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STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma State struggled last season while Marcus Smart served a suspension.
Now, he's gone for good.
Oklahoma State all three games while Smart sat out for shoving a fan, and now, he plays for the Boston Celtics. Markel Brown, another star from last year's squad, is with the Brooklyn Nets.
Le'Bryan Nash, who often was overshadowed by Smart and Brown, now steps into the lead role. The 6-foot-7 senior was an All-Big 12 third-team pick by the coaches the past two years. Last season, he averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
"We're challenging him to have the best year of his career, plain and simple," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "He's been very good in practice. He's had dominating practices. He's lost some weight, and I like that dedication."
The coaches picked the Cowboys to finish eighth in the Big 12, something the Cowboys don't like after back-to-back NCAA tournament trips.
"We don't worry about what everybody says, we just worry about what our team thinks about us," Nash said. "We all think we can win, and we don't need anyone else's opinions."
Here are five things to look for from the Cowboys this season.
NEW POINT GUARD: Anthony Hickey, a transfer from LSU who has immediate eligibility, already has earned respect from his teammates. He started 31 of 34 games last season and had 85 starts in three years with the Tigers. He also excels on and off the ball defensively. He should help the Cowboys deal with the loss of Smart.
"More than anything I've liked this far is his coachability," Ford said. "He's really tried to adapt, but he's been very coachable and really tried to fit in on the team. He's really tried to get everyone involved."
THE ENFORCER: Michael Cobbins missed most of last season with an Achilles injury, and players and coaches have said the 6-foot-8 center's absence was the reason Oklahoma State fell from the ranks of the nation's elite last season. The No. 8 shot blocker in Oklahoma State history was on the Big 12 All-Defense team two years ago.
"Michael Cobbins brings such a presence, a leadership, an understanding of how we want things done and an understanding of how to play the game," Ford said. "He's looked tremendous. He really has. We all knew when we lost him it would hurt us, but watching him play again, I realized even more how tough of a break it was."
HAMMONDS ARRIVES: Ford said sophomore Leyton Hammonds is the most likely player to see a major increase in minutes. He scored 13 points last season against TCU and hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation against Baylor to force overtime.
FORTE'S ROLE: Shooting guard Phil Forte, a deadly 3-point shooter, has had breakout moments for the Cowboys, but all of them came with Smart drawing defenses away from him. Last year's Big 12 co-Sixth Man of the Year will be expected to do more than in the past while drawing more attention from opponents.
PRESSURE ON? Travis Ford is the best Cowboys coach ever not named Henry Iba or Eddie Sutton, but he has been the focus of much scorn from Oklahoma State fans. He has five 20-win seasons in six years, but just one NCAA tournament win. Critics felt he should have done more with Smart, Brown and Nash together. If the Cowboys struggle as expected this season, outside heat on Ford will increase.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP