The Oklahoma State Cowboys are picked to finish 3rd in the Big 12 Conference. This could be important come March because the Big 12 usually sends 5 or 6 teams to the big dance. So for comparisons sake, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Cowboys stack up next to the third ranked team from another major conference.
For these purposes, I turned to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) where former Big 12 member, the Missouri Tigers, are picked in many people’s polls to finish third as well. The Tigers just happen to be the perfect candidate since last season the Tigers and Cowboys split the difference during the regular season in head-to-head match ups.
The Cowboys dominated the Tigers at home early in the season, but later in the season the Tigers got the best of the Cowboys. The Tigers also went on the knock the Cowboys out of the Big 12 tournament on their way to winning the championship.
Missouri: Frank Haith enters his second year with the Tigers. During his first year, Haith inherited a talented Tigers team recruited by former coach Mike Anderson. Haith was very successful his first season and went 14-4 in the conference. In March, he received the Henry Iba Coach of the Year Award from the United State Basketball Writers Association and the shortly after, Haith received the Associated Press College Basketball Coach of the Year award.
Oklahoma State: Travis Ford is looking to make a rebound in the heart of Cowboy fans this season. After taking the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament his first two seasons, Ford disappointed the fan base by going to the National Invitation Tournament his third year and not even getting invited to any post-season fun his fourth year. To Cowboy fans, it has seemed as if there is a coaching absence ever since Eddie Sutton retired. Sutton still attends every game, sitting only a few rows up on the visiting side. After posting the first Cowboy losing season since 1987, Ford looks to get things back on track.
Missouri: The Tigers were looking to depend on their senior leadership and tournament experience to carry them this season until recent news broke that senior Michael Dixon would be suspended indefinitely. Dixon was one of four seniors on the team that could have really made an impact to the team’s success. Last year Dixon average 13.5 points per game and was a solid defender. Now the team will have to rely on forward Laurence Bowers for leadership, as well as a bulk of their points. As far as recruiting, the Tigers did not have any four or five star recruits for this upcoming season which is unusual for a team the caliber of the Tigers.
Oklahoma State: Ford has looked to get back on track through his vigorous recruiting. He has nabbed star forwards Le’Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart who was each top 10 recruits coming out of high school. Ford then provided perimeter shooting in Phil Forte and Jean-Paul Olukemi. If that was not enough, Ford traveled all the way out to Tennessee to pick up Philip Jurick who provides a physical presence and then traveled to Brooklyn, New York to grab Kamaria Murphy. Murphy spent time at the same preparatory school that produced Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair. Murphy was actually being recruited by the Tigers and chose the Cowboys.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Missouri: The Tigers joining the SEC can only mean one thing; the countdown until the Kentucky Wildcats game. Kentucky will surely stay ranked in the top 5 making this a marquee match up if the Tigers want to make an impression their first season in the SEC. However, the SEC strength of schedule is fairly weak. The only other preseason ranked opponent on the conference schedule is the Florida Gators. A major plus resulting from the Tigers move to the SEC has got to be their new TV contract with ESPN. The Tigers will have 19 nationally televised games this season. Some of those games will be good match ups against opponents looking to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Upsets to watch for will be: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Most importantly, the Tigers have a game scheduled against the UCLA Bruins in December that could determine team’s seeding in the big dance.
Oklahoma State: In the Big 12, it is the same story every season for the Cowboys. Take care of the teams you are supposed to beat and then give it everything you’ve got to steal at least one game from the Kansas Jayhawks and Texas Longhorns. Now, the Cowboys also have to worry about taking a game against the Baylor Bears who have shown they can compete with the Jayhawks for the conference title. Outside of those top three teams, the rest of the conference is no easy walk in the park these days either. West Virginia and Kansas State both received a handful of votes along with the Cowboys to be in the top 25 preseason poll. Perhaps one of the biggest games on the Cowboys schedule is when they face the Gonzaga Bulldogs on New Years Eve, three days after they face Baylor.
Slight Advantage: Oklahoma State
It will be interesting to see which of these two teams makes it to the big dance in March. And if both teams make it to the NCAA Tournament, it will be even more interesting to see how two evenly matched opponents on paper get seeded into the tournament coming out of different conferences. Who knows, maybe they will meet as an 8 seed versus 9 seed.