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Tough stretch for Oklahoma St. gets worse with Marcus Smart suspension

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer

The story surrounding Marcus Smart and his altercation with Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr is not going to end anytime soon, but Oklahoma State has to move on quickly.

Smart, the All-American guard and future lottery pick, has been suspended three games and won't play for the Cowboys again until Feb. 22 -- against Texas Tech, naturally.

Oklahoma State was in a tailspin regardless of Smart's suspension, losing its last four games to drop to 4-6 in the Big 12. The Cowboys have been struggling mightily at both ends of the floor, with Smart too often resorting to jumpshots instead of being the aggressive playmaker he was last season. Moreover, the season-ending injury to Michael Cobbins earlier this season is being felt lately, as Oklahoma State doesn't have the size and post presence inside to deal with bigger teams.

And now the Cowboys must play without Smart during a key stretch in league play.

Smart will miss Tuesday's trip to Texas, Saturday's home game against Oklahoma, and next week's road contest against Baylor. Without Smart, there is a chance the Cowboys could lose all three games.

If Oklahoma State does extend its losing streak to seven games, it will be 4-9 in the Big 12 -- and could be in serious trouble for the NCAA tournament. One thing to keep in mind, though, is how the selection committee will view Oklahoma State and Smart. The committee will judge Oklahoma State on Selection Sunday based on the players the Cowboys have heading into the NCAA tournament; Smart will be one of those players. While the games they play without Smart will obviously be on the resume, the committee will take into account that Smart didn't play in those games.

With that said, let's look at the upcoming games for Travis Ford's crew. Heading into the weekend, Texas was one of the hottest teams in the country, winning seven in a row before dropping Saturday's game against Kansas State. The Longhorns do most of their damage around the rim and at the free-throw line. Cameron Ridley has developed down low in his sophomore year, and Oklahoma State's lack of size inside could be a factor.

Oklahoma won the first meeting between the two teams by 12 points in Norman, despite Smart scoring 22 points. Jordan Woodard is the catalyst for the Sooners, and not having Smart to keep him out of the lane will be an issue.

And then there's Baylor. It's tough to predict how the Bears will perform regardless of Oklahoma State's personnel, as they have been up and down in conference play. With that said, the Cowboys lost by six at home to Baylor earlier this month -- with big men Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers combining for 25 points and 14 rebounds.

The big issues for Oklahoma State without Smart will be the team's point guard play and lack of depth. Over the past month, the Cowboys lost Cobbins due to injury, backup guard Stevie Clark due to dismissal -- and now Smart. Ford has had to use former walk-on Christien Sager for extended minutes, and with shooter Phil Forte likely moving into the starting lineup, Sager and freshman Leyton Hammonds will likely be the only options off the bench.

How will the Cowboys' offense look without Smart? Markel Brown and Forte are ideal on the wings, as Smart's penetration can free up Brown for jumpers and high-flying finishes, and allows Forte to focus on shooting. Both players will need to handle the ball more often in Smart's absence, and the offense will likely have to run through junior forward LeBryan Nash. Is Nash up to the task?

The discussion of Smart and Saturday's incident has revolved mostly on what actually transpired during the altercation -- but now Ford and Oklahoma State have to look forward. And it might not be pretty for the Cowboys.

 
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