It's still early in the 2013-14 college basketball season, but Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) will pit two top teams against each other when No. 11 Memphis (1-0) visits No. 7 Oklahoma State (3-0) in Stillwater.
This game will be the first major competition for either squad, and it marks the opening of the Old Spice Classic, a high-profile tournament featuring eight teams. Let's take a look at keys for both sides as they prepare for their toughest opposition of the young season.
OSU Needs to Get Marcus Smart Going
Following his productive freshman year when he averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals per game, big things are expected of OSU guard Marcus Smart this season. The 6'4" sophomore has been solid to start the year, but not spectacular against less-than stellar competition.
He's shooting 40 percent with 13.7 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game and 4.0 steals per game, a school-record nine of those steals coming in a 93-40 rout of Utah Valley State last week.
Smart has big-time potential and is slated to be the No. 6 pick in next year's NBA draft by DraftExpress.com. Jay Bilas of ESPN recently shared his thoughts on Smart's mental makeup as well:
Smart is great at attacking the rim and drawing contact, but he had just five free-throw attempts in the first two contests to start the year. He was more aggressive in Friday's 97-63 win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, going 10-of-14 at the line, but went just 3-of-9 from the field (0-of-4 on threes) to finish with a season-high 16 points.
The future lottery pick will need to be active on both sides of the floor in OSU's first true test of the year against an athletic Memphis squad. Smart's defensive prowess will come into focus against the Tigers, who feature four senior guards that help create one of the nation's top backcourts.
Smart has teammates on the perimeter who can score, too. The team's leading scorer is 5'11" sophomore Phil Forte, a deadly three-point shooter who has made 14-of-22 (63.6 percent) from long range this season, while senior Markel Brown is averaging 15.3 points per game on 60 percent shooting.
Memphis Guards Have to Push Tempo
Tigers coach Josh Pastner has a rare quartet of senior guards who figure to play big roles on the team this season.
The team returns its top three scorers from a year ago, Joe Jackson (13.6 PPG), Geron Johnson (10.4) and Chris Crawford (10.4), while Memphis also added transfer Michael Dixon Jr., who averaged 13.5 points and 3.3 assists per game, shooting 48.7 percent from the field.
Bilas recently offered his opinion of Jackson and the Memphis backcourt:
In their first game together, the four guards totaled 53 points to pace the Tigers to a 95-69 win against Austin Peay. Jackson, Johnson and Dixon started the game, with Crawford coming off the bench and going 3-of-5 from behind the arc in 23 minutes.
Crawford and Dixon also added four steals each, as Memphis created an impressive 22 turnovers. Entering the season, Pastner told Clay Bailey of the Associated Press about his team's approach:
We've always played fast, but we're going to take it up another notch this year. If we're going to play like I want us to play and you're giving maximum effort, it's going to be hard to play the maximum minutes everyone wants to play, so there's going to be subs.
Pastner is taking full advantage of his team's depth, allowing him to play at a breakneck pace with quality guards essentially the entire game. It resulted in six double-digit scorers for the Tigers, a trend they'd like to continue all year.
Win the Battle in the Frontcourt
While guard play will certainly play a major role in shaping the outcome of this contest, keep an eye on each team's top forward.
For Oklahoma State, it's Le'Bryan Nash, an athletic 6'7", 235-pounder who scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 117-62 win over Mississippi Valley State in the season opener. While his one-rebound performance in the second game of the year might be cause for concern, he followed it up with a nine-point, eight-rebound outing on Friday.
Memphis is hoping sophomore Shaq Goodwin can live up to his potential after an inconsistent freshman year. Goodwin opened the year with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, but he grabbed just two rebounds in 21 minutes. With transfer David Pellom out a few weeks due to knee surgery, Goodwin and freshman Austin Nichols will have to shoulder the load down low.
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