February 17, 2007

Bringing Hell to Stillwater

When we last left the Oklahoma State basketball Cowboys, they were getting obliterated deepinthehearta Texas (clap clap clap clap).

With yet another road debacle in their rear-view mirror, No. 18 OSU had the last four days off to lick its wounds and prepare for today's contest against the new-look Missouri Tigers led by Nolan Richardson disciple Mike Anderson. The game is set for a 12:45 p.m. tip-off and will be broadcast on the ESPN Plus network (KOCB-34 in Oklahoma City and Stillwater; KJRH-2 in Tulsa).

The Cowboys' offense will be facing the 21st-Century version of the old "40 Minutes of Hell" full-court press defense that worked wonders for Richardson at Arkansas, winning him a national championship in 1994. Anderson was a Richardson assistant there for 17 years and coached and played at Tulsa under him before that. Anderson has had some success with the Tigers in his first season in Columbia, leading them to a 15-9 record (4-7 Big 12) so far this season. The Tigers have been all over the map in conference play, losing four-straight from Jan. 6-15, winning back-to-back games on Jan. 24 and 27, losing back-to-back on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3 and alternating wins and losses since then. Should that last trend hold, OSU (19-6, 5-5) will win today, as the Tigers' last outing was a 78-71 win against Baylor on Wednesday. Mizzou has lost five straight in Stillwater and its last win was in the final year of the Big Eight Conference in 1996.

They're led offensively by Stefhon Hannah, who is averaging 16 points per game. He's followed in scoring by Matt Lawrence (11 ppg) and Marshall Brown (10.6 ppg).

The Tigers thick-pressure defense has paid off when it comes to disrupting opponents' offenses and forcing sloppy play. So far this season, Mizzou has 256 total steals and averages 10.7 nabs a game. That's good for fourth nationally in that category.

This is a pretty big game for the Cowboys, as most will be the rest of the way. With its recent string of bad road losses and close home wins, OSU needs to play a complete game and win a game with relative ease. While it might seem odd, March Madness has already begun for OSU, as the Pokes need to restore some of the shine on their season which has been lost in recent weeks. Even with the poor play, the Cowboys are still a Top 20 team, which seems like a miracle at times. With the Big 12 race shaping up like it is, OSU is now in a position where playing on Thursday in Oklahoma City is looking more and more like a possibility, as they're in sixth at the moment, 1.5 games behind Kansas State and a half-game behind Oklahoma. The Cowboys can't afford to lose at home, since it's hard to think they can win on the road, even though they only have games left at Texas Tech (Feb. 24), Baylor (Mar. 3) and Nebraska (previously Jan. 13, but rescheduled to Mar. 5 because of bad weather). Lose at home and, well, the bottom could drop out on the season.

OSU still has a shot to get back into the top four, since OU's schedule is tougher from here on out and the Pokes get KSU at home on Feb. 27 and could score a possible tie-breaker. But they need to win today or playing on Thursday at Ford Center is all but a guarantee.

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