Dave Sittler: Young OSU team should follow Missouri's path to success
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Friday, March 09, 2012
3/09/12 at 4:25 AM
Go to Dave Sittler's BlogOriginal Print Headline: Pokes should follow Tigers' path to success
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Oklahoma State's young basketball team didn't have to look very far Thursday night to find someone the inexperienced Cowboys hope to be when they grow up.
OSU's role model is the veteran Missouri team that ended the Cowboys' season in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference Tournament at the Sprint Center.
The time factor is the biggest question facing the Pokes. How long will it take for them to mature into a well-rounded unit like the Mizzou club that hung an 88-70 loss on them in a game that was a lot more lopsided than the final score suggests?
Featuring four guards and a forward, the unselfish, close-knit and versatile Tigers (28-4) whipped the Cowboys in about every way possible at both ends of the floor. They used a stifling defense to create easy points off turnovers, precise long-range shooting and uncanny teamwork that resulted in four double-figure scorers.
Missouri's last year in the Big 12 Conference has turned into a dream season for the No. 5 Tigers. Before they head to the SEC, the Tigers could make a Final Four run because of players like seniors Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe and sophomore point guard Phil Pressey, who plays with the wisdom of a fifth-year senior.
As for OSU's immediate future, the loss closed the season a disappointing 15-18 and ended the standout career of guard Keiton Page. But if you paid attention, you could see the potential the Cowboys have next season to look a lot like this Mizzou team.
"I think we can be better than Missouri, actually," guard Brian Williams said. "They have veteran ballplayers who are smart and play together."
OSU youngsters spent most of this season learning how to play together. That maturation process was both hampered and enhanced by season-ending injuries.
Like the Tigers, OSU started four guards and a forward. The final lineup included Page, sophomore Markel Brown, true freshman Cezar Guerrero and redshirt freshmen in Williams and forward Michael Cobbins.
Injuries and defections forced several of the Cowboys' young guns to learn on the run. Missing last night's season-ending contest because of injuries were freshman Le'Bryan Nash and juniors Jean-Paul Olukemi and Philip Jurick.
Add in a couple of veterans who defected in December and these battered, bruised Cowboys took their expected lumps in the nation's second-toughest conference. But the Pokes didn't quit, and assumed an attitude that teams like Missouri better get in their shots now because payback time is on the horizon.
"We have athletes that are better than Missouri," Cobbins said. "When we get our injured players back next season we'll be able to get up and down the court like we want to and be very similar to them (Tigers)."
Williams added 21 points to Page's 22, while Brown finished with 12 and Guerrero nine. Williams and Brown also flashed their athletic potential with some thunderous follow dunks on missed shots.
"I commented to the team after the game that the team we played tonight is the team we need to be like in a lot of ways," coach Travis Ford said. "I like their style."
Mizzou's pressure defense and efficient transition game produced 20 points off turnovers, with 52 points coming off lay-ups and short-range jumpers. The seasoned Tigers so flustered the immature Pokes that they led by as many as 29 points in the first half.
"I love the way they can change ends (of the court)," Ford said.
After missing the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season, Ford's fifth season in Stillwater now looms as critical for his long-term security at OSU.
Page is the last player on the roster who was already signed by the previous staff when Ford arrived. In addition to proving he can win big with his own players, Ford needs to feel a sense of urgency to get the proud Pokes program back to the Big Dance.
To that end, Ford said he intends to ease up the caliber of nonconference competition and play more home games. OSU's schedule was ranked the second-toughest in the country going into Thursday night's finale against the Tigers.
"We've got some young kids who experienced a lot and went through a lot," Ford said. "We've got (injured) guys who were sitting out tonight who will be impact guys, and we've got guys coming in who will be impact players."
In addition to returning everyone but Page, Ford signed three players last fall that he believes will contribute immediately. Marcus Smart, a 6-foot-4 swingman who is rated the nation's No. 2 high school player, should fit right into OSU's plan to pattern itself after Mizzou.
"Next year, I know for sure that one through five (starters) we're going to have better athletes than this Missouri team," said Williams, who also had a team-high eight rebounds. "We're going to try to play the style of ball that they (Tigers) play and see how far it gets us."
If they can even get within the same ZIP code of imitating this Mizzou club, the Cowboys will be back where their fans believe they belong - in the thick of March Madness.