March 3, 2009

Win and In? W a must against KSU

Is Oklahoma State on the verge of finally making it back to the NCAA Tournament?

A lot of indications seem to point to yes, but you can never really tell when you're living in Bubbleworld and a large number of factors can put you in or out of the Big Dance. For the Cowboys, all they can do is keep winning and remove the roadblocks that could keep them from making the Madness.

A big piece of OSU's potential postseason puzzle was figured out on Saturday, after the Pokes prodded Texas. But they're still in the same basic situation as then, needing to win to improve their standing for an at-large bid. So now beating Kansas State is the biggest roadblock, with a 6:30 p.m. tip inside Gallagher-Iba Arena the latest hurdle for OSU. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2, with OSU alum Doug Gottlieb handling the color commentary duties.

OSU (19-9 overall, 8-6 Big 12) comes in with a five-game winning streak, having not lost since that 99-74 drubbing by Texas in Austin on Feb. 10. KSU (20-9, 8-6) dropped a game to Missouri before beating Nebraska 77-72 on Feb. 28. The Wildcats have turned things around pretty nicely after starting off the Big 12 season 0-4 and are in a similar situation to the Cowboys, needing to win as much as possible to state their case for the NCAA Tournament.

The Cats are led by point guard Denis Clemente, who averages 15.2 points per game. Last week against Mizzou, he scored 33 points, with 22 of those coming in the second half. Two guard Jacob Pullen adds in 13.5 ppg while forward Darren Kent adds in 9.0 ppg. They're a solid rebounding club, with Kent, Luis Colon and Dominique Sutton all averaging more than five boards a game. Fred Brown (8.8 ppg) and Jamar Samuels (8.6 ppg) are the only legit scoring threats off the bench.

As far as team numbers go, OSU beats out KSU on scoring average, 82.5 to 76.4 ppg. On the flip side, the Cats are stronger in opponent scoring average, allowing 66.0 ppg while OSU chimes in with 74.7 ppg. OSU has the edge in three-point percentage (39.7 to 36.2), field goal percentage (46.2 to 44.1) and free throw percentage (74.3 to 64.6).

This game should be pretty interesting. OSU has played well of late and will be at home for the last time this season. That should be pretty emotional for Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, who joined the program right after the 2005 Sweet 16 run haven't seen the Pokes make the tournament since. While their time in Stillwater has been largely a disappointment, they're in position to finish off their OSU careers in a big way. If they can guide this team to the NCAAs, their legacies to the program will be much brighter.

There is no argument the past few years have been embarrassing to a program which had put together a nice string of deep runs in March the last decade and a half. It would be a huge accomplishment for Travis Ford to make the tourney his first year in Orange Country and if that happens, Eaton and Harris will get a lot of credit for that on their way out.

There is a lot on the line in this one. Hopefully OSU fans will realize that and come out in force like they did over the weekend against the Longhorns. It's sad that a few tough years have cannibalized a previously-great basketball fanbase, but ending the season with another big and rowdy crowd could help to repair OSU's image in this department. Not only that, but the crowds of GIA have time and again won games for OSU, whether the opponent was big or small or whether the Pokes were great and simply average. In tonight's case, OSU is on the verge of being pretty good and another full house could mean the difference between NCAA bid or another trip to the NIT.

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