Inside the Conoco-Phillips Alumni Center, Alumni Association Executive Director Chris Batchelder was elated as his staff had to bring in more chairs to allow folks to sit down and watch the festivities. Oklahoma State head coach Brad Underwood was beaming because his thought to bring the Cowboys fans in on the announcement could have failed. After all, the weather was chilly. It was spring break insuring minimal, if any students attending. It was up to the fans and they came through. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee came through too. The Cowboys, as expected, lost ground with the three losses that ended the season dropping to a 10th seed and a date with Big 10 Tournament Champion Michigan in Indianapolis on Friday.
Two of the Cowboys three losses heading into the NCAA Tournament came to fifth-seeded Iowa State and sandwiched in the middle was a regular season finale and senior night home court loss to the top seed in the Midwest Region in Kansas. So, the committee must have thought since the Midwest Regional will bring it's quarter of the "Sweet Sixteen" to Kansas City the second week of the Tournament, why not give the Big 12 a chance to flavor it. Kansas (top seed), Iowa State (fifth-seed), and Oklahoma State (10th-seed) are all in the Midwest and each, with two wins could find each other in the Sprint Center again on March 23. Oklahoma State would not see either of those teams until a regional final, but Kansas and Iowa State could play in the regional semifinal.
"We've been joined at the hip with them the last two weeks, so we might as well continue the run," Underwood said. "Our league has been one or two all year in RPI and it is so good. It has been a special year for the Big 12. The average margin of victory was seven throughout all the games. We have great players and great coaches. I'm excited we are in the Midwest and we get to play at a great venue in Indianapolis and then could get an opportunity to play somebody that is in your league."
"If we win the first two games and we'll deal with that when the time comes. If we are dealing with that then it is a good thing," senior guard Phil Forte III said with a smile.
Agreed, the Cowboys need to worry about first things first. Michigan is a very similar team to Oklahoma State. They may be a little bigger inside, but they shoot the ball well and play offense. Underwood called them one of the better offensive teams in the tournament and acknowledged that his team is in that category too. The last few days since Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State on Thursday in the Big 12 Tournament, Underwood has watched conference tournaments like a fan. He was watching Michigan play Purdue on his lap top on the bus as the Cowboys came home from Kansas City on Friday and talked about the game and Michigan on a radio interview with me on Triple Play Sports Radio.
"I actually watched them a little bit coming back from Kansas City on my I-pad," Underwood confirmed again. "That is one of the few things that I've been able to do is catch up with some other teams. Huge credit to Coach Beilein and dealing with adversity and keeping that team on line. They are good. They are very well-coached. My staff is over dealing with those guys right now and we will find out more about them as the night goes on. We already have their season stats, how they've done in every game. Coach Beilein's teams have always been a very good shooting team and this team is no different. They run high action and anytime you are from a high league and a seven-seed and you are the 11-seed plying them then you know you are getting a quality opponent.
"I think there are some similarities and through Ken-Pom I think we've established that were the number one team in offensive efficiency and I think as long as we don't play Iowa State, they've had our number a little bit," Underwood continued when asked if the teams are similar. "We're similar that way and we'll have to play extremely well to win."
The Cowboys players admitted that they had watched Michigan several times this weekend including watching them dispatch Wisconsin 71-56 in the Big 10 Tournament Championship Game just a little while before coming over to the Conoco-Phillips Alumni Center.
"They have kind of been the big name at the top of college basketball this weekend," said Forte. "They are one of the best offensive teams and I know they can shoot the ball really well. We will have our hands full and look forward to Friday."
"We just watched them beat Wisconsin," said senior Leyton Hammonds. "They are a hard playing team and it looks like it could be a fun game. It (seed) really doesn't matter because anybody can win in this tournament. It is about winning and making winning plays."
The event went well, although you could really sense the surprise when the fans, coaches, players, and even media saw Oklahoma State come up as the opponent for Michigan in the Midwest Region. Kansas and Iowa State had already been revealed in the Midwest making fans there in the Alumni Center daydream about who they might see in the South or West Regions when those brackets came up. Instead the Midwest is a potential Big 12 party, except for Oklahoma State to crash the Power and Light District they will have to beat the Wolverines and the second-seed Louisville Cardinals.
"To be able to be a part of selection Sunday, I think it is one of the great events in our sport," Underwood said of his idea to bring fans and the team together for the event. "I think it is exciting to do it with family, your players, to do it with your fans and have standing room only was very neat. I hope this is a memory that our players get to enjoy for quite some time."
Underwood got up just after the Cowboys opponent and destination was announced and said to the crowd a thanks and then, "Indianapolis, that's do-able, right?"
Michigan will be tough enough as the 24-11 squad coached by veteran John Beilein has won five games in a row dating back to a regular season finale 93-57 at Nebraska. They ran through Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in the Big 10 Tournament and they have a little bit of a "Cinderella" status having survived what could have been a real disaster when on an attempted take-off at the airport in nearby Ypsilanti, Mich. on Wednesday of last week. Their charter jet blew off the runway and was stuck. The travel party had to exit the aircraft through slides on the emergency and regular cabin exits. The team had to fly into Washington D.C. the morning of their first round Big 10 game and bus straight to the arena. They couldn't get their game uniforms off their original charter until the investigation cleared the luggage on board. They wore practice uniforms in that first Big 10 Tournament win over Illinois.
The Cowboys won't worry about any of that, nor should they. They will worry about a team that is slightly bigger than they are, has a better overall shooting percentage, scores about 11 points less a game than the Cowboys, but gives up eight points less a game than the Pokes do on defense. Michigan is good and playing about the best they have all season right now. Nothing comes easy, even plans for a Big 12 reunion in Kansas City.