STILLWATER — Unfinished business.
That's the focus and the fuel for Oklahoma State, after the Cowboys were ushered out of last season's NCAA Tournament in an upset loss to Oregon in their opener.
And there are plenty of players who feel that way, with eight players with starting experience returning, led by the Big 12's top three returning scorers — Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash.
It's time to get to work, in earnest, too, with practice starting Saturday for the Cowboys.
Here are five things to watch as the Cowboys get started:
1. How good can these Cowboys be?
Smart's decision to delay his pro career and return for a sophomore season — as the reigning Big 12 Player of the year — coupled with similar decisions by Brown and Nash, immediately established the Cowboys as a Big 12 and national contender. Beyond the big three, there's even more experience and talent, with Michael Cobbins, Brian Williams, Kamari Murphy and Phil Forte all worthy of major minutes and Marek Soucek again pressing for playing time and a cast of newcomers bidding for roles. The ceiling for this team? “There is none, none at all,” Smart said. “It all comes down to us. No excuses. We have everyone back. It all comes down to how the dice rolls and how we make the dice roll. It's up to us. We control our own destiny.”
2. Paint patrol
The Cowboys have seemingly been searching for big men now for several seasons. The hope for 2013-14 is that guy is already in place. Cobbins, who has struggled to add bulk to his 6-foot-8 frame, is up to 230 pounds and insistent that he's ready to be a legitimate big man. “I have to step up,” Cobbins said. “I've got a bigger job this year. Basically, I've got to be a big bruiser on this team and man up down there. Defend the basket like I know how.” Kamari Murphy, Soucek and junior college transfer Gary Gaskins offer depth inside.
3. Catch him while you can
Yeah, we're talking about Smart, who already ranks as one of OSU's all-time greats after just one season. Sources say that Orlando was ready to nab him with the No. 2 pick in last summer's NBA Draft, if he hadn't returned to Stillwater. Smart considers himself better, hungrier and ready to prove his decision was the right one. It should be fun.
4. Room for rookies?
The Cowboys have leaned on freshmen in recent seasons, with new blood needed to upgrade the on-court product. With so much returning talent, it could be difficult for any of the newcomers to make an impact. Still, don't count out Stevie Clark, the Douglass star who can spell Smart at the point or provide an outside scoring presence.
5. Williams wild card
Williams returned late last season after breaking his wrist in an ugly preseason accident, yet never fully looked comfortable on the floor. Healthy again, Williams — who projected as a starter a year ago — is a significant wild card, as a defensive stopper and a capable scorer.