Entering the final day of the SEC Big 12 Challenge the Big 12 holds a 6-2 advantage. The Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-0) will look to add to that Big 12 advantage as they face South Carolina (4-3) on the road.
The Cowboys are playing some of the best defense in the country and are off to an impressive undefeated start. The pressure defense lead by Forte and Anthony Hickey has the Cowboys creating turnovers. Head Coach Travis Ford is using a mixture of trapping half court presses, man-to-man and an active 2-3 zone to keep opposing teams off balance.
As a team, OSU eighth in the nation with 10.71 steals per game and Forte is third in the country with 3.43 steals per game. But this is the Pokes first true road game of the season. Will the Cowboys defense travel and how will an ever-evolving lineup fair the road?
In their last outing the Cowboys used a career-high 32 point outburst from Phil Forte to wax North Texas 87-61 in Stillwater. Ford suspended leading scorer Le’Bryan Nash against the Mean Green due to disciplinary reasons.
The Cowboys were also without Leyton Hammonds and Marek Soucek due to injury. Nash is expected to back in the lineup for today’s game. At full strength, the Cowboys are showing potential to be a factor in the Big 12 race.
Big 12 basketball fans will recognize South Carolina’s coach as former Kansas State Head Coach Frank Martin leads the Gamecocks. His team will play physical and with Martin’s trademark defensive intensity, but his squad is offensively challenged. The Gamecocks are shooting just 44% from the field on the young season. They are projected to finish toward the bottom of the SEC standings.
Martin has lost 27 SEC games in his two seasons as the head man in Columbia. He lost just 32 Big 12 games in his five years on the sideline at Kansas State. But his program has made slight progress. They finished 2013-14 with four wins in their final six games including a win over national runner-up Kentucky.
The Gamecocks are lead by 6’5″ sophomore guard Sindarius Thornwell (13.0 ppg). South Carolina will employ a three-guard attack with point guard Duane Notice (10.6 ppg) and wing Tyrone Johnson alongside Thornwell.
Ford appears to be sold on his nucleus of Forte, Hickey, Nash and Michael Cobbins. It is on the low block where auditions are still being held. Two newcomers, 7’1″ JUCO transfer Anthony Allen and freshman Mitchell Solomon (Bixby, OK) have shared that duty. Solomon is the more fundamental player, but Allen has the higher upside.
The Cowboys are also getting some production from a couple of freshman reserves from the DFW Metroplex. Tavarius Shine, a 6’6″ wing, is a great finisher and a willing defender. Jeffery Carroll is a 6’5″ sharp shooting wing that adds another shooter to stretch defenses alongside Forte.
If the Cowboys are to have success today against South Carolina or in Big 12 play going forward the responsibility lies most heavily upon the super-charged Forte and the ultra-talented, yet enigmatic Nash. Ford knows this as do opposing coaches. Yet devising a game plan to stop them both is proving to be difficult.