Last month I posed the question to Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford if Andrew Wiggins signing with Kansas was a good thing for his team because of the competitiveness of Marcus Smart.
But Tuesday night, Smart may have just provided the answer with a career-high 39 points in a 101-80 dismantling of Memphis by the seventh-ranked Cowboys.
The story of the early season has been those talented freshmen—Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle—and Smart was surely watching last week when they dazzled in Chicago.
Smart is as much of a team guy as they come. Part of the reason he returned to school was because he didn't like how his freshmen season ended, getting upset in the opening round of the tournament by Oregon.
But he's back for the individual attention too. It didn't sit right with him all the hype Wiggins was getting in the preseason.
"A lot of people are saying he's the best player in college basketball. I'm saying how can you be the best player if it's something you haven't even played in?" Smart said last month at Big 12 media day.
And so when Wiggins and the rest of the freshmen proved themselves last week, Smart had to one-up them when his team got in the spotlight for the first time this year, playing on national television against the 11th-ranked Tigers.
To knock off those freshmen and Creighton's Doug McDermott for the Naismith and Wooden awards, it's going to take some special performances. This was his first equivalent of a Heisman moment.
Smart scored 12 straight points in the opening minutes to put Oklahoma State ahead for good and had 26 by halftime. In addition to the points, he was as dominant as ever on defense with five steals, two blocks and helping hold Memphis star point guard Joe Jackson to six points, zero assists and three turnovers.
For one night, Smart also showed he has an improved outside shot. That was the biggest knock on him after his freshman year. He shot just 29 percent from deep last year. Against Memphis, he knocked down five-of-10 threes.
And his teammates were just as good.
Do not underestimate what this means for the Cowboys. They want to be taken seriously after that Oregon loss and they want to be in the conversation as one of the nation's elite.
This was the first step. The score wasn't as close as the final, and that's a talented Memphis team with supposedly one of the best backcourts in America.
We know one thing now. It's not better than the Cowboys.
Smart's backcourt buddy Markel Brown's performance was nearly as brilliant as his own. Brown had 20 points, four assists and three blocks.
The Cowboys also accomplished this beatdown without sixth man Phil Forte, who came into the game leading OSU in scoring after knocking down 14 of 22 threes in Oklahoma State's first three games. According to Smart in his postgame interview on ESPN, Forte played only four minutes because of food poisoning.
Smart had not done much scoring in Oklahoma State's opening three cakewalks. He came into Tuesday's game averaging only 13.7 points. Smart is the type to do what his team needs him to do. On this night without Forte, it was scoring.
Ford loves to talk about how Smart competes every single day whether it's practice or against a nobody opponent. He's always out to prove something.
When Smart was explaining his comment about Wiggins last month, he said: "If it's me, don't just give it to me. Let me earn it."
You have definitely earned it now, Mr. Smart.
This could be the year of Kansas and Wiggins and the freshmen, but Smart is going to do everything in his power to change that narrative.
And that's good for the Cowboys.
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