For college hoops fans, this is your time. The last few games of the regular season and the conference tournaments see teams jockeying for position and perhaps a postseason bid. And after all that, the Big Dance brings us a few weeks of magic.
So welcome to March. And if you're an Oklahoma State fan, welcome to the bubble.
A month ago, a conversation about OSU basketball involved the words “overachieving,” “red hot,” “surprising” and other positive lingo. That's because the Cowboys had just won four of five, all against ranked opponents. OSU took down Baylor twice, Texas, and the eighth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. The Pokes stood at 17-7 overall and 7-5 in the most balanced conference in the country.
But those days are long gone. Ever since, OSU has lost four games in a row, two of which have come against lowly TCU and Texas Tech. And as the calendar turns to the most important month of the season, Oklahoma State's tournament resume isn't looking so hot.
Here's a look at OSU's profile heading into Wednesday's contest against TCU:
Record: 17-11 (7-9)
Strength of schedule: 19
Non-Conference SOS: 139
Record vs. RPI top 50: 6-7
Bad losses (RPI 100+): TCU, Texas Tech
Until this recent losing streak, the Pokes' resume was squeaky clean. No losses to RPI 100+ teams, a solid conference record and a respectable mark against RPI top-50 teams.
So how can the Cowboys turn the horse around? It starts and ends with the aforementioned rematch against TCU at Gallagher-Iba on Wednesday. This is the ultimate must-win game.
Both CBS and ESPN bracketologists currently have the Pokes slated as a 9-seed, which means that they're safe, but barely. Another loss to TCU and their safety blanket will instantly vanish. While the selection committee looks at a team's entire body of work, there is, without a doubt, a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?” factor. And the only thing OSU has done lately is disappoint.
The TCU game doesn't provide an opportunity for a quality win, but it doesn't have to; OSU has plenty. At this point, because the Pokes are still on the plus side of the bubble, it's about avoiding disaster. Another loss to the Horned Frogs would be just that.
A win on Wednesday would likely secure the Cowboys a bid, even if the season-ending trip to West Virginia is a loss. An 18-12 (8-10) record wouldn't be safe in a regular year, but the current bubble is as soft as ever. A big reason for that is that a large number of regular dancers are sitting this one out. Florida, Michigan, UConn, Syracuse, Kansas State, Xavier, Marquette, New Mexico, UNLV, Missouri, and St. Louis are all tournament regulars that will all be staying home this season.
Pittsburgh, UCLA, Texas and Indiana are also staples, and are all on the bubble. Without all of these programs joining the fray, college hoops just isn't as deep.
Travis Ford's club has three guaranteed games remaining if you include the opening round of the Big 12 Tourney. Two wins or a simply a win in Morgantown locks ‘em up. A win over TCU or in the opening round in Kansas City puts ‘em in a solid spot.
The Cowboys control their own destiny, and in March, that's all you can ask for.