After his team was drubbed 80-60 by Oklahoma State on Feb. 9,
Kansas coach Bill Self was asked to pinpoint the Cowboys'
surprising success this season. He could have cited any number of
statistics: Oklahoma State outrebounded Kansas 43-26, shot 75%
from three-point range in the first half (53.3% for the game),
scored 29 points off turnovers and had five players reach double
figures. Self, however, was most impressed by a number that was
not on the stat sheet. "Their starting five has been out of high
school a combined 21 years," Self said. "There aren't a lot of
teams these days you can say that about."
Indeed, the No. 7 Cowboys, who through Sunday were in sole
possession of first place in the Big 12 with a 9-1 record (19-2
overall) despite having been picked to finish fifth by both the
league's media and coaches, have taken full advantage of their
uncommon maturity. Their starting lineup is made up of two
seniors and three juniors (including 24-year-old Daniel Bobik, a
6'4" guard who spent his first two years out of high school on a
Mormon mission and then went to BYU for two years before
transferring in 2002), and their top three reserves are two
seniors and a junior. That collective experience is a major
reason why Oklahoma State led the nation in field goal shooting
(52.5%) at week's end and had been unflappable on the road. On
Jan. 17, the Cowboys overcame a 16-point second-half deficit at
Kansas State, and in winning last month at Texas and two weeks
ago at Iowa State, they snapped home win streaks of 25 and 12
Another key to Oklahoma State's success is that it now has a
potent offense to go along with an in-your-face defense that has
long been a trademark of coach Eddie Sutton's teams. (At week's
end the Cowboys were ranked third in the Big 12 in scoring D.)
Thanks in large part to Tony Allen (16.2 points per game), a 6'4"
senior guard who played at two junior colleges before coming to
Oklahoma State last year, and 5'11" junior point guard John
Lucas, who transferred from Baylor last summer, Sutton has his
best offensive team since the 1995 squad, which reached the Final
Four. After Lucas arrived on campus last fall, he and Allen
became fast friends through their frequent late-night shooting
workouts in Gallagher-Iba Arena. (They don't leave until they
have made a combined 700 jump shots.) Lucas was the Cowboys'
second-leading scorer (14.1 points per game) and was second in
the Big 12 in assists (4.81 per game). Lucas has also liberally
shared with Allen the hoops insights he acquired from his father,
John, who spent 20 years playing and coaching in the NBA. "He's
always talking to me during games and practices about what I
should be doing," Allen says of the younger Lucas. "It's like
he's coaching while he's playing."
Up front, Joey Graham, a 6'7" junior forward who transferred from
Central Florida, has been an ideal complement to 6'8" senior Ivan
McFarlin, who was averaging 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game.
That such chemistry has evolved on a team that includes seven
players who began their college careers elsewhere is further
testament to the benefits of experience. "This isn't the most
talented team I've ever coached, but these guys really understand
what their roles are," Sutton says. "I still don't think we're a
Final Four team, but I didn't think we'd be this good either. I
hope they keep surprising me."