MattBob's Baseball Preview-Big 12 Tournament

The 15th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys hope their success away from home continues as they begin their quest for the Big 12 tournament title on Wednesday. The Cowboys have a long history of tournament success under the leadership of Gary Ward when they won 16 consecutive Big 8 championships. However, since the Big 8 ended the Cowboys have won just one Big 12 championship.

In 2004 the Cowboys rallied from down by seven runs to beat Missouri in extra innings to claim their only Big 12 Tournament title. Since winning the title, the Pokes have won just one tournament game the past two years.

A lot of press attention is paid to the SEC Tournament because of level of talent that plays in their tournament. The Big 12 is not lacking on its own talent. Every team in the Big 12 tournament has at one point this season either been ranked or received votes in the top 25. It was just last year when sixth-seeded Kansas put together an impressive tournament and took the title when no one expected them to win more than one game.

The format of the Big 12 Tournament is a 2-pool set up. Each of the eight teams are divided into two pools based on seeds, and every team within the pool plays each other in a round-robin round with the winner of each pool meeting in the championship game Sunday. Only the Big 12 and ACC use the pool format. In a two-team tie, the tie-breaker will be the head-to-head winner. In the event of a three-team tie, the highest seed in the tie will advance to the championship game.

The first team the Pokes will face is Baylor. The Baylor game Wednesday night should begin 30 to 45 minutes after the Missouri-Oklahoma game concludes, most likely sometime after 8 p.m. In Baylor, Oklahoma State faces an opponent they swept in the regular season. Baylor's starter will be Jeff Mandel. In the first meeting, Mandel was rocked by the Cowboy lineup for 10 runs in three innings. Oklahoma State beat Baylor by hitting home runs. It will be harder to do this in the deeper Bricktown Ballpark but the key to beating Baylor is generating runs early and often. Baylor has one of the league's worst ERAs and worst team defenses.

The Cowboys will face a familiar opponent Friday night in OU. Last year the Pokes lost to the Sooners in the Big 12 tournament after sweeping them in the regular season. If the Cowboys are to avoid a similar situation they will need to pitch well. Most likely the Sooners will throw either ace Stephen Porlier or number two Heath Taylor.

The Cowboys have a chance to get some revenge Saturday night for a sweep in Stillwater just last weekend. The Cowboys will face Rick Zagone, the hard-throwing number 2 starter for Mizzou. If the Pokes are to get that revenge they must improve on defense. In the Missouri series, the defense committed nine errors and gave up free runs to a team that puts the ball in play. Missouri's style of offense is built for a ballpark like Bricktown and if the defense is bad again it could spell disaster.

The Cowboys pitching decisions are yet to be announced, but the options are limited. Frank Anderson either moves up the recovery time on Jeff Breedlove and Oliver Odle and makes them pitch on short rest or throws midweek starter Joe Kent in game one, and sets up the weekend starters on their normal rest and positions them well for regionals. If Kent throws Wednesday, Breedlove and Odle should pitch the next two games.

Cowboys fans and players most likely would like to beat OU and Missouri so saving the top pitchers makes sense from that standpoint. If the Pokes move up Breedlove to throw Wednesday, they can throw Odle on Friday. Odle has been successful against OU, especially in Bricktown. However, the move up strategy leaves the Cowboys with the year-long question: Who is the third starter? That's a question that probably won't be answered until Friday night.

The Big12 tournament means less for Oklahoma State than it does for the other three teams in their pool. Missouri is playing to hold their projected host site. Baylor and OU are currently both projected into the NCAA Tournament as bubble teams, and most likely one of those two teams will play themselves out of the tournament this week. OSU has very little chance to secure a host site, and is unlikely to lose its seed, so the Pokes are playing for the chance to play in a more favorable regional, perhaps as a No. 1 seed at some other team's host site.

The Pokes will bring a star studded team to Oklahoma City. The All-Big 12 teams were announced Tuesday morning, and the Cowboys are well represented. Tyler Mach, Corey Brown and Ty Wright lead the way with first-team selections. While Rebel Ridling, Jordy Mercer and Matt Mangini were named to the second team. Justin Friend, Keanon Simon and Jordy Mercer received honorable mentions. Mercer was second-team All Big12 as a utility player, but only honorable mention as a shortstop and that is why he was honored twice.

All games of the Big 12 tournament, except those broadcast on Fox Sports, will be available with free live streaming video from www.big12sports.com

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