March 13, 2008

What to expect in KC?

Watching Oklahoma State basketball this season was a bit like watching a variety show hosted by a man with multiple personalities - most of the show was bizarre and all over the map, some skits were horrible, some were great and at the end, you were left wondering just what the heck happened.

Unfortunately, that was the blunt truth about the 2007-08 Cowboys. I realize that might be a bit harsh, but that's just how it needs to be called.

It's an understatement to say that this season was difficult for OSU. Losses to Oral Roberts, North Texas and Illinois (check their record). Wins over Texas A&M and Kansas. A six-game losing streak. A five-game winning streak. Being swept by Oklahoma. Beating Rogers State (by only nine points - at home). Playing Texas to the wire - twice. Getting blasted by Kansas State. Any more schizophrenic and this team might get the lead in a musical version of One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest.

So here we are, the morning of the first round of games of the Big 12 Tournament. And what can we expect from the Pokes in Kansas City? I'm not sure if even Sean Sutton knows. All we know for sure is that 9th seeded OSU will face No. 8 seed Texas Tech at 11:30 a.m. inside the Sprint Center. After that, it's anyone's guess what will happen.

After the season the Cowboys turned in, this could be a very quick Big 12 tourney appearance or it could be a long run to the championship game. After all, this team does have some very nice pieces to it. James Anderson has been a solid contributor all season, as has Obi Muonelo. Masterlock-down defender Marcus Dove contributed offensive production this year. Byron Eaton did his best impression if Neo at the end of the first Matrix movie, finally "getting it."

But even with a decent amount of talent, the team was largely unimpressive most of the season until that winning streak. In their defense, they were young this season - but being young and playing poorly are not mutually exclusive in the college game. So why hasn't everything clicked better than it should have?

That's where coaching comes in. Sutton deserves credit for keeping the team together after the horrid first half of the season, but he also shoulders the blame for the team being in that position in the first place. His defenders say he didn't have the tools needed to compete this season. His detractors claim he's been running the program for years and the Cowboys shouldn't be in what is about to become a three-year absence from the NCAA Tournament. Who has the better argument? That's not really for me to decide, but I can honestly say I can agree with each side and see each argument for what it is.

So the regular season was up and down and basically a mess. But there is still time to turn it all around. OSU's program is judged by its postseason performances. It has been for almost two decades now. That judging begins today against the Red Raiders. Beat them, then take on No. 1 Texas on Friday. Then maybe a chance at Bedlam revenge on Saturday. And hey, why not beat KU for a second time on Sunday? It sounds crazy, but that potential draw might not be too bad for OSU. They either beat or almost beat all of those teams. It's always tough to carry over results from the regular season and try to project a short, day-by-day tournament, but it appears the Cowboys have a shot to do damage in KC.

That is, if the Cowboys of Feb. 13-Mar. 1 show up. Anything less than that and it's hard to expect this team playing past Friday and a loss today wouldn't be a surprise. That five-game streak showed us all that this group can pull it together and be a force. Unfortunately, the rest of the season showed us that five-game stretch might have just been a fluke. After all, what if KU's shot at the end of the game went in? What if Missouri held on to a close one at home? Exactly.

Basically, the message is this: Don't get too up or too down about OSU's chances this weekend. The Big Dance is a remote shot and another Not In Tournament bid is likely. The best thing to do is just watch and see which team shows up.

Justin Wilmeth is the editor of OSI. He can be reached via e-mail at justin@ostate.com.

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