February 21, 2007

Season on the brink?

The only thing in Stillwater that stinks more than Oklahoma State's play on the hardwood recently is the animal science farm on the west side of town.

Losers of four of their last five (the only win in that stretch being the double-overtime win against Texas Tech), the Cowboys are in the midst of a downward spiral. And it won't get any easier tonight, as they play host to the No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies at 8 p.m. inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. And while it's a game that's nationally-televised on ESPN2, that's not the biggest thing for OSU. The biggest thing would be the fact that the Pokes are desperate for a win and suddenly facing a season on the brink. On the brink of total collapse.

The season has made a complete 180 since wins over Syracuse and Pittsburgh and a No. 9 AP ranking on Jan. 8. OSU comes into this game unranked for the first time since Dec. 4, when the Pokes entered the rankings at No. 22. Losses to Colorado and Missouri can be thanked for that loss in status, as a team which was locked into the NCAA Tournament is now suddenly a unit facing the question of if they'd turn down a bid to the NIT.

Meanwhile, tonight's opponent is flying higher than groupies at a Grateful Dead concert. The Aggies (22-4 overall, 10-2 Big 12) are second in the conference standings and in position for a No. 2 or 3 seed in the Big Dance in a few weeks. Aside from two losses to the Red Raiders (Jan. 24 and Feb. 13), the Aggies have won 15 straight games. So it's safe to say A&M is on a roll.

Basically, it's the worst possible opponent for OSU (19-7, 5-6) to have to deal with at this point in the season. Especially a team as talented as A&M. Four of their starters for tonight's game average point totals in double-figures, led by Acie Law's 17 points per game. He's followed by Joseph Jones (13.5 ppg), Josh Carter and Antanas Kavaliauskas (12.1 ppg apiece). For a leaky defensive unit like OSU, the Aggies are a team which have several viable scoring options. That's the opposite of the Pokes, who only consistently see points from Mario Boggan (20.8 ppg) and JamesOn Curry (18.1 ppg).

This game is critical for OSU if they still want to make the NCAA Tournament. Two of the factors the selection committee really focuses in on are the win-loss record over a team's last 10 games and overall conference record. The Cowboys' last 10 mark would be 4-6 and they'd sport a sub-.500 record if the season ended today. However, if OSU beat A&M today and won out its final four games, the Cowboys would finish 10-6 in conference and their last 10 mark would shift to 6-4, both numbers which are much more manageable in the eyes of the committee. Cobble a win over A&M along with victories over Texas, the Cuse, Pittsburgh and Missouri State and OSU is squarely back in the Big Dance.

But that's a lot of ifs and buts. The Cowboys have a lot of work to do and the work starts against the Aggies. Lose and things keep trending downward. Win and the light starts to break through the clouds. The season could be on the line tonight.

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