By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
Talk to any rational college hoops fan or analyst and they won’t give Oklahoma State much of a shot at Kansas on Saturday.
The Jayhawks have won 32 straight at home. The Cowboys have won one of their past 23 Big 12 road games. The odds are clearly stacked against them.
But do-everything point guard Marcus Smart (and his big-game reputation) provides OSU a glimmer of hope.
He’s come up huge against ranked teams, torching #6 NC State for a ridiculous 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals and four blocks in an upset that still remains OSU’s biggest win of this season.
Then he backed that up with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists against #10 Gonzaga, valiantly keeping the Cowboys in a game they were overmatched inside, before dropping a career-high 25 points on #25 Kansas State in Manhattan.
It’s a common trend worth repeating: Marcus Smart gets up for big games.
So his presence splashes a dash of intrigue into Saturday’s one-sided conference matchup in Allen Fieldhouse.
But at one time, that trump card was almost flipped on its head. Instead of battling Jeff Withey, Ben McLemore and the 2nd-ranked Jayhawks, Marcus Smart almost joined them.
“Oh, no doubt,” Smart admitted on Thursday afternoon. “Kansas is a great school, incredible tradition. They were definitely in my top five, top three…I thought about going there at one point in time.”
Now that’s a scary thought for the rest of the country.
Throw the talented and easy-going Smart (widely considered an amazing chemistry guy) into the mix with two other lottery picks and a batch of great role players. Kansas suddenly turns from serious title contender to heavy NCAA favorite.
And make no mistake, Bill Self wanted Smart. Pushed for him. Even got him to take a couple unofficial visits.
“With his resume, with the things he’s done with his teams in the past, he’s definitely built himself into such a credible (coach),” Smart said of Self. “Any player that goes there, you’re definitely getting a great coach.”
The gameday atmosphere’s not bad either.
“It’s crazy man, it’s exactly how they publicize it,” Smart said. “Their fans get really into it and it’s such a big deal there. They take pride in it.”
And he was close to becoming a part of it.
“North Carolina was my number two, but they were definitely my third choice, if I didn’t come (to OSU),” Smart said. “They were very strong on me in the recruitment process and they definitely had an effect on me.”
For the sake of the competitiveness of Saturday’s game, let’s be thankful he didn’t.