Things can sure change in a week. Seven days ago the Oklahoma State Cowboys were 7-0 and had some talking about the Big 12 getting as many as seven teams into the NCAA Tournament.
Then came a dismal performance at South Carolina as part of the SEC Big 12 Challenge. It was the Pokes’ first true road test of the season and they failed it miserably falling 75-49.
The Cowboys (7-1) will look answer critics Saturday when face the tradition-rich Memphis Tigers (3-3). The game will give Travis Ford’s team a chance to prove that road woes will not plague them all season.
In the South Carolina game the Cowboys’ offense, which had been very impressive in the seven wins, was not bad – it was abysmal. Oklahoma State made only 16 of its 65 field goal attempts. Their two main scoring threats, Phil Forte and Le’Bryan Nash, were a combined 5 of 29 from the field.
The Cowboys will not be good if Forte and Nash are not productive. An offense that was averaging more than 79 points per game was limited to their lowest output in five seasons when their two main threats faltered.
Credit South Carolina and their Coach Frank Martin for taking away the Pokes’ lead options. But the Cowboys offense is too reliant on the three-pointer and scoring off of turnovers. When the dazzling threes from Forte are not falling and the turnovers do not come, this is what you get.
In Memphis the Pokes will face a team with an inexperienced backcourt but a talented frontcourt with solid rim-protectors. The Tigers are sixth nationally in blocked shots. Head Coach Josh Pastner has seen his team’s offense disappear in their three losses to quality opponents (Wichita State, Baylor and Stephen F. Austin). The Tigers are a defense-first and inside-oriented squad.
The Tigers will play through a pair of big men, Shaq Goodwin (11.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Austin Nichols (10.2 ppg, 19 blocks), and try to pound the ball inside. This could be trouble for the Cowboys as they are waiting for another big man to show consistency alongside Michael Cobbins.
In the backcourt, guard Avery Woodson leads the Tigers. Woodson is a 46.7% three-point shooter but leads a backcourt very thin on Division I experience. Nick King and Markel Crawford have logged significant minutes, but the Tigers are still looking for a permanent backcourt combination.
For the Cowboys to defeat Memphis, or anybody, on the road they will need better shooting nights from Forte and Nash. In the match up with the Tigers the Cowboys have the backcourt advantage. The crafty Forte and the talented Nash should feel confident.
Can Anthony Hickey and Forte pester the young Memphis guards into enough turnovers to ignite scoring runs? Can the offense still produce on nights where the threes are not falling? Those are questions this road test will help answer.