Year Three of the Travis Ford Era brought great uncertainty with the departures of James Anderson to the NBA and Obi Muonelo to the D-League.
But so far, the Cowboys have answered the bell on all but one occasion, thanks to the surprising play of Marshall Moses.
Now their toughest test arrives Friday night in Spokane, Wash., when they take on a Gonzaga team that has found new life.
The Story So Far
Just like last season, the Cowboys are 11-1, pending tomorrow's game at Gonzaga, which will be their stiffest test yet.
Eight of those wins are against triple-digit RPI teams: Alabama, Central Arkansas, DePaul, Houston Baptist, La Salle, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Stanford and Tulsa.
Now, I don't care what the numbers say at this point in the season — beating Tulsa on a neutral court is impressive and the win at La Salle was a pretty good road win in a hard environment. The Alabama and Stanford wins are a little less substantial because both of these teams appear to suck this year.
In addition to those, the Pokes have three quality wins over Missouri State, Murray State and Nicholls State, but I question if any of those will remain in the RPI Top 100 at the end of the year. In particular, I can't fathom how a 2-4 Nicholls State team isn't already in the bottom third of Division I teams. RPI in December can be fluky.
The wins are decent, but not spectacular. The close win over a horrendous DePaul team gives one pause, but it was early and on a neutral court in California, so I'll give them a pass for that one. The loss was to Virginia Tech, which is by far the best team OSU has played, but we know firsthand that the Hokies are schizophrenic at best.
What's it all mean? Once again, Okie Lite is an enigma wrapped in a riddle entering conference play. We'll learn a whole lot more on New Year's Eve. But I wrote them off a little early last season, and they proved me wrong with a win in Manhattan and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Current Oklahoma State RPI: 33
Current Oklahoma State SOS: 149
Note: All stats for current players are updated through the most recent game this season, unless otherwise noted.
56-24 (18-14) at Oklahoma State
- James Anderson (34.1 minutes per game | 22.3 points per game | 5.8 rebounds per game)
- Obi Muonelo (30.6 minutes per game | 13.3 points per game | 5.0 rebounds per game)
- Teeng Akol (0.0 minutes per game | 0.0 points per game | 0.0 rebounds per game)
- Steven Cantrell (0.0 minutes per game | 0.0 points per game | 0.0 rebounds per game)
- Lee Ledford (0.0 minutes per game | 0.0 points per game | 0.0 rebounds per game)
- Garrett Thomas (1.0 minute per game | 0.0 points per game | 0.8 rebound per game)
- Torin Walker (2.7 minutes per game | 0.2 point per game | 0.5 rebound per game)
#5 Reger Dowell
4.6 minutes per game | 0.8 point per game | 0.6 rebound per game
#32 Roger Franklin
3.7 minutes per game | 0.7 point per game | 1.0 rebound per game
#21 Fred Gulley
16.6 minutes per game | 2.3 points per game | 2.6 rebounds per game
#33 Marshall Moses
32.0 minutes per game | 17.3 points per game | 8.4 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: BracketCat
#12 Keiton Page
34.6 minutes per game | 15.8 points per game | 2.1 rebounds per game
#14 Ray Penn
27.7 minutes per game | 8.9 points per game | 0.9 rebound per game
#31 Matt Pilgrim
17.9 minutes per game | 4.6 points per game | 5.3 rebounds per game
#1 Jarred Shaw
5.7 minutes per game | 0.9 point per game | 1.3 rebounds per game
#15 Nick Sidorakis
20.7 minutes per game | 3.5 points per game | 1.7 rebounds per game
#22 Markel Brown
11.0 minutes per game | 3.0 points per game | 1.0 rebound per game
#20 Mike Cobbins
2.5 minutes per game | 0.0 points per game | 0.5 rebound per game
#0 Jean-Paul Olukemi
19.2 minutes per game | 9.6 points per game | 3.8 rebounds per game
#4 Brian Williams
25.0* points per game | 12.0* rebounds per game | 3.0* steals per game
*at Glen Oaks High School in 2009-10
#25 Darrell Williams
23.0 minutes per game | 7.1 points per game | 8.6 rebounds per game
My thanks to the Oklahoma State sports information department for the photos.
It sounds insane to say any team could lose a James Anderson and perhaps get better, but I truly think that could be the case with Oklahoma State this season. The way you do it is with balance and by having other people step up to fill the gap.
Enter Marshall Moses and Keiton Page. The Cowboys' inside-outside combo will prove deadly for many teams in the Big 12, because good players just are hard to stop when they get going.
Moses has taken a major step forward, shifting down a spot to take over Anderson's role as the power forward. He's playing nearly 10 minutes more per game and leads the team in scoring, having increased his scoring average by a whopping nine points per game from last season. Meanwhile, he's still averaging around eight boards a game.
That takes inordinate pressure off Page, who otherwise probably would be doubled at times by some teams. Page is pouring in around five points per game more than last season and his range appears to be greater than ever.
(He made a guarded 3 from the edge of the OSU midcourt logo against Stanford. I'm not even kidding. It was ridiculous. The Cardinal actually tried defending him with a big and even that didn't slow him down.)
The other player who has started every game this season is Nick Sidorakis. At this time last year, he was a little-used reserve player, but he broke out in a big way against us in Manhattan. (Remember that? How could you forget, right?)
Sidorakis still isn't a consistent scorer or even a major rebounder, but he's one of those glue guys coaches just fall in love with. He defends with high energy and makes his free throws, plus the occasional 3. What's not to like?
The 5 spot has been a challenge. Ideally, Ford probably would like Matt Pilgrim to fill that role, but Pilgrim's only started five of 12 games. I suspect that's due to a combination of foul trouble and inconsistency. Pilgrim's play was sloppy in the 76 Classic, during which he was tagged with multiple flagrant fouls and even ejected once.
Against Stanford, he didn't do much of anything. He might continue to be a player off the bench just so he can avoid silly, early fouls, sort of like Jamar Samuels. Starting in his place has been Darrell Williams, a 6-foot-8 JUCO transfer from Midland College. Williams is the team's fifth-leading scorer and its leading rebounder.
Also up in the air is the identity of the team's eventual starting point guard. Speedy Ray Penn had the job locked down as a freshman last year, but an injury cost him the latter half of his season. Fred Gulley stepped in to take over that role and he entered this season in the same position.
Gulley only has played in seven games this season, starting all of them, but now he's out for the season with a non-cancerous cyst in his shoulder. Reger Dowell did start one game at point guard, but he's barely seen any action otherwise. It looks as though Penn has reclaimed the starting role as of the last four games.
If Oklahoma State wants to break into the upper echelon of the Big 12, excellent guard play is a must, as we have seen. Page and Penn comprise one of the most talented combos in the league. Against Stanford, Penn drilled several 3s in a row to blow the game open, then Page took over and really nailed the coffin shut.
Nor is there much dropoff at the shooting guard position behind them. True freshman Markel Brown was a highly touted prospect who's averaging 11 minutes per game and has seen action in all 12 contests, but the real revelation has been sophomore JUCO transfer Jean-Paul Olukemi.
Olukemi started his career at Vincennes University and sat out last season as a redshirt. He transferred to OSU midyear following his December 2009 graduation and practiced with the Cowboys, but did not compete during the spring semester. That gave him a leg up on most JUCO transfers, in my opinion.
So far, he's the team's third-leading scorer, putting up 9.6 points per game in only 19.2 minutes per game. He's a prototypical wing who can score in transition, dunk and shoot the jumper. He was a major factor in wins over Murray State and Stanford, and I liken him to Rodney McGruder in a lot of ways, although he's not as good of a rebounder.
Sophomore forward Roger Franklin is seeing limited time off the bench, but the Cowboys' other major post player likely will be Jarred Shaw. He's not contributing much in the way of statistics right now, but I expect that to improve as he gains experience. At 6-foot-10, he's the tallest guy on the roster, albeit undersized at 235 pounds.
Freshman guard Mike Cobbins has seen only isolated minutes and it appears that fellow freshman guard Brian Williams is redshirting.
Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup
Projected Top Big 12 Reserves
The Final Verdict
Remember when I said Colorado would struggle with teams that have a true post presence? Oklahoma State is the kind of team I was talking about.
Although there aren't any seven-footers running around in orange, the Cowboys have sufficient length to be a bother. Plus, Moses and Pilgrim both added 20 pounds in the offseason, and they already were pretty big men to begin with.
Guys that command the paint like that take pressure off a backcourt that, other than Page, still is comprised of sophomores, most of whom only saw limited time last season.
In some ways, OSU's challenge is similar to our own, and that's to get consistent play out of the bigs so Page/Pullen can help shepherd along younger guards to fill roles vacated by departed upperclassmen. I wish we had a post player as consistent or as physical as Moses at this point in the season, however.
Ford's first two teams have been remarkably consistent. Both finished 9-7, won a game in the Big 12 Tournament, held serve at home against most of the South teams and advanced to the Big Dance. But last year's team took a major step forward by beating KU and K-State, and now it's time to build on that.
To break into the upper half of the conference and possibly secure a bye on the first day of this year's tournament, OSU needs Moses to keep doing what he's doing, and it needs Page and Penn to be consistently impressive.
But Pilgrim is going to have to grow as a player, too. He's only giving them 18 minutes a game and that's just not enough. More scoring from him would be helpful, as well.
Ultimately, the continued growth of Olukemi could be what decides the fate of this team. If he plateaus, that could lower their ceiling, but if he keeps up this growth rate, the sky could be the limit. (Full disclosure: I nearly drafted Olukemi in the sixth round instead of Samuels, so that should tell you how high I am on the kid.)
Big 12 preseason prediction: 8th
My predicted finish: 6th
Best-case scenario: 4th
Against K-State?: Toss-up in Stillwater