Hello, national media coverage! Tonight's Texas Longhorns-Oklahoma St. Cowboys matchup is drawing more attention for who isn't playing in the game than who is. The "isn't" would be Marcus Smart, sent home for three games after this incident that we don't need to rehash any further. He joins sidelined Cowboys Michael Cobbins (achilles injury) and Stevie Clark (dismissed for multiple boneheaded infractions), leaving Oklahoma State with just five reliable scholarship players.
Oklahoma State has lost 4 in a row and 5 of its last 6. In conference play, the talented Cowboys are a head-scratching 4-6. Tonight's game feels an awful lot like it could go one of two ways for the Pokes. It could be a "puke and rally" game, where the Cowboys go all Ewing Theory and notch a decisive win without their fearless leader. Or it could be a "football to the face" game. Hey, Coach Ford! "I..don't want...your life!" Horns fans are hoping for some latter schadenfreude.
Of course, Texas also might be playing with a man down, as star forward Jonathan Holmes is a game-time decision after tweaking a knee on Saturday. Rumors abound that he received an MRI Sunday night, while others speculate his absence was merely precautionary. Texas head coach Rick Barnes noted yesterday that he was gameplanning with Holmes out, so take that for what it's worth.
Markel Brown: One of my favorite players in the Big 12, the 6' 3" senior alternates lead guard duties with Smart this season, leaving Smart to sometimes play off the ball. Brown averages 16.6 PPG and scores a myriad of ways. He shoots 37.9% from distance, 54.2% inside the arc, and 77.3% from the line. Hellacious dunker. With Smart gone, Brown will be pressed into full-time ballhandling duty. Is he up to the challenge?
Phil Forte: The 5' 11" sophomore sharpshooter will likely draw starting 2-guard duties in place of Marcus Smart. Forte shoots 47.1% from beyond the arc, his only plus skill. It's a heck of a skill, though. Combined with a low TO rate (9.0%), ahigh aversion to shooting inside the arc (39 attempts), and a cash-money FT% (92.3%), Forte's O-Rating of 136.1 is through the roof, ranking 6th nationally.
Brian Williams: A 6' 5" junior, Williams functions as Oklahoma State's glue guy and ace defender. He's normally not counted upon to score, though he has scored double-digit points in three conference games.
Le'Bryan Nash: The 6' 7" junior and former five-star recruit put on a clinic against a foul-laden Iowa State team, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 boards in a heart-wrenching double overtime loss. Nash has completely remade his game from his freshman and sophomore years. He almost exclusively gets the ball 12 feet and in, preferring to play a strong man's post game. Nash took 118 treys his first two years and made 28. This year, he's attempted just five. With Holmes possibly out, Nash becomes a matchup nightmare for Texas.
Kamari Murphy: A high-efficiency part-timer, the 6' 8" sophomore hasn't exactly wowed since Cobbins left with a torn achilles. Murphy has scored in double-digits just once during conference play, and hasn't had a single 10+ rebounding game against a conference opponent, either.
Marek Soucek: The 7' 0" junior is a big tree who can't play. Despite the Cobbins injury, Soucek has logged just 26 minutes in conference scheduling.
Leyton Hammonds: The 6' 7" freshman from Texas had a chance to break into the rotation, but he hasn't logged enough trust falls with Travis Ford. Hammonds has plus size as as a 3, but he isn't ready for major college ball.
Jeffrey Carroll: Is the 6' 6" swingman from Rowlett redshirting? He hasn't played all year, but I don't think he's injured. Would be a heck of a time to burn the shirt. A 3* with offers from Nebraska, Kansas State, and Oklahoma.
Christien Sager: The 6' 4" walkon played 18 minutes against Texas Tech. His previous high was 18 against Oklahoma three games prior. Yeah, Ford is desperate for bodies.
Keys to Victory:
1. Force Nash out of his comfort zone: If I'm betting on someone on the Cowboys to go off, Marcus Foster-style, my chips are on Nash. He will have a talent and experience advantage over Connor Lammert, who will need to do his best to ensure that Nash doesn't get prime position on the low block. I'd be happy bringing Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh as help defense on Nash when he makes a post move, as Nash isn't a plus passer. If it's a pick your poison thing, I'd rather Oklahoma State's lesser guys make hay.
2. Shut down Forte: BON's Jeff Haley did a fantastic breakdown of Texas' gameplan to deny Baylor's Brady Heslip. With the Pokes down one critical weapon in Smart, I wouldn't be surprised if Barnes redeployed "Felix Island" to a similar effect.
3. Get a Poke in foul trouble: The Cowboys would be forced to play a de facto 5-on-4 game if any one of its starters gets into foul trouble. Sager and Soucek scare no one; Hammonds and Carroll aren't ready. If the person sitting on the bench is Nash or Brown, so much the better.
4. Run bodies at Brown, make him work: With Brown likely to take the lion's share of ballhandling duties, the Longhorns have many weapons to unleash upon and tire the talented senior. Texas should be unafraid to run multiple bodies to harass Brown. Isaiah Taylor will get the starting nod, but alternating defensive assignments with rugged defenders like Demarcus Holland and Kendal Yancy makes sense. On the offensive end, Taylor needs to run Brown into the ground and make him expend energy to limit Brown's offensive effectiveness.
The game is at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN2. Hook 'em.