January 11, 2008

Unlucky 7 for Pokes?

Oklahoma State still has time to salvage its season.

But the clock is definitely ticking.

Starting with tomorrow's home game against Texas Tech, the Cowboys start a harsh stretch where they either play at home against tough teams or on the road, which hasn't been kind to OSU under the leadership of Sean Sutton (0-10 in true road games since the start of 2006-07 season). With the Cowboys taking a 9-5 mark into the Big 12 Conference schedule, these next seven games could be the difference between being able to finish close to .500 or possibly only posting four league wins.

Before I get too far along here, let's look at what exactly is on the Pokes' plate coming up in the next three weeks:

Tomorrow: TEXAS TECH (12:30 p.m., CBS)
Tuesday: @ Baylor (7 p.m., Cowboy Sports Net)
Jan. 19: @ Iowa State (12:45 p.m., ESPN Plus)
Jan. 21: TEXAS (8 p.m., ESPN)
Jan. 26: TEXAS A&M (1 p.m., ESPN)
Jan. 28: @ Oklahoma (8 p.m., ESPN)
Feb. 2: @ Texas Tech (1 p.m., ESPN)

Ouch. That's a rough way to open up conference play, huh? And five of those games are on national television. Double ouch. So, in the next 22 days, OSU faces the Red Raiders, Longhorns and Aggies at home with trips to Waco, Ames, Norman and Lubbock sprinkled in.

Forget who OSU faces in February and March. This season will be defined before Bill Murray has a chance to listen to "I got you babe" at 6 a.m. over and over again. All of these above games pose giant challenges to a Cowboy team which is average and inconsistent at best, bad and confused at worst.

Let's look at these games a little closer.

TEXAS TECH:While Tech isn't as strong this season as they have been, I believe there's a lot of pressure on the Cowboys to get a win in league play right off the bat. The Raiders are facing some pressure of their own, looking to get win No. 900 for the best (censored) grandfather on the planet, Bob Knight. But other than that, they can come into Gallagher-Iba Arena loose. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are coming off a bad stretch which includes a loss to Oral Roberts and a nine-point win over an NAIA program in Rogers State, which never met a basketball team it didn't like. And it's that last game that bothers most. Even if they do have a handful of Division I malcontents on their roster, shouldn't the Cowboys wax RSU fairly easily? And if they can come into GIA and do that, shouldn't an iffy Tech team do the same?

BAYLOR: The Bears aren't world-beaters, but they're better than they were a few years ago. They have more talent and they're not a guaranteed two wins anymore. Oh yeah, this game is on the road. Until they prove otherwise, it's hard to see OSU winning anywhere in the Big 12 outside of Payne Co.

IOWA STATE: Probably the best chance for a win in this stretch aside from the first game against Tech. Problem is, this game is on the road in one of the toughest arenas in the conference, Hilton Coliseum. And if the Pokes don't beat the Bears on the road the game before, will the mental road blocks worsen? This team isn't very good, but the Pokes are vulnerable at this point.

TEXAS: Are you kidding? This team gave OSU problems when it was good. The Longhorns are 13-2 right now and D.J. Augustin averages 20.5 points per game. This one could be ugly.

TEXAS A&M: Sure, Billy Clyde and the Aggies are now Law-less, but they're still talented and athletic. And Mark Turgeon is smart enough to not overhaul things too much. A&M is 14-1 right now and seems to have a solid team unit. It's weird to say that the Pokes have little shot to beat the Aggies on their own white maple floor, but that's what it's looking like at this point.

OKLAHOMA: So much for Kelvin Sampson leaving and the entire operation sinking into the ground, huh? One thing is for sure: Jeff Capel is a good coach. The Sooners have been an entirely different team since their bad loss to Stephen F. Austin at home in early December and now they sport a 12-3 record. OU has Blake Griffin, Longar Longar and a nice frontcourt game. Winning in Norman was tough for the best of Cowboy teams the last decade. Can this team pick up a victory here?

I fully realize this entire piece has been pretty bleak up to this point, but I don't know what else it can be at this point. While I think there are only three games that are absolutely off the board in terms of predicting a win (UT, A&M, @OU), I can see the other four games go in any direction. It wouldn't surprise to see the Pokes lose those four or split them, but winning more than three of those seems like a stretch given what we know right now.

Am I saying that the Cowboys could go 0-7 over this span? Yes. If the Pokes don't win tomorrow, I could definitely see that. But if the Cowboys win over the Raiders, I could see the first three games be wins.

My prediction? OSU wins tomorrow and at ISU and loses the rest. And a 2-5 conference mark isn't a good way to get things going in the right direction. Especially when you still have road trips after that against Kansas State, Texas A&M, Missouri and Texas, with tough home dates against Kansas and OU mixed in just to make things interesting.

That's why tomorrow is key. Win there and you could have a chance at a 3-0 start before things got really tough. But lose? You might just flip that record around and no one in orange wants to see the Pokes go into a pair of games against UT and A&M winless in the league. Then things might start to get horribly ugly.

Justin Wilmeth is the editor of OStateIllustrated.com. He can be reached via e-mail at justin@ostate.com.

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