Basketball: Five Qs Entering Postseason Play

Five questions that Cowboy fans are asking as OSU begins preparing for postseason play after Saturday night's 74-73 loss to Texas. The Cowboys, now 21-6, begin postseason play Friday night - in a possible rematch with the Longhorns - in the Big 12 Tournament at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.

1) What's wrong with the Cowboys?
Let's start with what Eddie Sutton's teams are known for and that's defense. The Cowboys aren't playing the type of defense that Sutton expects from his teams. In the last seven games (in which OSU is 4-3), the Cowboys have allowed their opponents to shoot 53 percent or better from the field four times. In the three losses in the last 12 days, Texas shot 53.3 percent, Kansas hit 66 percent of its shots, and Nebraska made 56.3 percent from the field. Toss in OU's 53.7 percent in the Cowboys' 79-67 victory on Feb. 7, and there's reason for concern.
Offensively, the Cowboys need to attack the basket. Although they are the nation's best three-point shooting team (better than 43 percent prior to the Texas game), the Cowboys can't live by the three-ball alone. In their losses this season they have attempted the following number of threes: 24 (vs. Texas), 19 (vs. Kansas), 24 (vs. Nebraska), 17 (vs. Oklahoma), 20 (vs. Texas), and 31 (vs. Gonzaga). That's far too many.
"Knowing these guys I don't think there's any question they'll go back to the practice court and improve on the some areas right now that we're not playing as well as we should," said OSU head coach designate Sean Sutton after Saturday night's Texas loss. "The last couple games, going back to Nebraska, we've seen some things that we'll have a chance to work on this week. We'll have to continue to work on our zone offense, everybody can see that. We got to the point where we played much better against zone defenses, but tonight I thought the second half we reverted back and did some things that gave us problems in the Gonzaga game, the first Texas game."

2) Did the Cowboys play themselves out of a spot in Oklahoma City for the NCAA Tournament?
Probably. But in the strange and unpredictable world of college basketball you never know what's going to happen.
"I think a lot depends upon what happens in Kansas City," said Sean Sutton. "You never know what the committee members think. That would be an advantage to play there, obviously because of the fans. And we still have that chance. I think if we go to Kansas City and win the Big 12 Tournament, we'll be in Oklahoma City. If we're not, then we'll have to go wherever we go and get it done that way."
What happens if Missouri upsets Kansas Sunday afternoon, and then Oklahoma State wins three in a row (including victories over Kansas and Oklahoma) to wins the Big 12 Tournament championship? Would that be enough to get them sent to Oklahoma City? A lot depends on what happens across the country in conference tournaments this next week. But the Cowboys have enough of their own concerns, and don't need to be worrying about what's happening elsewhere.

3) What's the one common denominator in all of OSU's losses the last two seasons?
This one is easy. The Cowboys' inability to stop a quality big man (or in some cases, a very average big man) has cost them dearly in almost every one of their losses the past two seasons. Texas junior Brad Buckman's 27-point, 9-rebound performance on Saturday night should not be a surprise to Cowboy fans. The opponent's biggest and strongest player has scored his career high (or tied it) in OSU's last three losses – all in the last 12 days. Want more proof? Than let's take a look at each of the Cowboys' losses the past two seasons
: 2004-05
Texas (74-73): Buckman ties his career-high with 27 points and adds nine rebounds
Kansas (81-79): Wayne Simien scores a career-high 32 points and has 12 rebounds
Nebraska (74-67): Alex Maric, a 6-foot-11 freshman, scored a career-high 15 points
Oklahoma (67-57): Kevin Bookout has 23 and Taj Gray adds 22
Texas (75-61): This is the only loss this season where a big man didn't hurt the Cowboys. Freshman point guard Daniel Gibson scored a career-high 27 points
Gonzaga (78-75): J.P. Batista, a 6-9, 270-pound junior, comes off the bench to score a career-high 18 points
2003-04
Georgia Tech (67-65): Luke Schenscher has a career game in the Final Four with 19 points and 12 rebounds
Missouri (93-92 in double overtime): Arthur Johnson finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds
Texas Tech (83-62): The only loss last season where a big man was not a major factor
BYU (76-71): Rafael Araujo scored a career-high 32 points and added 17 rebounds

4) Which player will the OSU coaching staff ask to step up and take charge of this team?
You would think that by the first week of March the coaching staff would not have to ask someone to be the take-charge guy. But none of the six seniors – or anyone else for that matter – have stepped into the role Tony Allen played in leading last season's team to the Final Four. The logical player would be Joey Graham, but that's not his personality and if it hasn't happened yet then it's probably not going to. That means point guard John Lucas will be asked to grab this team and lead the way – much as he did in last Wednesday night's 69-63 victory over Texas A&M when he scored a season-high 27 points and refused to let the Cowboys lose.
"I think John Lucas is the natural guy," Sean Sutton said. "He's an energy player. He has the ball in his hands the majority of the time. He's got the qualities of doing that. He's somebody that has that ability to rally this team, and get them going back in the right direction."

5) Who and when will OSU play in the Big 12 Tournament?
The Cowboys, who will be seeded third after finishing behind Kansas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference regular season, will play at 8:20 p.m. Friday against either Texas (20-9) or Colorado (13-15). Sixth-seeded Texas (20-9) plays 11th-seeded Colorado (13-15) in a first-round game at 8:20 p.m. Thursday.

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