Three thoughts on No. 7 Oklahoma State's 101-80 win over No. 11 Memphis, on Tuesday night at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla. The Cowboys moved to 4-0 with the win while the Tigers dropped to 1-1.
Marcus Smart makes a statement
On a night when the nation’s top four freshmen (Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon) were in action, it was Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart who stole the show.
Smart attacked Memphis’ defense from the jump, making six of eight shots in the first half for 26 points – two short of his career-high for an entire game -- and he finished with 39, tying the sophomore school record set in 1980.
Last season, Smart proved that he was tough to stop when driving to the basket. On Tuesday, he dusted off a new dimension to his offensive game: the long-range shot. Smart went 5-of-10 from beyond the arc and hit three treys in a span of 1:10 midway through the first half. Once the sophomore found his groove from outside, Memphis' defenders seemed to guard him differently. Rather than going under screens and allowing him to take jump shots, Tigers players shadowed Smart, which only made it easier for him to penetrate and create for others.
Memphis had no answer for the unanimous preseason All-America. During a timeout in the first half, the ESPN broadcast played a clip of Tigers head coach Josh Pastner telling his team, “Right now, we look like we’re shell-shocked.” In a different stoppage in the second half, Oklahoma City Thunder star forward Kevin Durant, sitting courtside, shook his head in acknowledgment of Smart’s dominant display.
Of course, scoring isn’t the only thing Smart did well (and often) Tuesday. He blocked three shots, grabbed five rebounds and handed out five assists, all while providing his typical dose of lockdown perimeter defense. Even more impressive was the energy Smart seemed to inject into his teammates every time he made a big play. He has been touted for his intangibles – his leadership, his work ethic, his desire to win – ever since he played his first college game. On Tuesday, Smart’s teammates seemed to feed off of him as they rolled to an 18-point halftime lead and cruised to victory.
Smart had somehow managed to stay under the radar during the first three games of the season, while freshmen such as Wiggins, Parker and Randle -- all of whom performed well in helping their own teams to victories on Tuesday -- owned most of the national spotlight. People will have a hard time taking Smart for granted after his effort against the Tigers. A performance this impressive against a team this good is impossible to ignore.
Josh Pastner’s Ignominious Distinction
With the loss, Pastner fell to 0-13 all-time against teams ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll. He will have other chances this year to get that first win now that Memphis has joined the American Athletic Conference -- which counts No. 3 Louisville, No. 18 UConn and Cincinnati among its members. But until he does, the perception that he is a much better recruiter than coach will continue to linger.
Pastner, now in his fifth season, has improved his win total every year he's been at Memphis since taking over for John Calipari in 2009-10, and he won his first NCAA Tournament game last season. But the Tigers have yet to beat a team that even remotely qualifies as a national championship contender during his tenure. CBS Sports college basketball columnist Gary Parrish, a former Memphis beat writer, summed up the general opinion most college hoops observers have of the Tigers thusly:
The Tigers may not have looked particularly good Tuesday night, but that’s more a credit to the Cowboys – and Smart in particular – than it is an indictment of Pastner’s team. We'll learn more about Memphis, which own one of the nation’s most experienced backcourts in seniors Michael Dixon Jr., Geron Johnson and Joe Jackson, when it faces Florida, currently ranked No. 16, at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17.
Can we fast-forward to January 18?
In an interview with USA Today college basketball reporter Eric Prisbell for a story published on Oct. 18, Smart said the following about Wiggins.
"They are saying he is the best college player there is and he has not even played a game yet," Smart told USA TODAY Sports. "Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk. He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential. I am not saying he can't do it. But he has not done it yet."
Those comments seem pretty harmless. After all, is it really that surprising to hear player as competitive as Smart say he is “hyped up” by all the praise being directed at Wiggins? Of course not. They are the two best players on the two best teams in the Big 12, No. 2 Kansas and No. 7 Oklahoma State. It would be a huge shock if one of these teams doesn’t win the league title. Before anyone is crowned champion, though, the Jayhawks and Cowboys must face off twice in the regular season. The first meeting is still a couple months away (Jan. 18), but after seeing Wiggins and Smart perform in the early going, I’d like to submit a proposal to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby: an impromptu November matchup between Kansas and Oklahoma State. Everybody wants to see Smart and Wiggins face off now, rather than waiting two months, so Commissioner Bowlsby, please make it happen.