Travis Ford predicted that this would be his deepest, most versatile men's basketball team in three seasons at Oklahoma State.
And yet, until Saturday, Ford had started the same five players â€” Marshall Moses, Darrell Williams, Keiton Page, Fred Gulley and Nick Sidorakis â€” in every game. And Saturday's shake-up, with Reger Dowell and Matt Pilgrim getting their first starts, was due to a flare up of a shoulder injury to Gulley and some minor discipline issues that only delayed the entrance of Williams and Ray Penn into a 92-87 double-overtime win over La Salle.
Otherwise, it would have been status quo.
But for how long?
As much as Ford pushes his defensive identity on the Cowboys, at some point, and soon, they're going to have to score more.
â€œThe toughest part of our nonconference schedule,â€ Ford said, â€œwe're in it right now.â€
Indeed, the Cowboys play Tulsa at the BOK Center on Wednesday and host dangerous Missouri State on Saturday, before a stretch of games against Alabama and Stanford and at Gonzaga.
And already, there's a sense that Ford is transitioning to a new favorite five, if not a new starting five.
While the defense was a constant at La Salle â€” the Cowboys held the Explorers to 40.5 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers â€” it was OSU's offense that sparked the second-half rally and pressed the issue with early attacking leads in the overtimes.
â€œOnce our offense started clicking, then we started clicking,â€ Ford said, â€œbecause it gave our defense even more confidence.â€
Needs to be a trend.
Moses, a star so far in his senior season, along with Page and Williams form a solid starting core. The other two spots, at least, appear to be fluid.
The extent of Gulley's shoulder problem bears watching, yet already Penn is seizing control of the point, playing more minutes and elevating the offense when on the floor. On a team that is admittedly lacking a go-to guy, Penn at least offers an element of being able to create shots for himself and others with his quickness off the dribble, or by putting up shots on the perimeter. Yes, he's careless with the ball at times. And Gulley is clearly the better defender.
But Penn is a far more potent presence, averaging 9.4 points to Gulley's 2.3 and handing out 19 assists to Gulley's five, albeit with more turnovers. And Penn was vital at La Salle, scoring 17 points with four 3-pointers, six assists and two turnovers.
Penn won the point guard spot a year ago, before a season-ending injury. And he's winning it again.
Sidorakis, a captain and valuable for the many intangibles he brings, might be best suited to come off the bench, which is where he thrived a year ago. JÃ©an-Paul Olukemi offers scoring punch and athleticism as a slasher and is nearly doubling Sidorakis' production in points and rebounds while commanding more minutes.
More help might be on the way from Matt Pilgrim and Markel Brown.
Pilgrim, still regaining his shape after a preseason suspension, scored a season-high 11 points at La Salle.
Brown is the biggest wild card, with talent that wows in practice but hasn't yet translated to game situations, as he struggles to grasp the demands and intricacies of Ford's system. Still, Ford is committed to bringing Brown along and increasing his minutes, with hopes that everything will click at some point.
So far, Ford has been stressing defense, insisting OSU's offense will come.
Now would be a good time.