Marcus Smart Passes on NBA Draft, Cowboys Vault into Preseason Top 10. But Can Travis Ford Coach?

By Jason McIntyre

Marcus Smart, who I thought could have gone as high as 2nd in June’s NBA draft, has decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season, a shocker that shakes up next season’s Top 25 and certainly the Big 12.

Smart, a bullish 6-foot-4 guard who seemed to score at will at times as a freshman (15.4 ppg), did a little bit of everything for the Cowboys – 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 3.0 steals per game. He’ll now enter the 2013-2014 season as a Player of the Year candidate (yes, I know at least three freshman will be contenders), and make the Cowboys the favorites in the Big 12. Kansas has won the Big 12 regular season title for nine straight years, but with the Jayhawks suffering heavy losses to graduation and Smart returning, Oklahoma State should win the conference.

It’s not just Smart who is returning. The team’s second leading scorer, Markel Brown (15.3 ppg), will be a senior. Oklahoma State’s 3rd leading scorer, Le’Bryan Nash (14.0 ppg) will be a junior. The team’s leading shot blocker and rebounder, Michael Cobbins will be a junior. The Cowboys have a solid recruiting class coming in. There’s something very wrong if this team doesn’t win 27-30 games

The two biggest questions for Oklahoma State next season will be size/frontcourt depth and coach Travis Ford. One of the highest-paid coaches in the country, Ford has one win in three trips to the NCAA tournament with the Cowboys, and next season there will be Sweet 16 aspirations – at a minimum.

In my way-too-early Top 25 the day after the title game, I didn’t have Oklahoma State ranked or even “others receiving votes.” I can confidently say that in 11 days, when everyone who wants to declare for the draft has, the Cowboys will be in the Top 10 (probably replacing Marquette, which lost Vander Blue).

I’m not going to bash Smart for passing up the riches of the NBA. Unlike players in recent years who stayed in school and watched their stock tank – mostly wings and frontcourt players – Smart is a point guard and doesn’t need to rely on others to get the ball. Could he work on his ball handling? Sure. Could he improve his shooting? Of course. Is the 2014 draft loaded? Yup. But unless Smart completely crumbles under the weight of expectations, I’ve still got him in the 2014 lottery, but whether he can get as high as No. 2 (after Andrew Wiggins) remains to be seen.