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August 30, 2008
Expect new coach Travis Ford to go with a four-guard lineup quite a bit. The Cowboys are thin up front but deep on the perimeter, thanks to the return of four guards who averaged between nine and 13 points last season.
Guard James Anderson led the Cowboys with 13.3 points per game last season.
Built similar to former UConn guard Khalid El-Amin, the 5-11 Eaton has weighed as much as 245 pounds in the past. However, Eaton returned to campus this summer at 220. Staying on the court may now be Eaton's biggest obstacle. He fouled out of seven games last season.
Sophomore wing James Anderson looks poised for a big season after leading the team in scoring and landing on the Big 12 All-Freshman team. An athletic slasher, Anderson is an ideal fit for the fast-paced and wide-open offense Ford will install.
Two veterans – junior Obi Muonelo and senior Terrel Harris – also should benefit from the coaching switch. Both can attack the basket and finish in the open court. Consistency has been their main problem. Muonelo has been a streaky shooter in the past. Harris, who was temporarily suspended for unspecified reasons by Ford this summer, scored at least 20 points in four games last season but also had two games where he failed to score.
Freshman point guard Keiton Page, a three-star recruit, is expected to see time behind Eaton.
The Cowboys have been undersized and undermanned up front the past two seasons, and this season will be more of the same.
The departure of senior forward Marcus Dove leaves sophomore center Ibrahima Thomas as the only returning big man with any significant experience. The only other post players on the roster are newcomers: junior college transfer Malcolm Kirkland (6-8) and true freshman Teeng Akol (6-10).
Dove is a bigger loss than his 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game indicate. An extraordinary defender, Dove could guard almost any position and often guarded the opposing team's top scoring threat. More often than not, he slowed his man down.
The Cowboys need a breakthrough year from Thomas, who came to Stillwater as a raw project. A native of Senegal, Thomas showed flashes of potential last season. He had a 16-point, 10-rebound game in a loss to Texas Tech and a career-high 19-point outing in a loss to Texas.
Expect some radical changes when the Cowboys have the ball. Ford will adapt to his personnel, but he prefers to run and push the pace – unlike his predecessor, conservative-minded Sean Sutton – and this team is built for that. Ford's team at Massachusetts last season tied for eighth in the nation in scoring at 81.5 points per game and ranked 13th with 9.2 3-pointers made per game.
One thing Sutton and Ford have in common is a penchant for using man-to-man defense. The difference will be a more aggressive version. Ford will ask his guards to take more risks in hopes of creating turnovers that will generate more offense.
SHOES TO FILL
Dove. The multi-dimensional forward was one of the best defensive players in school history. He was selected the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year last season after splitting the award with Kansas guard Mario Chalmers the previous season.
MUST STEP UP
Thomas. At 6-11 and 240 pounds, he has the physical tools to be a shot-blocking threat and a good rebounder. The Cowboys need him to be both to have a chance at reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Page. This in-state product from Pawnee (Okla.) High lacks size and athleticism, but Page shoots the ball extremely well from the outside - a trait that will earn him a spot in Ford's rotation. He hit 50.9 percent (139 of 273) of his 3-point attempts as a high school senior.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.