Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When Oklahoma State faced Texas Tech last Saturday, there was not much intrigue heading into the contest. The Cowboys were ranked 19th in the country and facing a Texas Tech team which had just three wins in Big 12 play.
Fast forward a week and the repercussions of what transpired in Lubbock are still being felt.
By now, the reverberations have shaken up not only the Big 12, but the future of one of the conference's brightest stars.
Marcus Smart's altercation with Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr, during which Smart shoved the Red Raiders booster, earned him a three-game suspension and will likely have a negative impact going forward.
However, rushing to judgment about Smart would be a poor move. Although the exact details of what occurred will only ever be truly known by Smart, Orr and the handful of fans surrounding them, numerous media outlets have reported that Orr used a racial slur when taunting the Oklahoma State guard in the closing seconds of Texas Tech's upset victory.
Without knowing for certain what was said, it is difficult to either condemn or condone Smart's actions. If, as Orr claims, Smart was just called a "piece of crap," then his reaction, even in the heated moments of a disappointment, are unwarranted and a surprise coming from someone who has been so universally praised for his maturity and poise.
On the other hand, if Orr's heckling did cross the line, it is difficult for anyone, especially the numerous writers and broadcasters who have never had to deal with such obscene hate, to look down upon Smart's conduct.
The fact remains the incident between Smart and Orr was not one that will soon be forgotten, especially as its effects continue to take hold.
First, there is the negative cloud that is now hanging over Smart. The sophomore guard turned down a chance to enter last year's NBA Draft to return to school and refine his game. It was a move heralded by many. Entering and throughout the current campaign, Smart's name has been on the short list of players thought to be lottery picks in this summer's NBA Draft, along with the likes of Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins.
Now his draft stock may take a hit.
Although performance on the court is clearly the lowest common denominator when teams make personnel decisions, character is always mentioned in the equation for how teams fill out their roster, especially when it comes to evaluating prospects for the draft.
Once considered a legitimate option in the top three, Smart has sunk outside of the top five in a number of the media's mock drafts. Of course, the incident at Texas Tech isn't the only reason, as Kansas' Joel Embiid has crashed the lottery pick party, as has international import Dante Exum, but it certainly didn't and won't help going forward.
In his postgame comments following last Saturday's game, Smart didn't seem to care about how he, as an individual, would be affected, and that is a good thing. Rather, he was adamant in taking the culpability for his actions as well as expressing disappointment at what he may have cost his team.
"I feel like I let my teammates down. These guys mean a lot to me, and not being able to be out there with them will hit me in my heart," Smart said. "I know there are people, especially little kids, who look up to me, so I truly apologize. This is not me, and I really do apologize for it. I take full responsibility and the consequences that come with it."
It is no secret how important Smart is to the Cowboys. He is the team's leader in scoring (17.5 ppg), assists (4.3 apg) and steals (2.3 spg) and third in rebounds (5.7 rpg). Statistics don't tell the whole story, as he is the primary ball-handler and his tenacity on both ends fuels the entire squad's efforts. Losing his leadership is not be easy for Oklahoma State to overcome while he serves a three-game suspension.
It showed on Tuesday when the Cowboys were routed by 19th-ranked Texas, 87-76, in the first game of the punishment. Oklahoma State only shot 35.6 percent from the floor and totaled all of six assists.
For a team many thought would contend for the Big 12 crown, losing games by such pronounced deficits just can't happen this late in the season. That is doubly true for the Cowboys, considering they have lost five straight games.
Of course at this point, Oklahoma State is just about done in the running for the Big 12 crown, at just 4-7 in conference play, but now its chance at an NCAA Tournament bid is in real danger. The Cowboys are still 16-8 overall, but not having Smart around, especially for a huge test against Oklahoma on Saturday, the prospects for a once-guaranteed spot in the field of 68 are getting that much bleaker.
Head coach Travis Ford has been confident that his team can turn things around, even in Smart's absence, but the loss to Texas really flies in the face of that notion.
Smart should return on Feb. 22, coincidentally against Texas Tech, with a chance to put this mess behind him. Hopefully, it won't be too late for him to help salvage the Cowboys' season as well.