Ford: Eaton, Turnovers Will Be Key

Travis Ford knows Oklahoma State's chances to defeat Tennessee in a first-round NCAA Tournament game Friday will be in the hands of several players. Can James Anderson continue his outstanding play? Will Marshall Moses add to his four double-doubles in the last eight games? However, the biggest questions may center on OSU senior point guard Byron Eaton.

The question foremost on the mind of Cowboy fans is: Will Eaton be effective running the point after injuring his toe in last week's Big 12 Tournament? The 5-foot-11 senior from Dallas has been getting extra treatment this week for the toe, and says nothing will stop him from competing in the NCAA Tournament after waiting fours years to get a chance.

Another question, and this is the one that Ford is more concerned about, that is being asked by the Cowboy coaching staff is: Can Eaton control the game and limit his turnovers against the Volunteers?

Eaton has proven that when he plays his game, and is not turning the ball over, the Cowboys are a much better team. Oklahoma State committed 482 turnovers in 17 games a year ago (an average of 14.6 per game), while making their third consecutive NIT appearance. This year, through 33 games the Cowboys have 410 turnovers (an average of 12.4 per game). The Cowboys' assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.01 this season, as compared to 0.73 a year ago.

Eaton is a big reason for that turnaround. His assists-to-turnover ratio was 1.23 through his first three season wearing the orange and black; this season 1.60 (an improvement of 0.37). But he's not the only Cowboy who has made significant improvement in that area. Terrel Harris has improved his ratio 0.49 this season from last year (1.02 from 0.53). Obi Muonelo's ratio is 1.10 this season, compared to 0.77 last year (an improvement of 0.33). Anderson's ratio has improved 0.15 (from 0.54 to 0.69).

Ford knows that Eaton, Harris, Muonelo and Anderson must not make careless mistakes against a Tennessee team that is capable of scoring points in a hurry.

"They're a team that is great – great – at taking turnovers and finishing shots," Ford says of the Volunteers (21-12). "They're great in the open court.

"They make an extreme effort to fastbreak on made and missed shots, and they're a team that's great at getting turnovers because they're always getting deflections, reaching and trying to steal the basketball. Their fours and fives are a tough matchup in the fact that their fours and fives can both shoot the ball from the perimeter and they can post you up.

"A lot of people have made a comparison to Missouri, and I don't think that's a bad comparison at all. This team is a very talented team from every position. They've very, very talented. You've got to do a good job of taking away their easy baskets. Their points in the paint … is just huge," Ford continued.

"They're getting these points in the paint off transition points, drives to the basket, second shots, post ups, a lot of different areas. A lot of people say they can't shoot threes but there are games where they've just gotten hot and make them one right after another. So this is a very, very talented basketball team that can beat anybody on any given night."

Tennessee guards Bobby Maze (6-2), Scott Hopson (6-7) and J.P. Prince (6-7) are dangerous in the open court. Maze, who began his career at Oklahoma before transferring to Tennessee, is averaging 8.3 points and 3.2 assists. Hopson averages 9.2 points and 2.8 rebounds, while Prince contributes 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds.

Tyler Smith (6-7) leads the Volunteers with a 17.2 point average, while 6-foot-9 Wayne Chism scores 13.8 and has a team-best 8.1 rebounds.

"This is a talented, one-on-one basketball team that can take you off the dribble," Ford said of the Bruce Pearl coached Volunteers. "This team has great size. We've got to do a good job of keeping them in front of us, and making sure they don't slash to the basket and create easy shots around the basket because again they finish around the basket about as well as any team I've seen. It's been impressive to watch."

Ford has stressed in practice this week one major point to Eaton, backup point guard Keiton Page and whoever else is going to be handling the basketball when Friday's first-round matchup tips off at 11:35 a.m. (Central time). They must protect the basketball, and not make costly mistakes.

"We've got to do a good job of not allowing them easy buckets in transition, and there's one way to do it is by not turn the basketball over, especially high out on the court where they can get easy baskets. Taking care of the basketball is going to be a huge key," says Ford.

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