“Don’t Say We Came Out of Nowhere in March” Team of the Week: Oklahoma State Cowboys

February 20, 2013

I apologize on several fronts.

First, I apologize that it is a Wednesday, and I am releasing a new “Don’t Say We Came Out of Nowhere” post. I understand that I had originally said Thursday would be the day I release this weekly segment.

I also apologize that it has been three weeks since my last post.

The time gap in between posts is the main reason why I’m releasing this segment a day early. I’m essentially making up for lost time.

That also means that you’ll be greeted with yet another new article tomorrow, if you decide to come back for more. Same goes for Friday.

So before I bore you with all of these promises, let’s just get to the meat of the article. This week, we’ll travel to Stillwater to take a look at the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

The Basic Info

If you’ve already started watching college basketball this season, you’re probably thinking “how on Earth is Oklahoma State a team that I could overlook in March?” That’s a very good question, because all things considered, you’re right. The Cowboys are currently the No. 14 team in the nation and sit at 19-5 on the season, battling with the Kansas teams for the Big 12 lead. They have one of the best guards in the nation in freshman Marcus Smart, who is competing with Ben McLemore for Big 12 Player of the Year honors. They’re not even searching for the extremely important marquee win, having defeated Kansas in Lawrence in early February when the Jayhawks were the No. 2 team in the country.

So what exactly is so mysterious about this team?

Frankly, when a reader suggested this team to me for the segment over three weeks ago, it seemed like a good choice. At that point, the Cowboys were not the No. 14 team in the nation, Marcus Smart was only beginning to attract the attention of the national media, and Travis Ford’s team had just recently beaten Kansas (the Cowboys are currently playing the Jayhawks a second time as I write…).

Maybe Oklahoma State isn’t such a good choice anymore. But I know the reader who suggested them will be pleased when he sees this article, and the Cowboys have the potential to fade back into the crowd as we approach March, opening the door for them to again become a sleeper come tournament time.

Besides, isn’t the first team I chose for the segment currently ranked No. 2 in the nation?

Why I Like Them

There are a lot of reasons why I am resistant to anointing a team led by a true freshman as a squad that could do significant damage in the NCAA Tournament. One is that I believe in the power of leadership from upperclassmen, and when the going gets tough, how is a player who has never played in the Big Dance going to respond? Another reason is that there is a higher tendency of teams led by young superstars to play the “stop-and-stare” game during crucial possessions, simply allowing the most talented player to work his magic and not playing sound team basketball. Lastly, history would suggest that it just doesn’t happen very often (Carmelo Anthony’s don’t come around every year).

But Oklahoma State is an exception to the case. Although the Cowboys are young (only three seniors on the team, two of which contribute meaningful minutes), they are tenacious and play a very mature game.

Travis Ford’s team looks to create easy baskets by forcing turnovers on defense, which complements their style of playing small. Although they can sometimes negate their ability to create turnovers by being sloppy on the offensive end, their aggressive up-tempo style will serve them well in the tournament against teams that are flustered by that type of game.

It is also very interesting to note that, while Smart is the most talented player on the Cowboys roster, he is not the leading scorer. That title goes to Markel Brown, a junior guard that really benefits from Smart’s ability to find the open man on offense with ease. Smart’s unselfish play is one of the main reasons why four Oklahoma State players (all guards) are averaging double-digits in points.

So, Why Are They Being Ignored?

While it is hard to argue that the Cowboys are being ignored, it is interesting that more people were not making a bigger deal out of the team’s seven game winning streak heading into the game with Kansas. The streak is tied for the 12th longest in Division 1, and Oklahoma State is the only team other than Miami with a streak over five that plays in a power conference.

The strong play in February, as well as key wins over N.C. State and Kansas on the road, will serve the Cowboys well heading into March. Oklahoma State has played magnificently at home and solid on the road, and has yet to suffer a defeat of more than ten points. All of these factors make the Cowboys a very consistent team, which makes it much easier to believe that the win over Kansas was not simply a fluke.

The final five games of the season are not going to be easy for Oklahoma State, as the team will play three of those games on the road and then end the regular season against Big 12 leader Kansas State. It is possible that the more engaged college basketball fans have realized this, and want to see how the Cowboys respond before getting truly excited about their potential in March.

While it could be the case that fans are delaying their final judgment of the Cowboys, it won’t affect their NCAA Tournament case. Oklahoma State is without a doubt a tournament-worthy team.

What Can We Expect?

Taking a page from the hypothetical “engaged college basketball fans” referred to earlier, I’m going to hold out on my final judgment on Oklahoma State until I see how its final five games play out. This is a very solid team, and I do not think that they will have a problem staying in any of their games. But the difference between a good team and a potentially great team is the ability to come out on top in those close games.

Despite their 19-5 record, the Cowboys are only 7-5 in games decided by 10 points or less. That’s not a bad record, but it certainly isn’t a great record. Plus, the chances of Oklahoma State playing a close game in the NCAA Tournament are very high to almost positive.

Joe Lunardi currently has the Cowboys as a 4 seed in his most recent bracket projections. I would agree with this assessment, but tonight’s Kansas game could propel them into No. 3 seed talk if Oklahoma State were to win. At this point, the Cowboys definitely have the talent to make it to the Sweet 16, but could also be considered a dark horse Final Four contender depending on how they fare the next few weeks.

If you would like to submit a team for consideration for this weekly series, please send me an email at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, tweet me @KBecks_ATC or contact me on Around The Corn’s Facebook page. In addition to any submissions, you are more than welcome to send a short summary of why you think the team is a good candidate for this type of article. Thanks everyone.

K. Becks

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