Will Oklahoma State’s Up and Down Season Lead to Dallas?Posted by Kory Carpenter on March 21st, 2014
For teams receiving at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament, there isn’t a worst spot to land than an #8 or #9 seed. Because unless your postseason goals begin and end with winning one game, your March dreams more often than not will be dashed in the first weekend. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, #1 seeds have reached the Sweet Sixteen almost 85 percent of the time. Nine-seed Oklahoma State will be facing those odds this weekend in the San Diego pod. They face #8 seed Gonzaga Friday afternoon and would more than likely see #1 seed Arizona in the Round of 32 should they get past the Bulldogs. That game is a tossup, but we’re talking ceilings here and the biggest obstacle to Oklahoma State reaching its ceiling will be waiting for them in the Round of 32.
For most #9 seeds, their realistic ceiling is playing the #1 seed close. But Oklahoma State isn’t your typical #9 seed. The Cowboys began the year with Big 12 title and Final Four hopes. But they lost their leading shot-blocker, junior forward Michael Cobbins, for the season with an achilles tear on Dec. 30. Sophomore guard Marcus Smart’s meltdown against Texas Tech led to a three-game suspension in early February, which came in the middle of a seven-game skid that had people questioning if the Cowboys would even make the NCAA Tournament. But Smart has played better than he had all season since returning on February 22, averaging 18.7 PPG and 6 APG. His team is 5-2 in that stretch with losses in overtime against Iowa State and Kansas. Oklahoma State has its flaws. Travis Ford isn’t the best in-game coach in the world and they are one of the smallest teams in the country. But their talent far exceeds their resume, and therefore, their seed.
That’s bad news for them but bad news for Arizona as well. The Wildcats couldn’t have been pleased to see Oklahoma State joining them in San Diego because there will be a smaller talent differential of any potential #1 vs. #8/#9 seed game this side of Wichita State vs. Kentucky. Marcus Smart might be the best player on the court against Arizona. If not, he isn’t far behind Wildcat guard Nick Johnson. And since losing sophomore forward Brandon Ashley for the year with a foot injury on Feb. 1, Arizona is 9-4 — a far cry from their 21-0 start with a healthy Ashley. The Wildcats are good but beatable. Oklahoma State is beatable but capable of pulling the upset if they play like they did in their 72-65 win over Kansas on March 1. And if that happens, the West bracket will open up for the Cowboys. They would have more talent and better guard play than either likely Sweet 16 opponent, Oklahoma State or San Diego State, and they wouldn’t be big underdogs to likely Elite Eight opponents Wisconsin or Creighton. The Cowboys are a #9 seed for a reason. The loss of Cobbins hurt their chances to reach the Final Four and the meltdown in February killed any chances of a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. But they are capable of putting a hand full of good games together and winning the West region.