Marcus Smart surprised many when he decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season, and because he's back, the Cowboys have realistic Final Four aspirations. They might even be good enough to become the first Big 12 team not from Lawrence to win the league's title outright in nearly a decade.
After two exhibition games against non-Division I competition -- including a too-close-for-comfort win over NAIA Campbellsville -- Oklahoma State opens the regular season this Friday against Mississippi Valley State.
The Cowboys are ranked No. 8 to start the year in the AP Top 25 poll and have been picked to finish first in the Big 12...tied with Kansas, of course.
Markel Brown: The versatile senior guard had the best three-point percentage for the Cowboys last season while also placing third on the team in blocked shots. In fact, Brown has more career blocks than any guard in Cowboy history. He currently ranks 32nd on the Oklahoma State all-time scoring list
Stevie Clark: It's always nice when a top-tier recruit comes from your own backyard. Clark was an ESPN Top 100 recruit for 2013 despite being just 5-10. He's touted as a scorer with exceptional range who has the ability to take over a game.
Phil Forte: Forte average double figures last year, primarily off the bench. He led the team in three-pointers made and was overwhelmingly the Cowboys' best free throw shooter, making 91 percent of his attempts. The high school teammate of Smart came off the bench again during Oklahoma State's exhibition games and could end up being the best sixth man in the league.
Marcus Smart: The Big 12 preseason player of the year could have gone pro after his freshman season, but figures to be a top-five pick in 2014. Until then, he can assert himself as one of the best guards in the country. He averaged 15.4 points, 4.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game last year.
Jeffrey Carroll: Carroll is an inside-out scorer who played limited minutes in the Cowboys' two exhibition games. He hit a three in their first game and grabbed four rebounds in the second. With Oklahoma State already pretty deep in the 2-3 positions, he doesn't figure to see a whole lot of meaningful minutes. For now, at least.
Leyton Hammonds: The freshman forward chose Oklahoma State over Oklahoma, Clemson, Arizona State and more. He can play the two or the three and should develop into a strong option off the bench with the ability to catch fire from deep.
Kamari Murphy: If the preseason is any indication, Murphy seems to have stepped up his offense. The 15-game starter from a year ago scored in double figures in each of the Cowboys' preseason contests, grabbing a total of 15 rebounds.
Le'Bryan Nash: The Cowboys' third-leading scorer from 2012-13 should reach the 1,000-point plateau midway through his junior season. Oklahoma State will need the 6-7 wing to score consistently this year and avoid those long lapses of sub-par play.
Brian Williams: Williams missed the first 18 games of last year with a wrist injury and never really got going when he finally returned. As a freshman, however, he scored 20 or more points four times and started the final 20 games of the season.
Michael Cobbins:Cobbins will likely be Oklahoma State's starting center this year, giving the Cowboys an experience force down low. He scored seven points and recorded six rebounds per contest in 2012-13 and blocked a team-high 43 shots.