After easily overwhelming overmatched opponents, both Oklahoma State and Memphis could use an early measuring-stick game.
Their showdown Tuesday night in Stillwater could also be the first of two games against each other in a two-week span as the teams meet in the non-bracketed round of the Old Spice Classic.
The seventh-ranked Cowboys (3-0) have pounded a pair of Southwestern Athletic Conference opponents around a 93-40 dismantling of Utah Valley State. Oklahoma State didn’t look ahead to this game, disposing of Arkansas-Pine Bluff 97-63 on Friday night as Phil Forte and Markel Brown each scored 22 points.
”It’s hard to ignore. You see Memphis on the schedule and knowing that they’re one of the top teams in the country and we’re playing them at home is hard to ignore,” Brown said. “We have to set it aside and focus on the other teams that come in and I think coach (Travis Ford) did a good job putting the schedule together. We played three very decent teams that prepared us for this Memphis game.”
Forte, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, has emerged as a supersub, averaging a team-high 21.0 points while making 14 of 22 from 3-point range. Still, the focal point remains star sophomore guard Marcus Smart, who has yet to have a breakout game.
Smart is averaging 13.7 points and shooting only 40.0 percent. He is filling other categories in the stat sheet, though, with 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 3.3 assists per game as Oklahoma State has put up gaudy offensive numbers in points (102.3), overall shooting (53.2 percent) and 3-point shooting (45.6).
Ford, though, knows his stellar quartet of guards - freshman Stevie Clark is contributing 10.0 points and 5.7 assists per game off the bench - will have its hands full against an 11th-ranked Tigers team expected to play a frenetic pace to showcase its depth and strong backcourt play.
”Memphis is one of the most talented teams in the country,” he said. ”They’re a very deep, athletic team, and a lot of people say they may have the best backcourt in the country, and they very well might. We’ll see, They’re very good.”
Five guards - Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon Jr., Geron Johnson, Damien Wilson and Chris Crawford - combined for 62 points as Memphis raced past Austin Peay 95-69 in its season opener Thursday. Jackson had a team-high 16 as Memphis scored 27 points off 22 turnovers and totaled 15 steals, four each by Dixon and Crawford, while using a full-court press the entire game.
”All over the floor, looking like maniacs,” said Johnson, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. ”That’s literally what (the press) does. It causes havoc for the other team. That havoc causes the other team to be undisciplined and make passes they usually wouldn’t.”
With Memphis part of the newly reconfigured American Athletic Conference featuring defending NCAA champion Louisville and 18th-ranked Connecticut, coach Josh Pastner is eager to see how his team responds at Gallagher-Iba Arena, one of the toughest venues in Division I.
“We’re excited for that opportunity and challenge because when we play in the American on the road, this game will help us for the long haul,” Pastner said. “We know how good Oklahoma State is, how good their players are, their talent, Travis Ford is a tremendous coach and we know we’re going to have to play our ‘A’ game.”
Oklahoma State won the last meeting between the teams, 70-53 in the second round of the 2004 NCAA tournament. The schools could potentially meet again in Orlando over Thanksgiving weekend after being placed on opposite sides of the Old Spice Classic bracket.