MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The first significant injury in the Big 12 this season is quite serious and struck one of the best teams in the country.
Oklahoma State, the co-favorite in the conference's preseason men's basketball poll, lost starting center Michael Cobbins to a torn Achilles' tendon Dec. 30. The Cowboys then lost their first game without Cobbins to Kansas State on Jan. 4 and fell from No. 6 to No. 11 in this week's poll.
"We ran off (seven) straight games in the Big 12 last season and in those games he was, I thought, the MVP of the team," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said of a roster that had Marcus Smart. "He was the difference in our basketball team."
The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Cobbins averaged 6.9 points and 6.1 rebounds last season and did a bunch of things to help hold a talented team together. Though his numbers were down to start this season (4.5 points, 4.3 rebounds), the junior was again making more shots than he missed and keying the team during a 12-1 start.
Ford gave his team a simple message: Feel bad for Cobbins, but not for the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State lost its first game without Cobbins, 74-71, at Kansas State Saturday and won Wednesday night at home against Texas. The Cowboys (13-2, 1-1 Big 12) play WVU (10-5, 2-0) at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Coliseum.
"It's part of the game," Ford said. "I hate it for Michael. He's a terrific young man. He's what's right about college athletics. He'll bounce back, but I hate it for him. Any time you lose any player, it puts a little bit of a dent in your team, but it also gives other players an opportunity."
Sophomore Kamari Murphy, one of the top prep school recruits two years ago, has started the past two games in place of Cobbins and totaled six points, eight rebounds, six blocked shots and four steals. Oklahoma State can also play the 6-7 Nash down low and use 6-4 point guard Marcus Smart as a forward, which gives Ford a chance to play other guards.
Sharpshooter Phil Ford, who had six 3-pointers in a game against WVU last season, leads the Big 12 with a 48.8 percentage from deep this season. Freshman Stevie Clark was the first player in Oklahoma history to win the state high school player of the year award in back-to-back years and was a top 75 recruit.
Yet a lot of the responsibility will remain with Smart to continue to involve teammates, including ones who have been around for a while. Senior Markel Brown was sixth in the Big 12 in scoring a year ago (15.3). A second-team all-Big 12 player last season, the 6-3 Brown is two points better this season and has averaged 21.5 points and seven rebounds the past two games.