Stillwater News Press

College Sports

November 18, 2013

Battle of backcourts expected Tuesday between Cowboys and Memphis

STILLWATER, Okla. — It could be argued to be the biggest non-conference home game Oklahoma State has played in the Travis Ford era. And the calendar still reads November.

The seventh-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys will face its first — of possibly many — tough tests this season when No. 11 Memphis rolls into Gallagher-Iba Arena Tuesday for a nationally televised battle of top 15 teams on ESPN (Suddenlink channel 31).

“This one ranks pretty high for non-conference game. You’ve got the No. 7 team in the Cowboys and the No. 11 in the Tigers,” OSU senior guard Markel Brown said. “It’s a big one. It’s early November, but it’s a good one for both teams to find out who we are.”

Heading into the match-up that could possibly serve as a springboard for a special season for the winner, there is one match-up within that has much of the attention — for potentially both fans and NBA scouts.

Memphis has what is being considered the best backcourt in all college basketball — with three senior guards that can each score plenty of points.

Point guard Joe Jackson led the Tigers in their season opening win over Austin Peay with 16 points, while dishing out seven assists. Fellow guards Michael Dixon Jr. and Geron Johnson also scored double digits in the opener, while Johnson got a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with his 11 points.

All the magazines do have them ranked the No. 1 backcourt in the country, deservedly so, because they’re four seniors. Very, very talented,” Ford said. “They’re an extremely talented, very unselfish backcourt. ... But the teams are very similar when you start talking about backcourts and guards.”

The Cowboys have firepower around the perimeter themselves. OSU has four starters that can play the back four spots, and each is averaging double digits early in the season.

Oklahoma State is led by potential NBA Draft Lottery pick Marcus Smart with 13.7 points and 3.3 assists and leading scorer Markel Brown with 15.3 points per game and a slim lead over Smart in assists (3.7). OSU is also getting a combined 24 points per game from combo guards Le’Bryan Nash — who is getting talk as a potential draft pick — and junior Brian Williams.

While Oklahoma State is considered the third-best backcourt, the Cowboys may be able to find an advantage with their depth around the perimeter. Oklahoma State has two sharp shooters coming off the bench in Phil Forte and Stevie Clark, who is also leading the team in assists with 5.7 per game.

With the strengths of both teams going head-to-head, possibly the X-factor in the marquee match-up won’t even include anybody on the court. As of press time, there were just over 1,000 tickets still available for purchase — but it still looks to be the biggest turnout for a men’s basketball game this season.

“It’s different because it’s earlier in the season, so the fans get the chance to see how great of a team we are and going up against the 11th-ranked team. Having this competition will give them something to come out and watch,” Brown said.

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