Random thoughts as the countdown to Madness – OklahomaState style – draws near…
√ The Cowboys have been really loose, dating back to Selection Sunday. They may be young, but they don’t appear at all awed by the stage. During yesterday’s workout inside HP Pavilion, there was a fun feel, with players at ease, free flowing and enjoying the moment. Shots were going down, too, which is always a good sign. Eavesdropping yesterday, someone asked an OSU official if the Cowboys might show up tight. The response: “They may be too young to be tight.”
√ Travis Ford, on the other hand, seemed tighter than normal. Now, he was feeling under the weather to some degree, to the point that he required some medication from the training staff. After two years away from NCAA Tournament, Ford has guided a strong turnaround and has a team capable of getting out of San Jose and into the Sweet 16 – further than he’s ever been.
√ Marcus Smart has that look. We’ve seen it at times in games this season, where he dials in and takes over a game. Well, he seems to already be in that mode. And that’s a good thing, considering the focus is on the point guard spot today. I wrote about that today – here’s a link. Check out Smart’s comments on the matchup. Sounds like he’s ready, huh?
√ The X Factor. Who is it? Le’Bryan Nash often draws the nod, because of his up-and-down habits. Yet lately, Nash has been more consistent with his production. He doesn’t always get off to a fast start, but he’s been reliable in the end. Phil Forte is another candidate, especially if Oregon resorts to a heavy dose of zone, which some expect. But my X-Factor tag goes to Michael Cobbins. The Ducks go to the boards hard, especially on the offensive end. And that’s been an achilles heel for the Cowboys at times. Cobbins must consider rebounding as Job One.
√ Philip Jurick will be needed against the Ducks, who have size and bulk inside. Center Tony Woods, at 6-11, 243, is the starter. Arsalan Kazemi is 6-7 and 226, but plays bigger and is the best rebounder in this game. Austin Waverly, at 6-11 and 270, usually gets some minutes off the bench. Jurick’s playing time has decreased of late, due to matchups, but also to Ford’s increased leaning to going small. Today, Jurick’s defense and rebounding could be a key factor.
√ We’ve heard a lot of good things about St. Louis, a team that is billed as balanced and versatile and stout on defense. And they look the part, as I watch them from courtside here in San Jose. The Bilikens are a popular pick to advance out of this regional. But in this up-close look at them – and it’s only brief – they don’t look like a bad matchup should the Pokes advance. In fact, I’d like OSU’s chances quite a bit.
√ Markel Brown is starting to get noticed. And it’s good to see, because he’s been such a vital cog in the Cowboys turnaround. I thought he belonged on the All-Big 12 First Team, and voted him there with my AP vote. National analysts are mentioning him with regularity. NBA types are appreciating him, too, with some draft boards revealing him in the first round.
√ Former Cowboy Doug Gottlieb has weighed in with his picks. And he’s going against his alma mater. Here’s his reasoning:
Marcus Smart is awesome. OklahomaState is a dynamic offensive team and Oregon crashes the glass, can press and turn them over and is an older group. I’m going to take Dana Altman’s club over Travis Ford’s even though I would contend that Ford’s club has more talent. If OSU recognizes the defensive changes, then the Cowboys can win. Oregon uses a mixture of presses that are designed to keep you out of transition, and I think Altman will zone OSU a bunch.