March 14, 2008

Third time's the charm?

A little less than a month ago, Oklahoma State barely lost to Texas.

Five days ago, Oklahoma State barely lost to Texas.

Is today the day Oklahoma State beats Texas this season?

That's the big question for the Cowboys, who only have one realistic shot to make the NCAA Tournament: winning the Big 12 Tournament championship. That journey got off on the right foot yesterday, as the Pokes were able to outlast Texas Tech, 76-72. So, one down, three to go. No. 2 on that list is the Longhorns, the top seed in this tourney. The two teams face off inside the Sprint Center in Kansas City at 11:30 a.m. and it can be seen in Oklahoma on their local ESPN Plus affiliate or ESPNU nationally.

While the Cowboys were all over the map in the regular season, two of their better games (even if they weren't wins) came against UT. Back on Jan. 21, OSU (17-14) almost knocked off the Horns in Stillwater, losing 63-61. Then, just five days ago, the Cowboys went on the road to Austin and almost figured out a way to steal the game from UT, losing 62-57 in a game many didn't give them much chance to compete in.

So, as the old addage goes, the third time is the charm. Right? Well, in college basketball, they do say it's hard to beat the same time three times in the same season, which works in OSU's favor. But, aside from fancy cliché talk like that, do the Pokes stand a chance today? Absolutely they do. The fact is, even though this team has fallen off a bit from their performances in their five-game winning streak, the team has improved by leaps and bounds from where they were at the turn of the New Year. The improved play of Byron Eaton and solid supporting performances from Marcus Dove and Obi Muonelo give the Pokes a solid trio to build off of.

This game won't be easy. As the first two games showed you, the Horns have a knack for figuring out a way to win at the end of close games. In my opinion, that's a direct result of the coaching of Rick Barnes (doesn't he look like Pat Sajak?), who has turned the Horns into a monster of a program during his time in the blue county surrounded by a sea of red. Today will obviously be their first game in this year's tournament, after taking yesterday off. Their last game was the victory over the Pokes, which saw D.J. Augustin score 20 points and Damion James post 13 points and 18 rebounds.

What are the keys today for the Cowboys? The most obvious one is not to lose. Not winning today guarantees their slim NCAA chances are gone and a program that went to the Final Four in 2004 and the Sweet 16 in 2005 is condemned to the NIT for the third-straight season. On the court, I'm looking for another solid performance from both Terrel Harris and Martavius Adams. These two can give the team extra elements on the court - when they're on. Now, I realize that sometimes Harris has a constant loop of Foreigner's Cold as Ice playing in his head, but when he's hot he's unreal. As for Adams, he's still young, but has shown real potential at times this season. The biggest weak point to this team is their inside play - sometimes its as if they think the three-point line is a forcefield from interstellar space - and if Adams can have another 10-point game like he did against Tech yesterday, that could be enough for the Pokes to get a win. (He hasn't been a factor in the first two games.)

Ultimately, the Cowboys are in a solid position. From this point on in the tournament, not many will have expectations about the Pokes, so there will be no pressure and no real focus on them. While a team never wants to be the lower seed, this could be beneficial for a team which has largely been a non-factor all season.

Will the third time be the charm for OSU?

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