By John Helsley
Because it’s December and it’s still too soon to surrender on the season, OSU’s game against SMU tonight inAmericanAirlinesCenteris big.
Big enough even to call a must-win, if – if – the Cowboys still hold NCAA Tournament hopes.
Bottom line: The Pokes are better than SMU. They should win this game; not that just being better has assured anything this season. There hasn’t been a game yet in which you came away from a Cowboys win thinking they really looked good or produced a complete effort.
Still, let’s go on the assumption that OSU has the better players and should win. And forget theDallaslocale, this won’t be some sort of home-court advantage for SMU.
So it’s must-win.
Here are five things to watch:
1. The Point Plan. Keiton Page surely gets the nod at the point, a move necessitated by the failure of the other three guys to hold that spot – Fred Gulley, Reger Dowell and Cezar Guerrero. Of course, Gulley and Dowell have since left the program. Guerrero’s playing time figures to get a major bump. But it’s mostly about Page. And while a lot of folks have claimed this is what they’ve all been waiting for, it’s not ideal, for Page or the Pokes. Remember, Page was pushed to the point for a while last year. And it didn’t work out so well. Opponents pressured Page all the way up the floor, making him labor just to get the ball past midcourt. It wore him down on the offensive end, affecting his playmaking ability as well as his scoring ability.
2. Nash’s Homecoming. For freshman Le’Bryan Nash, this game represents a return home to theDallasarea where he starred as a prep player. How will he respond? Will it fire him up? Will he try to do too much? The Cowboys need Nash at his best.
3. The Rotation. Previously, a rotation that stretched as many as 10 deep created problems for Cowboys coach Travis Ford, who had to try to manage playing time for so many deserving players. With Gulley and Dowell now gone, some of that has been alleviated. Will that mean increased time for Brian Williams or even Marek Soucek?
4. About The Mustangs. SMU was pretty good a year ago, winning 20 games. But these aren’t those Mustangs. Even at 7-4, they don’t own a quality win and have lost toColoradoState,FresnoState, Oral Roberts andJacksonState. Did we say must-win?
5. Defining Roles. The buzz word surrounding this OSU team early was versatility. Now, you have to wonder if mixing and matching players and working guys at different positions may have set them back, with guys not fully recognizing their roles. That’s sure the way it’s looked. Maybe the trimmed roster allows for better definition.