Point: Key victories, strength of schedule make Cowboys a tournament team
Numerous statistics, indexes and numbers are assigned to each college basketball team to measure its chances of going to the NCAA Tournament, but all you need to look at with Oklahoma State is its quality of wins and its strength of schedule.
OSU boasts six victories against teams that were ranked in the top 20 when they played. Not many teams predicted to be in the tournament can claim more than two victories against teams ranked in the top 20. Texas, for example, is a team that is in OSU’s conference, has the same overall record of 18-13 and has the same league record of 8-10. The Longhorns have only four victories against teams ranked in the top 20, but the Longhorns are predicted to be squarely in the big dance.
In ESPN’s Strength of Schedule rankings, the Cowboys are 12th of tournament-eligible teams. The Big 12 has proven to be a gauntlet all year, as six Big 12 teams are in the Strength of Schedule rankings’ top 20. The log jam of teams with an 8-10 conference record (Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) shows how difficult it was for the Cowboys to get to where they are in their season.
One last thing: OSU became the first team to sweep Kansas in Big 12 regular-season play since 2001, when OSU coach Mike Boynton was 19.
The case is clear. The Cowboys should hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
Counterpoint: Despite some big victories, Cowboys won’t go dancing
Mike Boynton and the Cowboys exceeded expectations all season. They just swept Kansas, something Travis Ford, Brad Underwood and even the legend Eddie Sutton didn’t do. Although OSU has had a surprisingly successful season, it will miss the NCAA Tournament this year, and here are some of the reasons why.
The committee isn’t inviting 90 percent of the Big 12 to the party. There are eight teams from the Big 12 projected to make the NCAA Tournament, and three of them swept OSU (TCU, Baylor and Kansas State). Plus, you have bubble teams such as Texas and OU. The three guarantees are Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. ISU isn’t making any postseason tournament without winning the Big 12 tournament. The NCAA Tournament has never let 90 percent of one conference, not even the Big East in its glory days or the ACC, in the big dance.
OSU is 91st in RPI rankings but 12th in Strength of Schedule and 53rd in Strength of Record. If there is one thing the committee likes about the Big 12, it’s the bottom-tier hopefuls. Yet the committee this year doesn’t have an Big 12 representative on board.
Yes, the Cowboys defeated Florida State early in the season when the Seminoles were undefeated, but FSU finished the regular season 20-10. They defeated Oklahoma and Trae Young before OU limped its way through games to end the season 18-12. There were opportunities for OSU to tally impactful victories against Texas A&M and Wichita State, yet it fell short.
Finally, this is arguably the most wide-open tournament in a long time. Last year, there were juggernauts in the college basketball world (Kansas, Oregon, North Carolina and Gonzaga, for example). This year, there is no clear-cut favorite to win it all, and that’s what is hurting the Cowboys the most. They have no terrible losses and several quality victories. But the Cowboys need to do more to be in the tournament. They have to beat OU and Kansas again. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t easy.