The past two weeks of Marcus Smart's life have not gone unnoticed. Once the nation’s favorite player (literally), Smart has spent much of the past two weeks having any or all of the following brought into question:
His once-lauded leadership ability.
His body language.
His enthusiasm for flops.
No. 1 is dumb. For whatever being a leader really entails, at least this much is certain: You don’t go from being the best leader in the country to a pox on your team simply because you got a little heated at referees that one time. No. 2 is dumber: Body language tea leaves are even less helpful than actual tea leaves. Unless you’re in the locker room, you know nothing.
No. 3, on the other hand, is totally valid -- Smart does indeed flop. But as annoying and distasteful as seeing an extremely strong Division I athlete spinning into a pirouette at the slightest brush might be, it has nothing to do with his effectiveness on the court.
All the while, the most important thing about Smart’s recent slide has gone overlooked: He’s shooting the ball horribly.
After Saturday’s loss to Baylor -- Oklahoma State’s second straight defeat, one made worse by the Bears’ own preceding struggles -- Smart’s 3-point shooting average is down to just 28.6 percent. That’s worse than the 29 percent he shot as a freshman. Save for that scorching night against Memphis, Smart hasn't exactly been Ethan Wragge, but his uptick in long-range accuracy was one of the main things differentiating his excellent sophomore season from his very good freshman one. Now, statistically, he is essentially the same player he was last season. A summer spent heaving 3-pointers, and the fearsome scoring weapon it seemed to produce, seems squandered.
Of course, the Cowboys have other issues, too. In back-to-back losses to Baylor and Oklahoma, Oklahoma State allowed 1.12 points per possession. Without center Michael Cobbins, a once-vaunted defense has been rendered average at best. And now, in order to avoid a three-game skid, that defense has to figure out how to stop Iowa State.
The Cyclones have had their own issues lately. The ankle sprain DeAndre Kane suffered at Oklahoma in early January didn’t cause him to miss any time, but it did affect his play. As a result, Iowa State’s offense seemed to lose some of the attacking verve that made it so special in November and December. Then again, the Cyclones’ stretch of four losses in six games included a split with the Sooners, two losses to Kansas, a loss to Texas and a win over Kansas State. Now that we know how good Oklahoma and Texas are, things don’t seem quite so grim.
In other words, what could be sold as a matchup of two good teams fighting their way through midseason struggles is really a game in which the onus is on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have to figure out a way to get stops without their All-Big 12 defender in the middle, and Smart needs to find his shot again -- if it is there to be found.