NORMAN — In an effort to better define their teams' seasons, key players on both sides of the Bedlam rivalry have redefined themselves.
Oklahoma State's Kamari Murphy and Le'Bryan Nash and Oklahoma's Ryan Spangler and Cameron Clark now answer to once inconceivable labels:
Albeit, little big men.
When they clash Monday night for a Big Monday Bedlam at Lloyd Noble Center (8 p.m. ESPN), the Sooners and Cowboys will match up reasonably well, similar in size and strengths.
“I think it'll be a good matchup,” said Clark. “It's just going to come down to who's tougher and who's played harder.”
Not who's bigger.
And that could come as a relief for these two undersized teams who too frequently are forced to play and act big, even though they're not big by traditional standards.
Not that Round 1 of Bedlam won't revolve around any of the four little big men. Any and all are capable of playing difference-maker.
OU plays small by default, with a lack of ready big men on its roster. OSU has been impacted by the loss of starting post man Michael Cobbins, although even before his season-ending injury, the Cowboys were never considered big inside. Cobbins and Murphy are both 6-foot-8 forwards. And athletic forwards, not bangers.
Not only is OSU without Cobbins, Murphy's bench role hasn't been replaced and Nash, who once resisted playing inside, has seen his role recast. The Cowboys are even asking 6-4 guard Marcus Smart to power up.
“It is what it is,” said Nash, who at 6-7 and 235 can play physical. “I'm trying to help this team win. It's my junior year. It's more about team and trying to win.
“If I have to play the big man, that's what I have to do. When Cobbo went down, I knew I had to play that role more. I'm just adjusting to it and playing my game.”
Nash, always a bit of a wild card, has become a major cog for the Cowboys and is coming off a career-high, 29-point effort in Saturday's win over West Virginia.
The 6-foot-7 Clark leads the Sooners in scoring and is providing help on the boards, averaging 5.8 rebounds a game.
In a breakout season, Clark has thrived inside and out on the offensive end. And he hasn't backed down to good competition, going for 32 points against Michigan State and Kansas.
“They try to get into him,” Spangler said. “He's quick. He can shoot the ball. If they're going to play off of him, he'll shoot it, if they're going to get into him he's going to take a couple dribbles either to get the shot or look for a teammate.”
Spangler, at 6-8, tops both teams in rebounding, averaging 9.8, and has had some big games scoring. He and Murphy are the ones called to play bigger than big, frequently fending off centers who stand above them and also outweigh them.
“I thought I'd be an inside-out forward,” Spangler said, “but I'll get my chance the next couple of years. Right now we have the guys to run the first four spots. I'll do whatever I can. I'm doing fine at the five. They're able to let me step out still, so I'm good.”
Murphy worked hard on his ball-handling and shooting skills as a rising high school star in Brooklyn, so he could step further away from the basket. Now, like the others, he's doing what's necessary.
“I don't want to say I'm a three man, but I'd say I'm a hybrid four who can dribble, run the floor, shoot,” Murphy said. “Of course, I have to extend my range, but I think my 15-foot, maybe my 17-footer is above average.
“But this is what I have to do with this team so we can win, so that's not really a big deal for me.”
And the Cowboys and Sooners are both winning, with each team at 16 wins and ranked in the Top 25. Bigger isn't necessarily better.
“We are not the same team without Michael Cobbins in there,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “That doesn't mean good or bad. It just means we are a different team.
“We can be great. And we have become great in a different way.”
It's not always easy.
Banging with bigs can and has resulted in foul troubles for both teams. And the stress and strain of regularly being undersized could eventually take a toll.
Most nights, the Cowboys and Sooners will be smaller. Bigger might not necessarily be better, but it sure is preferred.
And while both teams rely heavily on their guards, neither can thrive long-term without their post men continuing to redefine themselves …
As big men.