Yes, this team will make the NCAA Tournament. There will be bumps along the way for sure as this team grows and develops together but the Cowboys will only be better off for playing a challenging nonconference schedule once it gets to Big 12 play.
The conference is a little down this year. From top to bottom it is a very tough league with the exception, in my opinion, of Oklahoma and Texas Tech. They both have quality first-year coaches, though, so that could change but there is no dominant team or teams this year so OSU should be in great position to finish in the top four in the conference.
But back to the point: overall OSU has too much talent not to get to the tourney and this team has amazing chemistry. That hasn't shown up yet but keep in mind that the Pokes have six players who had never played a D-I hoops game before the exhibition opener. They will get better and they will do it fast.
My prediction right now would be a No. 6-8 seed in the Big Dance. I really feel like anything less would be a major underachievement. They could also do better than that but I'm being cautiously optimistic at this point because of the potential for early-season struggles. The depth and versatility of this team will take it a long way once they all get on the same page.
2) Discounting injuries who will be the starting five: Pre-conference, conference & end of year?
Great question but impossible to answer at this point. I will do my best, though.
Keiton Page is the only guaranteed starter in all three scenarios but here is how I think this will shake out:
Obviously, coach Ford will go with different lineups for different situations (i.e. Jurick against teams with true big men, Gulley against offensive-minded point guards, etc.) but here is my best educated guess for the most consistent lineups.
Nonconference starting five
G - Reger Dowell
G - Keiton Page
G/F - J.P. Olukemi
F - Le'Bryan Nash
F - Michael Cobbins
G - Fred Gulley
G - Keiton Page
G - Markel Brown
F - Le'Bryan Nash
F - Michael Cobbins
Totally situational based on opponent. I would venture a guess Jurick starts in these games in a bigger lineup with Nash at the small forward spot with Cobbins and Jurick down low. I would also speculate that Page would get the nod at point guard with Markel at the two spot. Honestly, overall I think this is the best lineup for the team.
The most interesting battle to watch will be at point guard with Gulley and Dowell. Dowell was very solid at the end of last season but I'm not sure how much OSU needs his scoring punch with a more productive offensive lineup overall than last year. Gulley is a good defender, passer and game manager but he struggled in the two exhibition games. It is yet to be seen how long it will take him to recover from the shoulder injury that ended his season last year but he is making progress.
3) How long will it take Jurick and Guerrero to be full-time starters?
I think in Jurick's case it would be the start of conference play before he would be ready to be a full-time starter. He is still getting used to playing in Ford's system and he's never been asked to do the things he has to do here. Ford said at every stop Jurick has always just been asked to stand under the basket but here he has to constantly be in motion and setting screens at the top of the key. From a defensive perspective, he's already good to go. The only reason I think he might never be a consistent starter this season is just because of the depth and talent around him.
Cezar, on the other hand, I just can't see starting at all this season. I might be wrong because he's not only fun to watch, he also provides an instant spark that makes an obvious difference on the court. However, that is perfect for him coming off the bench to help ignite the second unit. He just isn't a good enough defender or experienced enough yet to bypass the other two point guards this year. Depending on how he progresses, though, next season might be an entirely different story. He is going to be a great asset to this team.
4) Where is Markel Brown going to fit in? Can't keep him on the bench.
I agree 100 percent that he can't be kept on the bench. I think he will work his way back into the starting role in place of J.P. Olukemi in a hybrid two-three role and it probably won't take long for that to happen. Olukemi proved last season that he was excellent coming off the bench and I think Markel is better off as a starter from a confidence standpoint. The big question that will determine Brown's starting role will be consistency with his jump shot and his attitude and those are two areas he and Ford said he worked on tirelessly in the offseason. I would expect him to start by the beginning of December or possibly sooner. He played as well as anyone in the exhibition games and his athleticism is game changing.
5) Will our Free Throw shooting improve?
It has to. It couldn't seem like it could much worse than it was in the Cowboys' two exhibition games. Markel Brown in particular needs to get that figured out because he will be spending a lot of time at the stripe and he showed a big improvement in the second game, shooting 3-of-4 against OBU after going just 2-of-6 against Panhandle State. Olukemi has struggled quite a bit, too, having shot 14-for-22 in the two games and if he is going to shoot the most consistently then he needs to make them. I'm sure it's a point of emphasis. The good news, though, is Le'Bryan Nash made 10-of-11 against Panhandle and Page is a perfect 8-for-8 in the two games. I think it is just one of those things where, no matter how much you work on it in the offseason, it takes a couple games to build a comfort level to hit them with consistency in an actual game in front of a crowd. As of right now though, I agree that it is concerning.