After more than a week off, Robert Morris is making its longest road trip (distance wise) of the season with a game tonight at No. 6 Oklahoma State. I previewed the matchup a bit in today's Post-Gazette, but seeing as this is the team's last high-profile opponent before conference play, it can never hurt to delve deeper.
1. Marcus Smart is ridiculously good
It's always good to get the obvious out of the way first. It's weird to think, but by the time non-conference play wraps up, the Colonials may have already played against two of the top five picks in this upcoming summer's NBA Draft. First was Kentucky's Julius Randle, who scored 10 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in the Wildcats' Nov. 17 victory over Robert Morris, and now they will get to face Smart.
After a productive freshman season, Smart surprised many by coming back to Oklahoma State, but the move, at least so far, seems to be paying off. For as good as Smart was at times last season, he was pretty inefficient (like many other freshman). Through the Cowboys' first 12 games, not only has his scoring improved, but so have other aspects of his game.
|Pts per game||Field goal %||3-point %||Effective FG %||Turnovers per game|
Smart's made some important progressions in several key areas of his game and for opposing teams, that has to be a pretty scary thought.
For those that may not be as into statistics and charts, here's some visual evidence:
2. Smart's great, but there's more to the puzzle
While it's easy to ogle over Smart, he's one piece in what's been a highly-productive offense this season. Markel Brown is an excellent wing player who is averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. The same goes for Le'Bryan Nash, a junior who is averaging 13.9 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game. Both of them are projected as second-round picks in the most recent mock NBA Draft from Draft Express.
There are a lot of talented players on this offense, one that has four players averaging double figures in points, and for a Robert Morris team that hasn't stopped a good majority of its opponents, this matchup isn't exactly ideal. Andy Toole has adjusted his defense -- be it zone or man-to-man -- based on how a game progresses. But usually when there's this kind of talent disparity, a man-to-man defense only helps strengthen that gap. So, unless Toole sees something as the game goes along, I'd expect more of that aggressive 2-3 look that's been showcased the past few weeks.
3. They are excellent in transition
Much of this stems from turnovers, something which the Cowboys create regularly. Oklahoma State is among the top 25 teams in Division I in turnover percentage (22.3), block percentage (16.4) and steal percentage (12.4), all of which help lead to fast breaks. When you have the kind of fast and skilled guards that the Cowboys do, those opportunities usually end in points.
As maligned as it is, Robert Morris' halfcourt defense has actually been pretty good at times this season. Where the Colonials have gotten into a lot of trouble is in transition, where opponents often get easy scoring chances. Aside from not turning the ball over (pretty obvious), it will be imperative for Robert Morris to take smart shots tonight. A poor or misguided shot, especially one that goes long off the basket, is essentially the first pass in a fast break and it's not like Oklahoma State needs much more help in that department.
KenPom prediction: Oklahoma State 90, Robert Morris 67