One game into the Big 12 Conference schedule, and already warning flags have gone up on the No. 6-ranked Cowboys.
Oklahoma State's 74-71 loss at Kansas State on Saturday created concerns about the team's depth, especially if Stevie Clark is no longer in play because of his New Year's Day arrest for a marijuana possession charge.
Injured big man Michael Cobbins was missed in Manhattan, and Travis Ford and his staff are pressed to find solutions. The defense suffered lapses. The offense ran ragged. And stars Marcus Smart and Markel Brown failed to seize control as the dominant players on the floor — which they were.
Now, it's just one game. The Cowboys remain good, potentially great, with talent and athletes to rival any squad in the country. Good teams lose on the road in the Big 12. And the Wildcats, sure to leap into the rankings this week, will win their share of games in the coming weeks and months.
Still, the Cowboys have clear issues to tend to in confirming their status as a Big 12 contender and a player nationally.
A few items on the front burner:
Be like Mike
Replacing Cobbins isn't as easy as accounting for his lost 4.5 point and 4.3 rebounds.
The athletic and long Cobbins impacted games in many ways. Defensively, as a premium shot-blocker and a deterrent to guards charging the lane. And in an underrated way on the offensive end, where his dedicated picks opened opportunities for shooters and slashers and his understanding of the offense aided smooth flow.
His replacement, Kamari Murphy, has played well and offers his own strengths on each end of the floor. However, Murphy's elevation to the starter leaves a void on the bench, one that showed no sign of being filled Saturday.
Ongoing project Marek Soucek can't resist fouling, as he was whistled for three personals in six minutes that produced one rebound and no points. And junior college big man Gary Gaskins continues playing catch-up in learning Ford's system.
The Cowboys can lean on Le'Bryan Nash and Brian Williams and even Smart to play bigger, yet ideally reserves emerge to lessen the load on those key players, who will need occasional blows, or the grind of the season will return unwanted wear and tear.
“I think in the short run, it's going to have a minimal effect,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said of the Cobbins loss. “But where it could have a major effect is over the course of 18 league games. Because sprained ankles and foul troubles are going to pop up for every team. And it leaves Oklahoma State with one less interior body.”
What to do with Stevie?
Ford offered little insight into Clark's future with the team on Saturday. Yet the fact that the freshman accompanied the team to Manhattan suggests that he's safe — for now.
One program insider suggested that the charges against Clark could be dismissed, with the drive of the vehicle, Marcus Caddell, insisting the weed belonged to him.
Still, Clark has made news — bad news — twice now in his short Cowboys career. And it simply can't continue.
Whether Clark is in the right or wrong in this latest incident, he needs to push himself away from all characters or situations that could create problems.
He could be a valuable piece for the program, both immediately and in the future. But the Cowboys can't allow him to become a distraction for a veteran core that prides itself on doing the right thing.
A foul stench
It seemed like only a matter of time before OSU's shaky foul shooting proved costly.
Against the Wildcats, the Cowboys missed nine free throws.
And lost by three.
For the season, OSU ranks No. 105 nationally in free throw percentage at 71.7 percent. And even the shooters are struggling.
Smart is making just 67.8 percent on a team-high 90 attempts. Nash is at 72.3 percent, Williams 80 percent and Brown 81.6 percent, getting a boost from a 12-for-14 effort Saturday.
The Cowboys' aggressive, driving style predicates frequent trips to the foul line.
Good teams cash the free money.