March 25, 2013

OSI grades out each member of the Cowboy basketball team

With Oklahoma State officially in offseason, I figured we'd take this time to reflect on the season.

I broke down the regular season two weeks ago before the Big 12 Tournament, and the NCAA Tournament lasted all of forty minutes for the Pokes, so there isn't really much to breakdown from that.

Regardless, Oklahoma State had a solid season. They finished 24-8, had four players average double-digit points, and stumbled to a third-place finish in the Big 12 regular season after making a strong run at the top spot throughout conference play.

It took every one of the players at different points, whether it was Marcus Smart willing the Pokes to a victory, Le'Bryan Nash going off against Oklahoma, or Phil Forte sinking late-game free throws against the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence.

Every single one of them contributed, and each had their shining moments. The grades are in for the team who was let out for a summer five games earlier than they'd like. Let's see how they did.

Starting Five

Marcus Smart: A
The Big 12 Player of the Year had the best season we've seen at Oklahoma State in a long, long time. He won games by himself, or so it seemed, and was the undisputed leader of a team despite the fact that he was experiencing it all for the first time. The reason he didn't get a perfect score was because I felt like he pressed a bit in some of the tighter games, and shot his team out of a victory at least twice (most notably @ Iowa State). That's splitting hairs at this point though, and we should all appreciate that we got to witness such a special season from such a special freshman, as it might be the only one we get to watch.

Markel Brown: B+
Brown's emergence as a go-to scorer was exactly what the Oklahoma State Cowboys needed. He alleviated the pressure to produce on the offensive end that exclusively sat on Nash's shoulders last season outside of Keiton Page, and was a floor-stretcher that could pull up for a shot off of the dribble, or take it to the hole and slam it down. He was a bit streaky for my liking, but he's gotten exponentially better every season at OSU, and if he decides to return next season, I'd expect more of the same and an even polished all-around game from the junior.

Le'Bryan Nash: B-
Pressure, pressure, pressure. It's a wonder Nash doesn't have a head full of gray hair after completing his second season in Stillwater. The guy's already one of the most cerebral players in the country, and Travis Ford doesn't do him many favors on the offensive end as far as setting him up for success each time he touches the ball. Nash's game is on the isolation anywhere between the baseline and the wing, or running the offense's two-guard spot which moves him anywhere from the top of the key to the baseline. When he was put in those positions this season, he went off (See: @ Baylor, vs. Oklahoma, @ TCU, vs. K-State). Other times it seemed like Ford forgot about him, which wasn't the case. It's just hard to have everyone get their shots when you have three top players on a team, and sometimes Nash was left out because of how streaky he can be.

Michael Cobbins: B+
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of 2012-13, Cobbins started the year with a broken foot, but once he recovered from that he turned in a great season. He's a defensive-minded player, and that showed with his 1.5 blocks and 6.1 rebounds per game, both team-highs. It was extremely obvious in Lawrence, when he took on the task of guarding Jeff Withey, and battled him all the way until the final horn. He also showed tons of progress on the offensive end of the floor, whether it was his close-range scoring or his post-up moves, most notably his fade hook. He still has room to improve on both ends of the floor, but Ford called him one of his most consistent players this season, and I agree with that wholeheartedly.

Philip Jurick: B
It had to be a tough year for Jurick. The 6'11 center was born a generation late, and would've been a 35-minute-per-game player back in the short-shorts days of shot blockers and rebounders at the five position. Unfortunately for Jurick, that's just not really the case in college basketball anymore. Teams push tempo and love to get our and run nowadays, and the heavy-footed Jurick just didn't fit into a lot of games. He found a way to average about 17 minutes per game, but OSU's fast style of play combined with the rest of the Big 12's knack for sprinting up and down the floor for 40 minutes just didn't translate into a good thing for Jurick.

Phil Forte: C+
Early in the season, Forte showed us exactly what everyone was hoping for when Ford signed the three-star recruit. He was given the eternal green light, meaning he could shoot anytime after passing half court. He took advantage of that too, and it was great before conference play when he was making them. Once Big 12 opponents hit, Forte went all but ice-cold. He was fully capable of hitting the big shots in some games, but other games he didn't contribute much and shot his team out of the game a few times. I think we all know Forte will have a long and successful career at Oklahoma State, and perhaps this grade is a little lower than what others would give him. He'll be fine though, freshman year is tough for everyone not named Marcus.

Kamari Murphy: B-
What a rollercoaster year for the freshman. He started to begin the year with Cobbins hurt, but was eventually returned to the bench as a role player. Once that happened, he went through a lull and perhaps did some soul-searching before really turning it on and seemingly embracing what his job was. When Ford put him in, it gave the Pokes what I like to call the "Thoroughbred Lineup", which was five guys that could run any team in the nation out of the gym with their speed in transition. Murph averaged 3.8 points per game while pulling down 3.9 rebounds, and also shot 46% from the floor. That's a great starting spot for a player like Murphy, and don't be surprised when he starts making even more waves next year.

Brian Williams: B-
You've gotta feel for the guy. He spent his entire freshman season on the bench being redshirted, then came out last season and turned it on down the stretch. Finally one of the main guys on the team, he breaks his wrist before the season starts and is out until well into conference play. This will go down as "The Season That Never Was" for Williams, but the dedication and work ethic he showed in battling back from that wrist injury that was once deemed as season-ending went a long way for this team, and he was able to provide solid minutes for them in the late stretch of the season.

Kirby Gardner: C
Gardner was in trouble off the bat, as would be the case for anyone listed behind Marcus Smart on the depth chart. Gardner's minutes (a regular-rotation low 9.5 per game) were scattered and his stat line usually remained empty. Ford calls him the conventional point guard, but he never got much of an opportunity to show that this season. He had a few hustle plays that stand out in my mind, most of them from OSU's game against Texas in Stillwater, but this was ultimately a season for Gardner to learn and develop. After all, practicing against Smart can only make someone better.

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