Ice Or No Ice? It's A Big Deal

John Helsley

Know people who order pop with no ice? What’s wrong with these people?

Not that such a subject is what we’re here for.

We’re here for the most serious question facing Cowboys basketball these days: Will Isaac “Ice” Likekele play? As OSU treads through this challenging portion of the schedule, needing nonconference wins to enhance its résumé before Big 12 Conference play, so that the microscope of the NCAA selection committee reveals more confirmation than disqualification – should the Cowboys make their way into consideration – they desperately need the man they call Ice.

And the latest news on Likekele’s availability isn’t positive, with Mike Boynton all but declaring him out for Sunday’s game at Houston, which has played well in building a 6-2 record, highlighted by a 76-56 road rout of South Carolina.

“He’s better,” Boynton said. “He’s making progress. He probably still isn’t available yet. I hate to get ahead of myself, but I want to be honest; I don’t anticipate him playing.”

These Cougars don’t appear as stout as last year’s squad, which won in Stillwater and went on to a Sweet 16 appearance. They lost at home to BYU and on the road at No. 10 Oregon.

Still, the Cougars look like a tournament team. And they’ll be home to host the Cowboys, who will be without their Ice man, their best man.

OSU is a veteran team marked by players who have produced productive careers. But make no mistake, the Cowboys revolve around Likekele, in every way.

Since missing their illness-stricken point guard, the Cowboys have gone from being a rising unbeaten to reeling, beaten up by Georgetown and Wichita State… in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

And the impact of Likekele’s absence was clear. Without him, everything changes, on both ends of the floor.

Teams defend differently, since Likekele demands extra attention, able to drive to the rim and score among multiple defenders. That threat creates space for each of his teammates. And Ice’s aggression pushes a different pace of offense.

Defensively, Likekele acts as a stopper out front, discouraging penetration. That in turn makes life easier for Yor Anei, allowing the big man to protect the paint in a more stationary way. When Anei is forced to slide to shooters, he gets in trouble, and that’s been evident in quick foul trouble in each of the two losses.

Consider these OSU numbers, with and without Likekele:

First 7 Games

PPG  OpPPG  FG%  OpFG%  Op3fg%  RebMar  APG  OpAPG  SPG  BPG

74.3   58.4       43.9  34.3        23.6        +5.6        12.9     11.3      9.0   5.1

Last 2 Games

67.5   80.5       39.5   44.9       41.7         -12.5       10.5     17.0     6.5   3.5

Likekele has become an unlikely star after arriving as an unheralded late recruit, a three-star prospect out of Arlington, Texas, who flipped his commitment from Fresno State. He leads the Cowboys, by far, in plus-minus rating at +15.6. For fun comparison, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA leader at 11.6.

Ice seized the point guard role a year ago, blossomed over the summer for USA Basketball’s U19 squad, and emerged as a beast this season.

So yeah, Likekele is missed, with true freshmen Chris Harris and Avery Anderson adjusting to the college game on the fly, now in pressurized situations.

“Trial by fire,” Boynton called it Friday.

Ice or no Ice?

It’s a big deal.