Andre Owens, the senior point guard at Oklahoma State, arrived
in Stillwater last fall a cocksure juco transfer with the firm
conviction that an encyclopedic knowledge of basketball was part
of his birthright as a native Hoosier. Certainly no one who is
nicknamed Big Country and hails from a sleepy Oklahoma town
called Gans could teach a gym rat from South Bend anything about
the game. At least that's what Owens thought.

"Last year was a real eye-opener," Owens says of the Big Eight
schedule and OSU's Final Four experience. "Bryant [Reeves] sat
me down a couple of times to tell me I didn't know as much as I
thought."

This season--with OSU chasing Kansas (page 54), Oklahoma (page
95) and Missouri (page 97) in the ultracompetitive Big
Eight--Reeves is gone to the NBA and Owens is the one explaining
things to a couple of the Cowboys' brash newcomers. One is 6'8"
forward Jerome Lambert, a transfer from Baylor whose 14.8
rebounds a game led the nation two years ago. Owens likens him
to Dennis Rodman because during pickup games this summer,
Lambert always seemed to know where the ball would carom after a
missed shot.

Lining up next to Lambert and taking the place of Reeves in the
pivot will be junior Maurice Robinson, a Corliss Williamson
clone who sat out last year after transferring from Florida
State. Although he's only 6'7", at 272 pounds he's strong enough
to rebound inside while still consistently hitting the 15-foot
jumper, which draws the other team's centers out of the lane.

But it's Owens on whom OSU is relying to challenge the
conference's upper-echelon teams--and to replace the departed
Randy Rutherford, who was fifth in the conference in scoring
(19.6 ppg) and first in three-pointers per game (3.9). Although
he was second to Kansas's Jacque Vaughn in assists, with 6.9,
Owens averaged just 7.6 points and shot a dismal 42.6%. His
outside shot got so little respect that even his teammates laid
off him during practices and pickup games. Owens attacked the
problem during the off-season by shooting 200 jump shots a day
from the wings and the top of the key. "I feel real good about
my shot now," Owens says. "But I'll still be thinking, If I make
it, I make it. If not, it's O.K."

In contrast, Nebraska coach Danny Nee, a helicopter tail gunner
in Vietnam, isn't nearly as laid-back in his approach or his
expectations. And why should he be? This season Nee returns
seven seniors, making Nebraska the most experienced team in the
Big Eight.

It was also a good recruiting year for Nee, who landed the
nation's top juco player, Bernard Garner from Western Nebraska
Community College. At 6'7", 225 pounds--and with a deft touch
from the outside--he's the perfect frontcourt complement to the
wispy 6'11", 208-pound Mikki Moore, who is the conference's top
returning shot blocker.

Moore and Garner make up half of a formidable quartet (along
with guards Jaron Boone and Erick Strickland) that gives Nee
nearly as many offensive options as Tom Osborne. Boone, whose
father, Ron, played 16 seasons in the ABA and NBA, averaged 20.8
points a game during the Big Eight season and is the
conference's second-leading returning scorer (behind Oklahoma's
Ryan Minor). Boone sank 41% of his shots from beyond the arc in
league play last season, and that was before he spent countless
hours in the off-season further refining his outside shooting
skills.

Strickland, meanwhile, is the league's No. 3 returning scorer.
But it isn't his offense that instills fear in the hearts of
opposing coaches. Strickland racked up a league-high 89 steals
last season, which earned him a spot on the All-Big Eight
defensive team for the second straight year. Now his eyes are
trained on the league's defensive player of the year award.

One of Strickland's most challenging matchups this winter will
come against highly touted freshman guard Chauncey Billups of
Colorado. The signing of Billups out of Denver's George
Washington High, where he averaged 23.8 points a game over four
years and was a three-time Colorado Player of the Year, prompted
the sale of 1,000 season-ticket packages. The administration
sold almost 1,000 more to students as they walked out of Folsom
Field after purchasing Buffalo football tickets. While the 6'3",
200-pound Billups generates hope for the future, this season's
needs may be best filled by 6'8", 225-pound Georgia Tech
transfer Martice Moore, who averaged 9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds
as a sophomore. Moore, a native of the Atlanta area, grew tired
of the constant pressure at Tech and decided to switch to
Colorado, where he had a friend in assistant coach Ricardo Patton.

Colorado coach Joe Harrington sees Moore, the 1993 ACC Freshman
of the Year, as the key in replacing Donnie Boyce, who led
Colorado in scoring and rebounding last season. The dearth of
returning talent--the Buffaloes are one of only two teams in the
Big Eight with no seniors on their roster--means Moore will have
to play a pivotal role this season if Colorado has a hope of
finishing in the conference's upper tier. "Moore gives us the
versatility to present different looks on offense," Harrington
says. "He plays three positions, so we can go bulkier inside or
go with quickness."

That's a welcome change for Colorado, which for the first time
in nearly a decade is not picked to finish last in the
conference. This year Kansas State and Iowa State are the bottom
feeders. Although the Wildcats have three starters back, the
only high-caliber player is senior guard Elliott Hatcher, who
led the team in scoring, assists and steals. Hatcher is a
lightning-quick point guard whose 53 steals last year were the
fourth-highest mark in team history.

Iowa State, a surprise 23-game winner last season, should be
buried in the conference cellar. Ten lettermen, including four
starters, graduated last May. Those scholarships have been
filled by seven transfers and two freshmen. Things are so bleak
in Ames that the lone returning player is junior guard Jacy
Holloway, who averaged 1.8 points a game last year.

--Chad Millman

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO As Owens (33) goes, so goes OSU. [Andre Owens] COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO The Husker D gets its kick from Strickland (21), the league's leading thief. [Erick Strickland]

RANKING

1 Kansas (1)
2 Oklahoma (18)
3 Missouri (20)
4 Oklahoma State
5 Nebraska
6 Colorado
7 Kansas State
8 Iowa State

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)