Kamari Murphy has taken over as Oklahoma State's foremost inside presence.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The Oklahoma State team that comes to the Coliseum today to face West Virginia isn't quite the one the Cowboys expected to have at the start of the season.That one had 6-foot-8, 230-pound bruiser Michael Cobbins clogging up the middle, and while Cobbins was anything but a household name or a marquee player, he served as a terrific defender around the basket and low-post scorer whose mere presence made otherwise perimeter-oriented OSU even more dangerous.But don't feel sorry for the Cowboys. Even without Cobbins, who tore an Achilles tendon just before the start of Big 12 play, Oklahoma State is more than a handful.The Cowboys, (13-2, 1-1 Big 12) bring a No. 11 national ranking into today's 4 p.m. game at the Coliseum with West Virginia (10-5, 2-0). The game will be televised by the Big 12 Network, locally on WQCW."They're certainly the most athletic team we've faced to this point,'' WVU coach Bob Huggins said of the Cowboys. "I thought at first that it would be a little easier around the goal [without Cobbins on the floor], but Murphy has stepped right in.''That would be 6-8, 220-pound sophomore Kamari Murphy, who has taken over for Cobbins in the middle and actually has better numbers. Murphy averages 5.6 points and 5.9 rebounds, about a point and a rebound better than Cobbins.Still, be it Cobbins or Murphy or anyone else, this is still a team whose strength is its perimeter play and its athleticism. West Virginia has certainly upgraded its athleticism from a year ago, but it seems still to have a ways to go to match the Cowboys."I don't think there's any question this is the fastest team in the league,'' Huggins said of Oklahoma State, which scores 85.8 points per game and is winning by an average of more than 20 points through 15 games. "They transition from defense to offense and back faster than any team in the league.''That's because essentially the Cowboys have three of the best athletes in the Big 12 in their starting lineup. Sophomore point guard Marcus Smart is the unquestioned leader of the bunch, but 6-3 senior guard Markel Brown and 6-7 junior forward Le'Bryan Nash aren't far behind.Smart and Brown average just over 17 points each and Nash comes in at just over 13.
Because of that athleticism, this might not be a team that West Virginia wants to push the pace against. Yes, the Mountaineers are more athletic than a year ago - OSU won the two games between the teams by 16 and 14 points - but even Huggins admits they might not match up yet with the Cowboys."There are teams we want to push the tempo against,'' Huggins said. "I don't think this is one of those teams.''The difficulty in playing Oklahoma State is that the Cowboys can play a transition game or go to a half-court style. He's not even in the starting lineup, but OSU has one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters in the country in Phil Forte, who is tied with WVU's Eron Harris for the league lead in 3-pointers with 41 and is making nearly half (48.8 percent) of his long-distance shots.When the teams played in Morgantown last season, Forte wasn't a factor. In Stillwater he had a career-high 26 points and made six 3-pointers.So be it a running game or a half-court game, playing Oklahoma State is dangerous. The Cowboys' two losses this season were by five points to a Memphis team it had beaten by 21 two weeks earlier, and 74-71 at Kansas State in the Big 12 opener and the first game after losing Cobbins.
"It's not like we're not going to try to run when we have the chance,'' Huggins said. "We just have to be a little more judicious about when we do it.''Today's game is the first of two in three days for West Virginia, which hosts Texas Monday night.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.