OSU Basketball: The Fight For .500

In the interest of breaking down Oklahoma State's potential postseason berth into the National Invitational Tournament one must first attempt to prognosticate the remaining games on the Cowboys' schedule. But before that happens, let's look at the Cowboys' résumé.

The Pokes waved bye-bye to an NCAA Tournament berth a long time ago but the NIT is not out of the question with four regular season games remaining to boost their overall appeal and qualifications.

Oklahoma State has the most NIT bids of any current Big 12 school with 11. Nebraska had 17 before leaving for the Big Ten.

The next closest are Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas State, all with seven.

Because of that, OSU and the NIT have a strong relationship and a lot of experience with one another. That's one good thing OSU has going for it in trying to earn an NIT bid.

A few other things Oklahoma State has working its favor are a great host site with Gallagher-Iba, an improving and exciting young team, and a good reason for its substandard record.

As of right now, OSU has played the hardest schedule of anyone in the country.

Here are a few numbers: OSU's RPI is 99th; strength of schedule No. 1; nonconference strength of schedule is 93rd; record against RPI top 50 is 3-9; record vs. RPI top 100 is 4-13; OSU's best win is Missouri (RPI: 9) and worst loss is at Texas A&M (152).

That's pretty stout and gives some explanation for a 13-14 record. The only problem now is history indicates OSU will have to finish above .500 to earn a berth. The NCAA announced that teams no longer needed to finish .500 or better to receive an invitation to the NIT in 2006 but since then no team with a sub-.500 record has gotten in.

With at least one Big 12 Tournament game in OSU's future, it must win three of the final four games on its schedule to finish above the mark. The Cowboys could go 2-2 but would have to win at least two conference tournament games to get back in the discussion.

Here is what the Cowboys have remaining:

Wednesday at Oklahoma

The Sooners (13-13) are limping into Bedlam in a six-game losing streak and an abysmal 3-11 conference record. This is a game the Cowboys should win but Norman has not been kind to the Cowboys. OSU hasn't won at Oklahoma since the Cowboys' Final Four season in 2003-04.

Saturday vs. Texas A&M

The 76-61 loss in College Station is likely the worst loss of the year for OSU, as far as quality of opponent is concerned. The preseason Big 12 favorites have not lived up to their billing and are 13-13 overall with a 4-10 conference record and are losers of five of their past six games. Again, this is a game OSU needs to put in the win column, especially being at home.

Monday vs. No. 5 Kansas

This is the likely loss the Cowboys can afford is they take care of business elsewhere. The Jayhawks are easily one of the best teams in the nation and are alone at the top of the conference standings with a 12-2 record. KU showed how strong it can be when it jumped out to a 29-point first-half lead against OSU in Lawrence on Feb. 11. This game can't be ruled out, though, because the Cowboys have had a lot of success against the Jayhawks in Gallagher-Iba and the engines will be revved for this ESPN Big Monday tilt.

March 3 at Kansas State

Perhaps no team in the Big 12 has been as up-and-down as the Wildcats. That fact alone makes this a scary matchup for the Pokes because this is the game it all comes down to. K-State has struggled at different points on its way to a 19-8 record and an 8-7 conference mark. They were swept by cellar dweller Oklahoma but are currently on a two-game winning streak over No. 10 Baylor and No. 3 Missouri. The Wildcats beat OSU in a physical 66-58 game in Stillwater on Jan. 21 and the Cowboys really need this one to feel good about its chances of making the postseason.

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