Monday, September 29, 2008

2008-09 Opponent Breakdown: Oklahoma State University

For all intents and purposes, the season starts in less than two months when the Old Spice Classic tips off on November 27th. The Zags should earn three confidence-building victories against Wayne State, MSU-Billings, and Idaho before they head off to Orlando. Their first opponent in the Old Spice Classic will be the Cowboys of Oklahoma State University. For the first time in a long time, the Cowboys will not be headed by a Sutton family member. Travis Ford aka Danny O'Grady from the film "The Sixth Man" is the new leader of Oklahoma State and he looks to rebuild the program after Sean Sutton all but ran it into the ground.

Last Season's Results: It was a tough year to be in Stillwater, Oklahoma last season. The 'Pokes were barely above .500 with a 17-16 record and went 7-9 in Big 12 play. They were selected to participate in the NIT but were swiftly eliminated by Southern Illinois 69-53. It was clear that Sean Sutton lacked control of the team. They had flashes of excellence including a victory over NCAA champion Kansas in Stillwater. The majority of the season was dominated by inconsistent play.

New Faces: Travis Ford comes to Stillwater after leading the University of Massachusetts to the NIT championship game where they would eventually fall to Ohio State. Ford had an excellent career at UMass. Ford coached two Atlantic 10 players of the year and facilitated the Minuteman's 8th ranked offense. He came to Oklahoma State after the Cowboys fired Sean Sutton after two years on the job. Sutton's career was mired in mediocrity and constant reference to his father Eddie Sutton who coached last season at the University of San Francisco. The Cowboys will also be featuring three new recruits. Malcom Kirkland, Keiton Page, and Teeng Akol have brought their skills to Oklahoma State. Kirkland and Akol are power forwards and will be thrust into immediate playing time as the Cowboys will be extremely thin down low. Keiton Page was the leading scorer in Oklahoma high school basketball last year, averaging an unbelievable 44 points per game (he outscored Rotnei Clarke who only had 41 ppg). Page will also see time as he will back up Byron Eaton for the 'Pokes. Teeng Akol comes in with an interesting story. He was originally a South Florida commit up until mid-August but changed his mind and decided to commit to Travis Ford and Oklahoma State.

Players to Watch: It feels like Byron Eaton (right) has been at Oklahoma State for ten years, doesn't it? He is definitely the team leader this season for Oklahoma State and will be the court general. Eaton averaged 12 points and 4 assists per game last season. The short, stalky point guard struggled quite a bit last year and has never performed to his expectations. The coaching change should help him as he never seemed to feel comfortable under Sean Sutton. Bursting onto the scene last season for Oklahoma State was James Anderson. The sophomore small forward from Arkansas led the team with 13 points per game last season. Anderson, a former four star recruit, is an extremely athletic forward in the Chris Douglas-Roberts mold. He's thin but able to penetrate and get to the hoop. Make sure to watch the interior play for the Cowboys. Much like Gonzaga, they are very thin up front and don't be surprised if you see a four guard lineup out of OSU.

TKR's Concern-O-Meter: Medium-High. This game screams trap game at me. Does Gonzaga have the better team overall? Yes. However, we have seen the Zags struggle against hard-nosed, athletic teams. For this tournament to be a success, the Bulldogs have to win at least two games. Losing their first game would be catastrophic for the season and Few has to make sure that the team is not overlooking Oklahoma State by any means. Travis Ford will bring his running, wide open style of offense to Stillwater and he is also a strong believer in man-to-man defense. While I believe the Zags will win this game, I would not be shocked if Oklahoma State did the same thing to Gonzaga that Oklahoma did last season.

What We are Watching for: There will be plenty to watch in this game; the Zags definitely have something to prove. Everyone remembers the struggles last season in big games and the horrible ending against Davidson. This game will be the team's chance to make a huge statement to the rest of the nation. This seems like one of those games that either Gonzaga will win in a huge blowout or a game that OSU will win 61-60. It will not be decided in the interior most likely because more than likely OSU will be running most of the game with a four guard lineup. Pargo against Eaton will be an interesting match up of similar playing styles and Bouldin and Gray will see extended minutes as well. I would expect to see plenty of Micah Downs as he will likely draw the assignment of guarding James Anderson. It should be a lineup consisting mostly of Pargo, Bouldin, Daye, Downs, and Heytvelt with Gray, Meech, and Sacre seeing plenty of action.

Helpful Links:
Official Old Spice Classic Website
OSU Athletics Official Website
OSU Last Season Statistics
OSU Rivals Page

The Sixth Man Movie Trailer:
Note: You should be able to spot Travis Ford at the 45 second mark

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