STILLWATER — Oklahoma State has gathered many believers in this basketball season, with a No. 8 national ranking and some analysts even projecting a run to the Final Four.
Yet if there's reason for caution with these Cowboys, critics consistently focus on one area of uncertainty: the lack of a post presence when OSU runs up against teams with bigger teams.
Michael Cobbins, of course, finds that offensive.
“I do consider myself a big man,” Cobbins said. “But pretty versatile as well.”
And versatility might trump brawn this season, with new NCAA rules installed to essentially ban contact, let alone banging.
While hardly a prototypical center at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, Cobbins is an athletic leaper who impacts games in different ways. Just into his junior year, he already ranks eighth in OSU history for blocked shots, with 95. Cobbins averages 1.5 blocks per game — and that's without owning a full-time role until now — and has seven games of four or more blocks entering Friday night's game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Tip time is 7.
Quick off his feet, Cobbins can beat many big men to the boards, working around them or over them.
“We need him to be a physical presence around the rim,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “We need him to rebound the ball, we need him to block shots and we need him to be a dominant five man for us.
“I think he will, and that's what I'm expecting.”
Cobbins said he understands the outside doubts, purely based on initial impressions.
But he also argues that there's more to him than may appear. He's bigger than ever, having added 50 solid pounds since arriving as a freshman. And he's healthy, something he was not at stages of last season, slowed early by a foot injury, then hampered late with a bum shoulder.
Cobbins, however, is fully healthy now. And with 7-footer Philip Jurick gone, his role has expanded, much like his own expectations.
“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.
“I have to go into every game with the mindset that I may not get the respect, because I may not be as big as some other bigs, but I've got to go out there and show them that I'm no different than them and I can do the same things that they can do.”
Cobbins won't have to go it alone. Kamari Murphy, another 6-8 forward, played significant minutes as a freshman a year ago and is adopting the same get-tough attitude when it comes to patrolling the paint from space-eating invaders.
“We have all the scorers we need out on the wing,” Murphy said. “Markel Brown, Marcus (Smart), Le'Bryan (Nash), Brian Williams … we have all the scorers we need already. Me and Mike's job is really to protect the rim, get rebounds and finish when we're at the goal.
“We're not coming out looking for 20 or 30 points. I'll be happy with a double-double, 10 points, 10 rebounds, I'll be fine with that.”