STILLWATER — By now, Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy fully understands and accepts the challenges of his current job description.
At 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds, he’s a small forward forced into a big-man role by the Cowboys’ roster limitations.
And it’s a significant role, one that will be spotlighted Friday when OSU takes on Gonzaga in its NCAA Tournament opener.
“Gonzaga keeps good bigs,” Murphy said.
Good and, well… big bigs.
Last year, it was Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, two current pros. This time, it’ll be Sam Dower Jr. and Przemek Karnowski, the latter a 7-foot-1, 300-pound Polish import who – when he avoids foul trouble – is a load inside.
So when it comes to matchups, and it always seems to come down to matchups in March, does this qualify as bad?
Perhaps, Murphy said, although without indicating for whom.
“We’ve got to play our game,” he said. “They’ve got to guard us, too, our quickness and speed at the bigs positions. It should be a good matchup.”
Karnowski averages 10.2 points and 6.9 rebounds with a team-high 59 blocked shots in 34 games. He’s a force, but also surprisingly mobile for his size. But he’s also been prone to foul woes at times.
Dower is a fifth-year senior who has waited his turn, and made the most of it. At 15.0 points and 7.1 rebounds, he leads the Zags in both categories. Still, he’s not overly physical and is considered, primarily, an offensive player, although a versatile and good one.
So the Cowboys are facing a size disadvantage, with Murphy and 6-7 Le’Bryan Nash masquerading as post players.
So what else is new?
Murphy and Nash have grown used to this. Kansas and Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black. Texas and Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley. Kansas State and Thomas Gipson. And on and on.
The Cowboys have faced size issues with regularity since Michael Cobbins went down with a blown Achilles on the doorstep of Big 12 play. And size mismatches have rarely been the storyline in losses.
“What I have to do is basically stay out of foul trouble,” Murphy said. “So game-plan wise, we have to come up with what we’re going to do. Are we going to double (team)? Are we gonna dig? We have so many different game plans against bigs, because there are so many good bigs in our league.
“I’m sure we’ll have a game plan for Gonzaga. As long as I stay out of foul trouble, we’ll be all right.”
The most intriguing matchups in this pairing may be in the backcourt.
Both teams start three guards – and three guys who are considered the backbones of their teams.
Gonzaga leans on Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton in much the same way that OSU relies on Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Phil Forte.
“We know we have a big deal on our hands with those guards,” Smart said. “They’re nothing to play with.
“Everybody knows, if you have good guard play, you can do some damage in the Tournament.”
So, there’s that, too.
“They’re all really well skilled,” Forte said of the Bulldogs backcourt. “And then their bigs complement them really well.
“Each person on our team is going to have their hands full with their individual matchup.”