You know the saying, "Of whom much is given, much is expected?" That was certainly fitting of the McDonald's All-American and younger brother of former Cowboy Byron Eaton when he arrived in Stillwater. Nash had his ups and downs and didn't have the same impact as a freshman as some have in this conference in recent years such as Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin or Lamarcus Aldridge but he did end up with Co-Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors, despite missing the final five games with a fractured hand. At times we saw why he was a consensus top-10 national recruit, such as his dominating second half in an upset of then-No. 2 Missouri. There were also times when you weren't even sure if he was on the court. That is all part of being a freshman and his consistency picked up as the season went along, as expected. He ended up with six 20-point games, highlighted by a career-best 27 against the Tigers. Teammates raved about how much his work ethic picked up throughout the year and he appears poised for a breakthrough in 2012-13.
Travis Ford — B
Ford gets the highest possible grade I was willing to give out for a 14-17 season. Coaching legend Tom Penders even went as far as to say Ford did the best coaching job of his career this season on Twitter. I won't go that far but it was considerably better, particularly late, than the backlash he received would indicate. The Big 12 might have been the hardest league in the country this year and OSU played its best basketball in the conference portion. OSU finished the year with the nation's third-hardest schedule. With a nonconference schedule rank of 92nd, that speaks volumes to the difficulty of the Big 12. It seemed, until the very end when no bodies were left for OSU, that the Cowboys continued to grow and players found their roles and developed at an expected rate at the most difficult time to do it. That's good coaching. Add in Ford's reported 18-hour work days and sleeping in his office from time-to-time and you have a coach focused on righting the ship and getting things moving back in the right direction.
Injuries/Defections — F
This keeps getting brought up but, frankly, it should. Before the season started one of the main focal points was whether or not the rotation would be pulled down at all from 10 men. OSU didn't even have 10 guys most of the year, let alone a 10-man rotation. The first massive blows were the decisions to quit the team by veteran point guards Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley. Then J.P. Olukemi went down with a torn ACL before conference play. Le'Bryan Nash missed the final five games with a fractured hand. Philip Jurick missed six games, including the final two with a torn Achilles tendon. The list goes on and on. If you include Darrell Williams for the sake of argument, OSU ended the season with six players gone or unavailable who have been starters for OSU at one time or another. The Cowboys couldn't catch a break in this department.
Schedule — D
As I mentioned in an article earlier this week, the nonconference schedule ended up not being all that strong, ranking 92nd nationally. At the time, however, it was too much for this young team to handle. Naturally, hindsight is 20/20 and this schedule was made too far in advance to criticize the decisions of who OSU played vs. who the Cowboys had on the court. Only New Mexico and Alabama ended up in the NCAA Tournament but a 7-6 nonconference mark set OSU up for its first losing season in more than two decades.
Gallagher-Iba Arena — C+
There is a lot of finger pointing going on with the drop in attendance. A lot of the reasons are valid. A below average team, unrealistic ticket prices, decline in the popularity of college basketball, the interest in the Oklahoma City Thunder, etc. These all have their fair share of validity. Frankly, though, Gallagher-Iba just isn't the snake pit it used to be and this season provided the most evidence of that yet. The fans who show up are loud but the arena barely exceeded the half-full mark most nights. The Cowboys still managed an 11-4 record in GIA despite finishing 14-17 overall. The good home record boosts this grade overall.
Keiton Page — A
Page provided a huge bright spot this season as he made his presence known all over the school record books. Page finished as the school's all-time leader in minutes played, made 3-pointers and 3-pointers attempted to close out his four-year stay in Stillwater. He was his best near the end, too, helping to fuel an injured and beaten team to a few more wins. His 40-point night against Texas is one of the all-time great performances by a Cowboy in GIA. The role he played as a leader and the team's captain went a long way toward fostering the growth of the younger players and helps build for a better future.
Building for the future — A
And speaking of that future, it looks pretty bright. The core group of Brian Williams, Markel Brown, Michael Cobbins and Le'Bryan Nash is already a great start but toss in McDonald's All-American Marcus Smart and things could get really interesting really quickly. The expected returns of Olukemi and Jurick from injury and the less heralded but solid additions of power forward Kamari Murphy and 3-point specialist Phil Forte give OSU added depth and versatility moving forward. This year was a black mark for sure but it could pay off huge in the long run if the group sticks together and grows.