I've been careful from the beginning about expectations for this Oklahoma State basketball team. I really loved the hire of Brad Underwood. Of course, I was touting his name from the moment that Travis Ford got his walking papers and his settlement check from Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder. I loved the process as Holder went into a one-man committee mode in looking for the next coach. He met with the media on that Saturday morning of the NCAA Tournament and by Monday Holder had his man as Underwood and his SFA Lumberjacks were eliminated by Notre Dame. Holder wasted no time asking and Underwood wasted no time answering. Done deal and now both sides are glad they did.
Oklahoma State is relevant again as March Madness nears. In fact, after Saturday's 80-63 win over Texas Tech I'm raising those expectations that I've been careful not to go overboard or unreasonable with.
Here is a quick timeline on my expectations for Cowboy basketball in Brad Underwood's first season.
Start of the practice in October: I was hoping for an overall winning season and a chance to be on the NCAA bubble, if not in, then make an NIT run.
After Maui, at Maryland, at Wichita State: I was thinking no worse than 9-9 in the Big 12 and an NCAA Tournament berth.
After 0-6 start to Big 12: I'm hoping for maybe six wins in the conference, which would be a 6-6 finish in the last two-thirds of the Big 12 season and an NIT bid.
Today: Sweet 16 baby!
What this team has done since going to Texas Tech on Jan. 21 and finally winning a Big 12 game 83-64 has been almost beyond belief. It's like Coach Holder said in an interview with me on Friday of last week, "When you lose the first six games, you wonder who you are going to beat?"
Try everybody, because that is what they have done. Everybody except Baylor and the opportunity remains this week with the trip to Ames on Tuesday and the regular season finale with Kansas on Saturday to avenge those two losses during the opening six-game skid in Big 12 play.
Admit it, you didn't expect the Cowboys to win 10 of their last 11, did you? How about five road wins in a row? Sweeping bedlam? Sweeping Texas Tech? Sweeping TCU? Did you project those results? Maybe, you did because all three of those teams are below the Pokes and looking like they are not going to be joining the Cowboys in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, it is now looking like only the top five in the Big 12 will be going on to March Madness.
Oklahoma State is guaranteed no worse than fifth place, but if the Cowboys win out they could be as high as tied for second.
Now, back to my expectation, Oklahoma State beat Texas Tech at home on Saturday by 17 points, at 80-63. They did it playing, okay. Yes, they played average, at least for the way they have been playing lately. This team has really improved its top end and brought up its average and less than average performances.
Underwood has developed the bench more and if Lindy Waters can get back that will stretch his bench even more with an added shooter., Thomas Dziagwa is also very capable of coming through and helping. Davon Dillard, Brandon Averette and Cameron McGriff are certified contributors. Lucas N'Guessan can help with some big man minutes. Somebody wants to take away Phil Forte or Jawun Evans on the outside, okay, but that just creates more opportunities for Carroll, Hammonds and Solomon.
A week ago, I had Oklahoma State definitely in the NCAA Tournament and capable of winning a game, but with an impending match-up with a one or a two seed in the second game getting to the second weekend and the "Sweet 16" was highly unlikely. Now, the Cowboys are looking at a better forecast for March, fewer clouds and not as much wind, and I see two weekends on the road for the Cowboys.
Embrace the expectations Cowboy fans, your team has earned them and you too, for coming back in droves to the "rowdiest arena in the country."