Oklahoma State is 11-3 and 1-1 in Big 12 play. But how legitimate are they?
OSU began last season at 15-2, only to collapse and lose 11 of its final 17. The competition got tougher and the Cowboys couldn't keep up. To make matters worse, most of their losses occurred despite a lineup featuring two NBA Draft picks in Marcus Smart and Markel Brown.
This season's team isn't anywhere near that talented. Le'Bryan Nash is this squad's best player, and Phil Forte keeps getting better and better, but the talent gap is clear.
Could it be that OSU is simply a Ford Focus disguising itself as a Benz?
The Cowboys' 11 wins have all come over unranked opponents. Compare that to last season when OSU beat No. 11 Memphis and No. 20 Colorado in nonconference play. The 2013 Pokes also smashed South Carolina by 27 points, while the Gamecocks flipped the script with a 26-point win this season.
This season's schedule isn't all Oklahoma State's fault. There's no way OSU could have known that two consistently-respectable programs like Missouri and Memphis would both have down years. But they can take some of the blame; OSU loaded the schedule with the bottom of the barrel.
Southeast Louisiana, Prairie View A&M, Northwest Oklahoma State…this just isn't good enough. It's still early, but there's a chance that none of the aforementioned 11 opponents will end up making the NCAA Tourney.
This is why the next three games are so important: home against Texas, then road games at Kansas and OU. Whether the Cowboys are legit is completely subjective – what matters is building a resume, and OSU can do that in the next two weeks.
The Pokes got their first chance for a big win on Tuesday night at Iowa State, but came up just short, 69-67. It was an impressive performance in a tough environment, which is an encouraging sign moving forward. But at the end of the day, it's a loss, and a missed opportunity. A road victory over the No. 17 Cyclones would have been a resume-builder for the Cowboys. Instead, OSU is two games into conference play and doesn't have much to show the selection committee.
OSU will have another shot at a headline victory at Gallagher-Iba on Saturday against No. 10 Texas. The Longhorns are coming off of an embarrassing 70-49 home loss to Oklahoma and will surely slide in next week's poll, but that isn't relevant to the Pokes. The poll isn't out until Monday, so a win on Saturday would still count as a top-10 victory.
The Cowboys snuck into the Big Dance last season as a No. 9 seed at 21-13 and 8-10 in the Big 12, but only had one victory over a ranked conference team. They'll have plenty of chances this season as 11 of their remaining 16 games come against currently-ranked opponents. Of course, this also means that achieving an 8-10 conference record will be significantly tougher this time around.
There's plenty of season remaining, but if the Pokes want to keep their boat afloat in Big 12 play, it will be important to win one of their next three. Falling into a 1-4 conference hole could spell doom.