OU’s 77-68 Bedlam basketball victory Saturday showcased one major difference in these two teams. While the Cowboys clearly have more top-tier talent — Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and, when he plays with his head right, LeBryan Nash — the Sooners have more good players.
Sometimes the former is preferable. Sometimes the latter. This 2013 Big 12 season will be a referendum on which is better.
But clearly the Sooners have more players you can count on. Lon Kruger is playing nine players at least 16 minutes a game. Stephen Pledger 26.4 minutes a game, Romero Osby 24.9, Buddy Hield 24.3, Amath M’Baye 23.6, Je’Lon Hornbeak 22.9, Isaiah Cousins 17.7, Sam Grooms 17.6, Cameron Clark 16.9 and Andrew Fitzgerald 16.1. That’s amazing court-time distribution. Nine players averaging between 26.4 minutes and 16.1 minutes. Fitzgerald has made 75 career starts but now is OU’s No. 9 player. That’s quite a roster transformation.
Now look at the minutes on the OSU side. Travis Ford, naturally, plays his top talent more minutes: Brown 34.5, Smart and Nash 32.3 minutes each. Then comes Phil Forte at 26.5 minutes a game. Think about that. Ford plays Forte more minutes than any Sooner plays. Amazing. Kamari Murphy, a freshman with promise but who still is overmatched at times, plays 23.3 minutes a game. Basically the same as M’Baye and only 1.6 minutes fewer than Osby, OU’s best player. Michael Cobbins plays 20.3 minutes a game and Philip Jurick 19.8. Next comes Kirby Gardner, at 11.9.
Brian Williams is expected to return from a wrist injury and rejoin the Cowboy rotation. Will he take minutes from the big three or from the rest of the squad? That’s a question for Ford.
So consider what all this means. The Cowboys clearly depend on their best players more than do the Sooners. So when Smart or Brown or Nash is having a good game, or better yet some or all of them are having a good game, the Cowboys become much tougher to beat. But when any of the trio is off, OSU is more susceptible. As we saw Saturday in Norman. Brown, Smart and Nash have accounted for 42.4 points a game and taken 58.7 percent of OSU’s shots. Meanwhile, OU’s top four scorers account for almost the exact numbers — Osby, Pledger, M’Baye and Hield average 43.9 points and have taken 58.6 percent of OU’s shots.
That means OU has more margin for error. It also means OSU is more susceptible to foul trouble, which again, we saw Saturday when Smart was saddled to the bench.
That’s the story of these two teams down the stretch. Can the Cowboys ride Smart, Brown and Nash to success? Will their lack of depth eventually be their downfall? Can the Sooners ride uncommon depth to success? Will their lack of top-shelf talent eventually be their downfall?