The Longhorns will not be the only team receiving news on Sunday about the availability of one of its star players for Tuesday evening's hardwood rematch between Texas and Oklahoma State (6:00 pm CT, ESPN2). While UT awaits MRI results on Jonathan Holmes' injured right knee, the Cowboys will be anxiously awaiting the potential fallout for Marcus Smart after he engaged in a physical altercation with a Texas Tech fan in Lubbock on Saturday night.
With the Cowboys trailing the Red Raiders by 2 points with 10 seconds remaining in the game, OSU's Le'Bryan Nash turned the ball over in the paint, leading to a 2-on-1 fast break for Texas Tech. Trying to avoid a loss for the fourth consecutive game, Smart sprinted the length of the court in time to foul Tech's Jaye Crockett from behind as he attempted to dunk the ball to seal the victory. Smart's momentum carried him through the baseline under the basket and into the area just in front of the front row of fans.
As Smart started to rise up to return to the court, he abruptly whipped around towards the fans and immediately closed in on an balding middle-aged man. It's unclear at this time what the fan said that originally enraged Smart, or what words were further exchanged after Smart confronted him, but there is no mistaking what happened next: Marcus Smart shoved the fan right in the chest, before being restrained by his teammates and coaches. Take a look at the video for yourself:
Who's To Blame?
It's not the surreal disgrace to humanity that the Malice In The Palace was, but that's about the best you can say about what happened in Lubbock. It goes without saying that there's no place for any kind of physical altercation between a player and a fan, but Smart didn't act in a vacuum -- it's crystal clear from the video that Smart was provoked: he was facing the court, with his back was to the fans, when something behind him sufficiently set him off to cause him to turn around to confront it.
I would resist the easy conclusion that it's simply a manifestation of Smart being a thug, and suggest that it's actually a manifestation of ugly behavior from two parties: the fan, for saying something so offensive to cause Smart to whirl around in a rage to confront whoever said it, and Smart, for responding to the provocation with violence. There may be no excuse for Smart's response -- assault is assault is assault -- but neither is there any excuse for egregiously taunting a player with offensive remarks.
However you or I may view Marcus Smart and Jeff Orr (the fan who was shoved), the availability of Oklahoma State's star player hinges on the judgment handed down from the Big 12. A spokesman for the conference said that there are three disciplinary options available to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby: a private reprimand, a public reprimand, or a suspension.
The spokesman also confirmed, however, that there is no precedent for the action under review. Given the broader issue to which it speaks -- safe and orderly separation between fans and players -- and how we've seen commissioners handle other incidents that fall in that same broad category, there seems to be little-to-no chance that Smart avoids a suspension. At a minimum, Smart is unlikely to be playing for Oklahoma State against Texas on Tuesday night, but it wouldn't be all that surprising if Smart were to face a pretty drastic suspension. Provoked or not, physical assault of a fan is firmly in zero tolerance territory, and with all of college basketball -- fans, players, coaches, media, other commissioners, everyone -- watching this closely and with great interest, Bowlsby could plausibly conclude that it is appropriate to suspend Smart for the remainder of the season.
Over at Double T Nation, the ever-reasonable Seth C offers a take similar to my own, urging fans to avoid drawing lazy conclusions -- not only about Marcus Smart, but also the Texas Tech fan base as a whole.
And just as I'm not going to condemn a fan, I'm not going to condemn Marcus Smart either. I don't know anything about Marcus Smart personally. I know that he's supremely talented at basketball and everyone handles things differently. I can promise you that there are certain things that would cause me to do things that I have never done in 40 years of living (I have never been in a fight) and I am sure there are things that if said to your face, you might have a similar reaction. Still, you never want to put your hands on another person in a threatening manner in any situation, even if something awful is said.
Both Seth and numerous commenters make a good case distinguishing between this Jeff Orr character and the rest of the Tech fan base. Seth notes that hundreds of Tech fans rushed the court after the final buzzer without a single one taunting Marcus Smart (who was still on the floor); commenter rindworld additionally points out that the fans surrounding Orr do nothing to escalate the altercation and appear unsupportive of Orr and his remarks; and commenter JRex shares reports that allege a pattern of misbehavior by Orr at Tech basketball games.
Oh, and Tech fans love them some Tubby Smith. As a guy who's been underappreciated for so many years, it's nice to see Tubby getting some love.
As you would expect, the mood at OSU blog Cowboys Ride For Free is decidedly darker. And if you were expecting CRFF to make the case for Marcus Smart... think again. Robert Whetsell lays it out plain and simple:
Remember the excitement we all felt when we learned Smart was coming back for one more season?
That premature joy has vanished in a haze of horrendous coaching and even worse behavior, as OSU dropped their 5th game in the last 6, 65-61 at Texas Tech.
The entire mess falls at the feet of two people...
Head Coach Travis Ford and former NBA lottery pick Marcus Smart.
And what does Whetsell think should happen to these two spoilers?
Marcus Smart should be suspended for the rest of the season and Travis Ford should be fired.
No shades of gray there, and the commenters are in agreement: this OSU team has underachieved to the point where fans are ready for a fresh start, with Smart in the pros and without Ford on the sidelines. With arguably the best talent/experience combination in the nation, Oklahoma State has dropped four games in a row and five of their last six, to fall to 16-7 overall and just 4-6 in Big 12 play. As commenter Schultzy put it:
Wow. This season turned into a huge dumpster fire.
That pretty much says it all, and it's hard to know what Texas should expect on Tuesday night. It seems unlikely that Smart will play, but this is a team in crisis, and it's impossible to know whether Ford can successfully use Saturday night's incident to rally this group and turn things around, or whether he's lost this team and everyone's waiting for things just to end.
That's out of Texas' hands, of course, and Rick Barnes' squad has its own road loss from which to recover. That, and the status of Jonathan Holmes' right knee... Fingers crossed, horns up.