Expectations have changed drastically in Stillwater in the last two months.
What looked like a team that would challenge Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12 at the start of the season is now fighting for an NCAA Tournament spot.
Drawing a first-round bye in the conference tournament, earning an NCAA Tournament bid and winning a game once in the field is now one of the most optimistic prospects for the Cowboys.
The good news for coach Travis Ford is that all of that looks attainable. Marcus Smart appears refreshed since his return to the lineup two games ago, and the Pokes have ended a seven-game losing streak.
A win over Kansas on Saturday would be a tall task, but it would seem to all but clinch a bid for the Cowboys. Here’s how Oklahoma State’s profile looks heading into the final stretch:
By the numbers
March 1: Kansas
Record: 18-10, 6-9 Big 12
How Oklahoma State could be in the Tournament
The Cowboys need to come back from a seven-game losing streak from Jan. 27-Feb. 17. Defeating Texas Tech and TCU in Marcus Smart’s first two games back from suspension is a start. Smart has been the playmaker the Cowboys’ need with 17 assists in two games, but his shot is still inconsistent (0 of 3 from 3 against Texas Tech, 1 of 8 from 2 against TCU).
How Oklahoma State could be left out
The seven-game losing streak is tough to ignore, even if it includes only one loss to a team that’s certainly outside of the field (Texas Tech). The Cowboys’ personnel is not what it was during the non-conference schedule when forward Michael Cobbins was healthy and backup point guard Stevie Clark was on the roster. The final stretch will be tough against Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and a tough opponent in the Big 12 tournament.
Oklahoma State needs to: Defeat Kansas State and/or Iowa State
The Cowboys can probably afford a loss to Kansas at home Saturday, but that puts more pressure on the Pokes to at least split the last two Big 12 regular season games and win a game in the conference tournament. Defeating the Jayhawks on Saturday or winning in Ames next week would be the best thing Oklahoma State could do for its NCAA prospects.
Oklahoma State can’t afford to: Lose to Kansas State or go winless in the Big 12 Tournament
Kansas State is drifting onto the bubble. Oklahoma State may be able lose to Kansas and Iowa State and still have a decent NCAA profile, but it certainly can’t lose at home to the Wildcats. Seventh place in the Big 12 — where Oklahoma State is tied right now — would draw TCU in the conference tournament. That does nothing for the NCAA resume, but at least it draw the No. 2 seed in the next game.
Insight from the Oklahoma State beat: John Helsley, The Oklahoman
“The Cowboys were playing as well as anyone in the country into January, when they lost post player Michael Cobbins to a blown Achilles. And they haven’t been the same since, with the impact of that injury way more damaging than anyone imagined, leaving them exposed in the middle on both ends of the floor. They’ve gone from the front end of the AP Top 25 to the back end of the Big 12 standings. Since returning from a three-game suspension, point guard Marcus Smart seems to have rediscovered the 'facilitator' style that made him a special freshman a year ago. He’ll need to maintain that mindset to lead a surge down the stretch.”