The West Virginia Mountaineers (9-9, 2-3 Big 12) make their first trip to Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday for a matchup against the talented Cowboys (12-5, 2-3). Here’s a primer for the game, which will be televised at 1 p.m. on ESPNU, with radio coverage beginning at noon on MSN affiliates:
1. Getting Smart
Though he’s projected as a one-and-done college player, OSU freshman point guard Marcus Smart doesn’t speak like one.
“I definitely like the rule” preventing high school players from jumping straight to the NBA, Smart told MetroNews on Thursday. “You might not like it (in the NBA), and then you’ve given up those years of living and enjoying college. (The rule) gives you the opportunity, just in case, to get your education.”
Smart survived a difficult and dangerous adolescence in Lancaster, Texas, the details of which you can read in this lengthy profile by USA Today. Now, despite being one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation, he sounds like an 18-year-old who recognizes his blessings.
“I’m going to college for free,” Smart said. “We’ve got some kids out here that would love to be in my situation, but instead they’ve got to bust their tails and get a regular job just to pay for one semester of school.”
At 6-foot-4, Smart was billed as combo guard coming out of high school but he played the point last summer while leading Team USA to U18 world championship in Brazil. In particular, his defensive intensity caught the eyes of USA coaches Billy Donovan and Mark Few, but Smart can be a do-it-all player. Just check out his stat line from Oklahoma State’s 76-56 upset of then-No. 6 N.C. State in Puerto Rico: 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists and for steals.
He also scored 23 against Gonzaga on Dec. 31 but during the closing seconds missed the potential tying free throws in a 69-68 loss. Afterward, Few sought out Smart for a moment of reassurance: “He told me he loved me, and that he’d take me or (Gonzaga guard) Kevin Pangos on the line in that situation anytime,” Smart said.
A 76-percent foul shooter, he gets to the line more than anyone on the team, and at 40 percent from the floor, Smart displays good mechanics. He’s averaging 13.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
The 10-second scouting report from WVU’s Bob Huggins: “He’s Quinn Buckner who can shoot.”
Added TCU coach Trent Johnson: “The good ones, like Marcus, they make everything look easy. He probably won’t be around after this year, and that’s a good thing for most of us (opponents), including me.”
2. Gallagher-Iba Arena not-so-rowdy these days
Struggling to lure fans, Oklahoma State’s homecourt advantage has dissipated during recent seasons. In hindsight, the 2001 expansion from 6,381 to 13,611 seats was a mistake.
Or as Cowboys athletics director Mike Holder admitted to Daily Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel for Thursday’s piece: “I think that was a little ambitious perhaps.”
Averaging 8,970 fans through 10 home dates this season, only once has OSU drawn more than 10,000 — the Gonzaga sellout. The two Big 12 home games against league bottom-feeders TCU and Texas Tech drew an average of 8,397. Though larger crowds figure to show for games against Kansas and Oklahoma, the Cowboys have lost ticketbuyers to the NBA’s Thunder in nearby Oklahoma City and, more locally, they’ve been upstaged by OSU’s improving football program.
As Tramel alleged in his column: “The energy and aura of OSU basketball games is but a ghost from the Eddie Sutton salad days. Truth is, OSU would have been better off if it never had expanded Gallagher-Iba. Financially. Competitively. Mentally.”
3. Curious matchups
There’s a chance WVU reserve Keaton Miles could wind up guarding his former high school teammate, OSU forward Le’Bryan Nash. The two were all-state players for the Dallas-Lincoln team that reached the Texas Class 4A quarterfinals in 2011. Miles averaged 18 points and 13 boards as a senior while Nash, a McDonald’s All-American, put up 22 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Also, be mindful of West Virginia’s Matt Humphrey driving the lane against OSU 6-foot-11 center Philip Jurick, players that have a combined six colleges between them. Jurick initially signed with Tennessee, then transferred to Chattanooga (Tenn.) State Community College before joining the Cowboys. Humphrey, of course, journeyed from Oregon to Boston College before spending his senior season at WVU.
4. Big ups for Brown
Whereas Smart is Oklahoma State’s best player, guard Markel Brown is the team’s best athlete. In fact, Huggins calls him the most athletically gifted player WVU will face all season.
The 6-foot-3 junior is an explosive leaper who averages a team-high 14.4 points per game. But he’s coming off a dreadful two-point, 1-of-10 shooting performance in the MLK Day 64-54 loss at Baylor, only the second time in 18 games Brown failed to reached double figures.
5. The mercurial Nash
The talented 6-7 Nash was presumably NBA-bound after this season, but that’s no longer a given based on his inconsistent shooting performances (when he’s shooting at all) and his inability to create for other players. NBA Draft Express, still has Nash mocked up as a late first-round pick in the 2013 draft, even though it rates him as the No. 9 sophomore on the board.