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OSU basketball: Five takeaways from the early part of Cowboys' season

Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham, top left, drives against Texas' Royce Hamm Jr., right, during the second half last Sunday. [AP Photo/Chuck Burton]
Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham, top left, drives against Texas' Royce Hamm Jr., right, during the second half last Sunday. [AP Photo/Chuck Burton]

STILLWATER — 2020 is about to finally end, and when 2021 begins so does the remainder of the college basketball season for Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys return Jan. 2 in Lubbock, Texas, against No. 15-ranked Texas Tech with a 6-2 record and 0-2 start in Big 12 play.

Here are five takeaways from the first eight games of the season:

1. The Cade Cunningham show

Freshman superstar Cade Cunningham arrived with a massive amount of hype and expectations that he’ll be the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

And he’s mostly been as advertised.

Cunningham has averaged 19.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He also averages a steal and a block per game.

From his dazzling debut with a double double at Texas-Arlington — a university in his hometown — to the game-winner at Wichita State, there has been a lot to like.

The 6-foot-8 point guard is a smooth operator.

He rarely appears rushed. His passing is elite. He can play inside and outside.

He’s proven that his 3-point shooting is better than believed. He’s shooting 37%, a number that was significantly higher until his 1-for-9 stretch the past two games.

Really, the only struggle Cunningham has had is taking a while to get going offensively during the past two games.

Against TCU, he shot just 1 of 9 and scored two points in the opening half. But then he scored 15 in the second half, ultimately missing the game-winning shot as time expired.

At Texas, he scored seven points while making 3 of 9 shots. He scored 18 points in the second half while really asserting himself down the stretch in the Cowboys’ comeback efforts. OSU needed him to take over a tad earlier.

But with that said, there’s a sense that Cunningham is feeling his way through the college game a bit. He’s seen two Big 12 teams up close now. Expect him to adjust.

2. The energy guys

Last week, I asked Bryce Williams if there was a nickname yet for the duo of freshman Rondel Walker and Williams.

They’re apparently working on something.

Pistols Firing’s Marshall Scott likes “Operation Sparkplug.” I tend to agree with Marshall on nicknames. He’s hipper than I am.

But the duo definitely needs a nickname.

Williams and Walker have been electric off the bench, providing an endless amount of energy. The Cowboys feed off that energy, especially as the duo wreaks havoc defensively.

Williams averages 1.7 steals and Walker averages 0.75, but a lot of his defensive work doesn’t show up in statistics.

The duo often sits atop Mike Boynton’s defenses, whether it’s a man-to-man look and some traps or the 2-3 zone the Cowboys unleashed. They cause problems for opponents.

And their energy is contagious. Other teammates like Avery Anderson III and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe have been sparks as well.

3. The Iceman cometh?

Boynton has said for a few weeks now the Cowboys need more from their veteran leader Isaac Likekele offensively.

He’s certainly impacting the game in a myriad of ways as expected. He’s averaging 10.1 points and 8.3 rebounds.

He’s also been passive shooting the basketball. He spent extensive time working on his jumper during the offseason, showing improvement early by making 3 of 5 3-pointers in the first three games.

He’s since shot just three treys and missed each one.

Perhaps Likekele is adjusting to his new role away from the basketball so much and playing in the low post more.

But he needs to get more aggressive offensively. If teams have to respect him more, that opens things up for Cunningham.

4. Offensive struggles

Last year, the Cowboys’ offense — especially from behind the arc — struggled mightily for a good portion of the season.

Long scoring droughts. Miniscule shooting percentages from deep. Lots of turnovers.

So far in two Big 12 games, a few of those problems have reemerged.

The Cowboys did not score in the final 2:21 against TCU, losing an eight-point lead and the game. They had a long scoreless stretch early in the second half against Texas, losing a lead and falling way behind.

This season, Boynton brought in sharpshooter Ferron Flavors Jr. to replace Thomas Dziagwa. Flavors shot nearly 43% from 3-point range last season at Cal Baptist. But Flavors has made just 10 of 39 (25.6%) from 3.

The Cowboys as a team have shot just 30.5% from 3-point range, the worst in the conference.

Boynton has tinkered with the starting lineup twice, looking to spark the offense earlier.

Eventually, shots will fall. It just needs to happen sooner than later with the heart of the Big 12 remaining on the schedule.

5. The Big 12 problem

Speaking of the Big 12, OSU faces a harsh reality.

The Cowboys have improved and they have the most talented player in the conference, but is that enough?

Baylor, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia have proven top-15 worthy. OU is a strong team. TCU has been a surprise.

That makes it tough for a young team like the Cowboys.

OSU finished on fire last season, trying to catch up after an 0-8 conference start. But doing that for a second straight season is not ideal.

The Cowboys have Texas Tech and West Virginia up next. They then get what appears to be a respite with a struggling Kansas State team. But then it’s four more grueling games (Kansas, Bedlam, West Virginia and Baylor) before playing Iowa State.

This might be the deepest the conference has been during its run of being one of the best in the country.

And that’s scary.

Jacob Unruh

Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the... Read more ›