & Hoops event the night before has the Oklahoma State fan base buzzing.

It was standing room only in Gallagher-Iba at 9 pm, when Sutton Court was turned into a giant projector screen and displayed ginormous highlights of Cowboys both past and present. Lights flashed and fog flooded the arena as Marcus Smart and his teammates jogged out onto the court one by one.

Yet, this season isn't necessarily about Smart. Or at least not as much as you might think it is.

Sure, he made major headlines by passing up a massive, almost-guaranteed Top 3 NBA Draft paycheck for another season in Stillwater, but that's not even close to the whole story.

Because of Smart, Markel Brown, and Le'Bryan Nash's decision to come back, it keeps the core intact for another season.

It's the same reason that Kansas fans are worrying a little up in Lawrence-The tables have turned at the top of the conference.

Sure, you always have the Baylor's and Iowa State's and Kansas State's every season that are solid, solid teams, but anyone who disagrees that the two teams this season solidly in the conversation for the championship aren't Oklahoma State and Kansas ought to be smacked.

But it's a different situation than the past. Last season, Oklahoma State was the group that had something to prove with a massive, attitude-filled chip placed squarely on their shoulder. It faced a Kansas squad that was full of wily veterans like Jeff Whithey, Elijah Johnson, and even Ben McLemore to a certain extent as he was in his second season there.

But now, the Jayhawks are depending on Andrew Wiggins and an almost entirely new roster to win their tenth-straight Big 12 Championship, while the Pokes return their top seven players on the roster from a season ago. It doesn't necessarily mean that one is better or worse than the other, it's just different.

"It is kind of weird not having it (the way it's always been)," Brown said. "Kansas is still Kansas, and we have to prove ourselves every night. They're always going to bring a good team, just like Iowa State and Baylor.

In Stillwater, it's deeper than the top seven. Look past last season's newcomers Smart and Phil Forte, and look at the names you've seen for a few years.

The core.

Brown. Nash. Brian Williams. Michael Cobbins.

That's the core that is the key for Oklahoma State, the guys that Ford is depending on most. Take a look at how often these guys have been in the starting lineup together since 2010-11, when Brown first cracked the starting lineup while Nash was in high school and Williams and Cobbins were redshirting.

At least one starting: 10 games
At least two starting: 15 games
At least three starting: 21 games
Four starting: 13 games

That's 59 games total that at least one of those guys has appeared in the starting lineup, and 49 games that at least two of them have been there.

Meanwhile, Kansas doesn't have hardly any names you'd recognize from any of their nine-straight Big 12 Champion teams.

It's quite a bit different, and quite frankly very weird, but it's now a reality.

"It feels good to be noticed," Brown said. "But we still have to live up to it by going out and proving it every night, and proving that we're one of the top teams in the country."

So sure, having Smart back is a huge, huge thing for Oklahoma State basketball. But don't forget about those other four guys.

They've been here quite some time, and with Smart at the helm, they're the biggest advantage the Cowboys have.

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