The Oklahoma State Cowboys, like every other team in the Big 12, often live in the shadow of the Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks are currently riding a nine-game conference title streak and are bringing in a pretty absurd class of freshman. But even with Andrew Wiggins on the Jayhawks, the Cowboys still have one of the best players in the conference in Marcus Smart and a good shot to finally unseat Kansas from the Big 12 throne.
2013 Record: 24-9, 13-5 Big 12
2013 Postseason: Lost in the second round to Oregon
Key Additions: Stevie Clark
Any hope about the upcoming season was completely tied to Smart, and the Cowboys' odds of having a big year got much better when Smart decided to not jump into the NBA Draft. He was considered a surefire lottery pick, so it was not for certain that he would return. Smart's overall statline last year was a bit ridiculous; he led the team with 15.4 points, was second on the team with 5.8 rebounds and led the team in both assists (4.2) and steals (3.0). In short, Smart was the Cowboys.
Even if Smart somehow regresses, or doesn't improve on his stats, Oklahoma State returns their top four scorers from last season. Le'Bryan Nash is a bit hit-or-miss at times, but showed multiple times that he can score points with the best of them -- topping 20 points seven times last season.
It isn't all positive for Oklahoma State. Coach Travis Ford went with what he had, which was a lot of guards, because there isn't anyone of substantial height with substantial skills on the team. Mike Cobbins led the team with 1.5 blocks per game, but he is just 6'8. Philip Jurick led the team with offensive rebounds despite playing just 17.3 minutes per game, and he graduated. The Cowboys struggled on the glass, ranking just 102nd in the nation. Oregon exploited this mismatch in the NCAA Tournament last year, out rebounding the Cowboys, 44-30 total, and 14-4 on the offensive end.
Smart coming back for another year of college was only good for college basketball because Smart was already one of the best college players last year. The chance to watch him face off against Wiggins and the rest of the hyped freshmen throughout the nation will be a real treat. This might also be the best team Ford has assembled since 2008, and although March glory has eluded him so far, a Smart-led team has a good chance of unseating Kansas from its Big 12 stranglehold and launching Oklahoma State to the Sweet 16 or beyond.