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Keys For The Cowboys In Massive Bedlam Showdown

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

The rankings will change prior to tip off but, with both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma unblemished through the past week's games, one thing is virtually certain: this is the biggest Bedlam in years.

It's been a while since fans were treated to a heavyweight-Bedlam tilt on the hardwood but that is what they'll receive on Monday at 8 p.m., as both teams enter the contest ranked for the first time since 2005.

Here is a preview of the showdown from No. 11 Oklahoma State's perspective:

 

Three Keys For The Cowboys

1. Break The Streak

Oklahoma State had a knack early in the season for getting up big in the first half and allowing late comebacks. That trend has shifted drastically in conference play, particularly lately, toward OSU falling behind early and having to fight its way back.

OSU trailed for the vast majority of the first half against West Virginia on Saturday and trailed by as much as 19 in the first half against Kansas. The same can also be said for the Pokes' road win against WVU two weeks ago and a loss at Kansas State.

That would be a dangerous trend to continue in Norman, and not just because OU is a good; Lloyd Noble has been a house of horrors for the Pokes in recent years.

Oklahoma State has a 5-4 edge in the Bedlam series since 2009 but trips down I-35 have not been kind to the Cowboys. In fact, OSU hasn't won in Norman since 2004 when the Cowboys went to the Final Four.

Starting strong and asserting itself in the early stages to take the crowd out of it and create seeds of doubt in the Sooner players would go a long way toward getting this decade-old monkey of OSU's back.

 

2. Get Smart

It hasn't been a good run for Cowboy All-American point guard Marcus Smart. The sophomore is just 3-of-19 shooting in his past two games and, as bad as things went for him in a loss at Kansas, things were decidedly worse in Saturday's win against West Virginia. Smart had arguably the worst game of his career against the Mountaineers, fouling out with just four points, three turnovers and two emotional outbursts on the sideline that prompted a public apology on Twitter after the game.

RELATED: Smart Apologizes For Outbursts Against WVU

Smart has all of the ability and composure to bounce back but this is as big a funk as he's been in at the collegiate level.

Although, his last outing against OU could serve as the motivation needed to right the ship. Smart led the Pokes in points (28), rebounds (7), assists (4), steals (3) and came up with a game-deciding block on a potential game-tying 3 from the Sooners to preserve an 85-79 overtime victory.

Smart needs to channel his aggression back into re-establishing that version of himself: making big plays and breaking the game open instead of overselling fouls, forcing up wild shots and resorting to uncharacteristic outbursts. Coach Ford and Co. are hoping that transition takes place sooner rather than later. Monday night would be as good a time as any.

 

3. Supporting Cast

This team is all-too-often pegged as Marcus Smart and Co. when there is actually a wealth of talent on the roster that can go off at any moment.

Le'Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and Phil Forte in particular hold the keys to a lot of OSU's success and its No. 11 national ranking.

How well the Pokes' support players play will decide a lot against a Sooner team that relies heavily on contributions throughout its roster, allowing OU to achieve an enviable amount of consistency. The Sooners go nine-deep and have five players who average double figures. That team-oriented approach has played a substantial role in OU's ability to exceed preseason expectations.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, lack that depth after losing starting center Michael Cobbins for the season.

Relying too heavily on Smart could be a recipe for disaster and send OSU into another significant first-half hole before Ford is forced to open up the offense in the second half (see: Kansas game). OSU will need contributions early from Nash, Brown and Forte, as well as, efficient ball distribution and strong defensive showings from Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy to get off on the right foot and make an early statement in Norman.

OSU will also need to do the best job it can at avoiding foul trouble, which has nearly derailed the Cowboys in several games as a result of Ford's seven-man rotation and lack of depth in the paint.

 

Notables

• Monday is the 13th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of 10 men involved with the Oklahoma State basketball program.

• In Saturday's victory against West Virginia, Markel Brown became the first player in OSU history to record 250 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocks in a career when he blocked Eron Harris' shot in the first half. He is also the first guard in OSU history to hit the 100-block mark.

• Le'Bryan Nash is coming off a career-high 29-point performance against the Mountaineers and tacked another on to his Big 12-leading 17 career 20-point games. The last time out against the Sooners he had 26 in an OSU overtime win in Stillwater.

• OSU and OU are eerily similar in offensive production this season. The Cowboys rank ninth nationally with 84.4 points per game, while the Sooners rank 10th at 84.3. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are shooting 48.1 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from3, 71.4 percent from the foul line, 14.4 assists per game and 21.3 made free throws. The Sooners are shockingly similar at 45.4 field goal percentage, 37.6 3-point percentage, 74.6 free-throw percentage, 14.5 assists and 20 made free throws per game. While not an offensive stat, OSU ranks No. 1 in the league with 8.1 steals per game and OU comes in at No. 2 with 7.3.

• For all the statistical similarities, there are a few that are quite different and favor the Pokes. OSU ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring defense at 65.9 points per game, while OU ranks last in the conference at 76.9. OSU ranks No. 1 in margin of victory (and fourth nationally) with a plus-18.3; the Sooners rank eight with a plus-6.8.

• Margin of victory could play a factor. The Pokes rolled regularly early in the year but have gotten more battle tested as of late. That said, they have been decidedly average in close games. OSU is 2-2 in games decided by one possession and 3-3 in games decided by five points or less.

• Phil Forte is tied for No. 1 in the country in 3-point field goal percentage … and that's after an abysmal 1-for-9 outing against West Virginia on Saturday. Forte has been spectacular so far, shooting 50 percent from deep this season. His dead-eye shooting needs to return against the Sooners.

• Oklahoma State is a guard-oriented team and that has shown up in a major way in a particular statistical category. OSU leads the Big 12 and ranks 11th in the country with a plus-4.37 turnover margin, which is on pace to shatter the school record of plus-3.52 set in the 1997-98 campaign.

• Travis Ford isn't exactly a popular coach among most OSU fans but Ford has had his fair share of success against top-level competition. Heading into Bedlam, he has guided OSU to nine victories against top 25 teams and four against top 10 teams in his five seasons. His 64.2 winning percentage is third all-time at OSU behind only Hall of Famers Eddie Sutton (70.9) and Henry Iba (67.3). However, only one of those top-25 wins has come away from Gallagher-Iba when OSU upset Kansas last season.

RELATED: Sooners Ready For Huge Bedlam Matchup

 

Monday night is shaping up as Bedlam at its best: high stakes and high quality. The Cowboys enter with more experience and more athleticism but this Sooner squad is better than advertised and Oklahoma State will need to be on its A-game to leave Norman with its first ‘W' since Feb. 16, 2004 and only its third of the millennium.

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