The OSU freshman changes the game on both ends of the floor more than any other player in the Big 12, and he does it in a variety of ways. On offense, he can do damage by shooting or passing or driving or drawing defenders. On defense, he can grab a rebound or steal a pass or force a bad shot.
He does all sorts of things well, and there's rarely a play that he doesn't do something that affects the game.
Not a lot of guys can say that.
“Marcus Smart is one of the best players in the country,” Kruger said.
Read that again — the Sooner coach called Smart one of the best players in the country. Not one of the best freshmen. One of the best players.
Of course, Smart is going to be on the court Wednesday night with another freshman who can boast the same. Kansas guard Ben McLemore comes to town, and people with a say so in end-of-the-year awards are sure to want to see how he and Smart compare while on the same court.
Safe to say Smart got the better of McLemore in their first matchup. Not only did the Cowboys win and end the Jayhawks' 33-game home-court winning streak earlier this month, but Smart also scored 25 points, including seven in crunch time.
“The bigger the occasion,” Cowboy guard and longtime Smart sidekick Phil Forte said, “he always seems to step up.”
Cowboy sharpshooter Markel Brown said, “We know at any given moment, he can make a spectacular play for this team to help us win.”
Smart is the reason that the Cowboys are in the driver's seat in the Big 12. No doubt this is a good team, but it has a chance to sweep the season series against the Jayhawks and pry the conference crown from their hands because of Smart. Because of the number of big plays he makes. Because of the way he impacts so much of every game.
Because of that, he deserves to be the front-runner for conference Player of the Year.
“It would be a great achievement for me,” Smart said, adding that he hasn't given much thought to winning the award but that he'd be honored to join the likes of Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, who've won it in the past. “I'd go down with that same marking that they have. It'd be a blessing.”
It'd be a blessing that Smart has earned.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.