By John Helsley
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OSU’s Monday exhibition opener offered equal doses of panic and pleasure, yet begs mostly for a long leash of patience.
This could take a while, Cowboys fans.
As the Cowboys venture into the early stages of this college basketball season, with Travis Ford sorting through his roster for the right mix, there will be highs and lows. We saw it against OCU, with a first half filled with struggle, followed by a second half of budding promise.
When Matt Pilgrim joins in Wednesday upon his return from suspension, things could only get more complicated.
That’s what happens when you lose your best players (James Anderson and Obi Muonelo), then introduce five viable new players into a deep returning core. The new guys are just trying to figure out Ford’s demanding system. The old guys are trying to meld with the new guys. And the coaches are trying to figure out exactly what they’ve got.
Immediate (and probably premature) impressions:
The Cowboys may struggle to score. A year ago, when all else failed, OSU could always turn to Anderson and Muonelo to freelance and find baskets. With Anderson, the Cowboys often had the best player on the floor. It’s early, and heads are spinning, but no one in the current crew has the look — yet — of being a guy who can create offense on his own. There are plenty of talented pieces. But the Cowboys may have to grind their way offensively, at least until someone (Markel Brown? Mike Cobbins? Ray Penn?) evolves into a go-to scorer.
Get ready for Darrell Williams.It’s Da-Rell, for pronunciation purposes. Might as well get used to it, you’ll hear and repeat his name often. After a slow start against OCU attributed to hesitancy, Williams got going and finished with 15 points, 15 boards and five assists. He’s a big man with skills who can run the floor, dribble, pass and finish. If Ford can convince him to play like the man he is, Williams will command extra attention in the paint, which could open things up offensively on the perimeter, where Keiton Page can do his thing.
The youngsters need time.For all the hyperventilating that occurs over freshmen recruits — among the fans and the media — reality usually slaps us upside the head. So it is with the Cowboys’ freshmen trio, Brown, Cobbins and Brian Williams. All three are taking baby steps in adapting to Ford and the college game. They should be good in time, maybe great in an instance or two. It’s not happening immediately. The goal should be for two of them, Brown and Cobbins, to become major contributors at some point this season. Travis Ford enjoys teaching, which he’ll be doing plenty of.
Frontcourt depth has improved.We’ve talked about Williams. Pilgrim is on his way back. Marshall Moses remains in the mix. And Jarred Shaw appears ready to give the Cowboys something off the bench. Cobbins, while a bit thin, has the best long-term skills of the bunch. That’s a significant upgrade in the post, not just over last year, but in a long time at OSU.
Defense will be key. The Cowboys forced 27 turnovers from OCU. Now, the Stars were an NAIA team that was overmatched. Still, the Pokes showed their athleticism and quickness and depth, which is going to allow Ford to turn up the pressure on teams. If a grinding offensive style becomes necessary, stout defense will be key to providing easy baskets and winning ugly.