Sports column: The talent, motivation enough for Oklahoma State to propel them

Emily DeShazer | The Collegian

After a controversy-filled and disappointing regular season, Oklahoma State (21-12, 8-10 Big 12) seems to be getting hot at the right time to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament.

The Cowboys, after being widely projected to share the Big 12 title with Kansas before the season started, began conference play going a pathetic 4-9, a mark that failed in comparison to the hype they had received. Then midway through conference play, the Cowboys were in the news for something even more disturbing; star sophomore guard Marcus Smart pushed a fan during a physical altercation that garnered him a three-game suspension.

The good news for Travis Ford’s Cowboys team is that they are in the midst of their best performance of the season. The Cowboys are 5-2 since Smart has returned from suspension. Their two losses came at then No. 16 Iowa State in overtime and Thursday against No. 10 Kansas.

Most of the recent success can be drawn, oddly enough, from the three-game span of Smart’s suspension. Even while his team lost by a small-margin of six points per game, including a six point overtime loss to Baylor, Ford’s team learned to play without their star guard. Now with Smart back, Ford’s team is a much better rounded program that is capable of playing without Smart in key situations.

Defense had been a crutch in this down season for the Cowboys. Ford’s team is first in the Big 12 in steals, averaging 7.5 per game, while being ranked 13th in the nation turnover margin of 3.5 per game. With 75-steals on the season, Smart is ranked fifth in the nation in steals per game, propelling his team on the defensive end and making life hard for opposing ball-handlers.

Another stat that shows the Cowboys’ talent is their scoring margin of 11.6 points per game despite their 12-losses. They are ranked 17th in the nation in scoring margin, showing that they can run away with a game against any team, and have posted 16 victories by double-digits.

Ford and the Cowboys might also have the most underrated senior in the Big 12, guard Markel Brown. Brown averages 17.3 points per game, only .6 less than Smart. Brown has averaged in double-digits in three straight seasons. Playing 35.1 minutes per game, Brown has become a constant for the Cowboys and could propel them in the tournament even when Smart is not out on the floor.

To add even more depth to this group, sophomore guard Phil Forte III ranks sixth in the nation in 3-point percentage, draining 45.2 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Forte can be the spark to start any run for the Cowboys.

It is Brown and Forte, when added with the superstar qualities of Smart, that puts the Cowboys ahead of all of the other Big 12 programs and could push them further in the tournament.

If the Cowboys can figure out how to use what they have learned throughout their turbulent season, they could end up being a bracket buster. Failing to live up to the hype that they were given to start the season, the Cowboys could use their fire to make a deep run in the tournament behind Smart and Brown.