Stillwater, OK (SportsNetwork.com) - Led by superstar sophomore Marcus Smart, the eighth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys begin their season as they host the Mississippi Valley Delta Devils at Gallagher-Iba Arena for a non-conference tilt.
The Delta Devils will not be eligible for postseason play for the second consecutive season due to poor academic progress. Coach Chico Potts guided the team to a 5-23 overall record last year with all five wins coming during its Southwestern Athletic Conference schedule. Potts was at the center of a controversy over the off-season after he faced some legal issues, but was reinstated in July after being acquitted of domestic violence charges. Mississippi Valley was a dominant mid-major program in the 2011-12 season as it swept the SWAC regular season and tournament titles under coach Sean Woods, but the program has struggled since Potts took over a depleted squad.
Coach Travis Ford and his Cowboys have high expectations this season after having their 24-win campaign end with a second-round loss to Oregon in the NCAA Tournament. Smart's decision to return over the off-season drew attention from the national media and disappointed a handful of NBA teams hoping to acquire his services early in the draft. OSU was impressive versus non- conference foes a season ago with its only two losses coming courtesy of Virginia Tech and Gonzaga.
These schools met for the first time in the 1996 season. Oklahoma State narrowly avoided an upset as it defeated Mississippi Valley, 77-74, in Stillwater.
MSVU has plenty to replace due to the transfer of Davon Usher, who paced the team with 18.8 ppg, in addition to his 6.1 rpg. Senior point guard Darryl Marshall is the top returner for the Delta Devils after netting 7.9 points and 2.8 assists per tilt as a junior. He will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore guard Cameron Dobbs and senior Ervin Thomas, who both contributed four ppg off the bench in 2012-13. Forwards Julius Francis and Blake Ralling will also be expected to take on bigger roles after contributing off the bench last season.
Ford decided to make Smart, who is more than capable of playing off, his starting point guard. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound guard did not disappoint as he led the team in scoring with 15.4 ppg, while also accounting for 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and three steals per outing. OSU is far from a one-man team as Markel Brown (15.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Le'Bryan Nash (14 ppg, 4.1 rpg) are both also back for a run at the national title. Although the Cowboys lack a consistent scoring threat on the interior, Michael Cobbins is a solid defender and rebounder. Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy are going to see plenty of action at forward as well.