Ford may not be talking about it publicly but you can guarantee that he's thought about the prospects of what it will take for Oklahoma State to capture the Big 12 tourney title – winning four games in four days at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Would the benefits of winning the Big 12 tourney title – and improving Oklahoma State's seed for the NCAA Tournament – be worth the wear and tear on James Anderson, Obi Muonelo, Keiton Page and the other Cowboys entering next week's Big Dance?
The Cowboys are projected by many of the bracketologists to be a No. 8 seed entering this week's conference tournament. It's doubtful that a win over the Sooners in the first round would do much to improve that seeding.
But what if OSU knocks off OU, upsets second-seeded (and top 10 nationally) Kansas State in a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday, and then defeats No. 3 seed Baylor in the semifinals? That's not as far fetched as it may sound as the Cowboys have defeated all three of those teams at least once this season (they are 1-1 vs. OU, 1-0 vs. K-State, and 1-1 vs. Baylor).
In such a scenario, the Cowboys would probably move up to at least a No. 7 seed for the NCAA Tournament, and possibly a No. 6 seed.
The Cowboys would then be playing in the Big 12 tourney title game – scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday – with the winner earning the conference's automatic NCAA tourney berth.
Would winning the Big 12 title – if it includes wins over Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas – be enough to convince the NCAA selection committee to give the Cowboys a No. 5 seed? And, more importantly, would a No. 5 seed (or even No. 6 seed) be worth the wear and tear on the Cowboys if they had to play four games in four days?
The answer is a resounding, "No!" Especially if the Ford's squad is placed in a Thursday-Saturday bracket by the NCAA Tournament selection committee (those sites are in New Orleans, Providence, R.I., San Jose, Calif., and Oklahoma City). If they advance to the Big 12 title game, the Cowboys would then return from Kansas City on Sunday morning and have to be back on the road by Tuesday (teams are required by the NCAA to be on site for practice rounds and media obligations the day before their first-round games).
Here is the perfect scenario, in my opinion, for the Cowboys entering the Big 12 Tournament:
1) OSU opens the Big 12 tourney against the Sooners much like it did when Jeff Capel's squad made the trip to Stillwater on Feb. 13. The Cowboys shot 54.1 percent from the field, and made 14 of 28 three-pointers (four each from Anderson, Muonelo and Page), en route to an easy 97-76 victory. The Cowboys coast to another big victory over the Sooners in Kansas City, allowing Ford to sit his starters for the last 5 to 10 minutes of the game.
2) In a quarterfinal game, the Cowboys upset the Kansas State Wildcats for the second time this season. Nick Sidorakis came off the bench to spark the Cowboys to a 73-69 victory on Jan. 23 in Manhattan, Kan., and OSU will need another heroic effort in front of a pro-KSU crowd at the Sprint Center. A Cowboy win over the Wildcats will probably assure them of a No. 7 seed, and keep them out of the dreaded eighth seed where they'll have to face a No. 1 seed in the second round of the NCAA tourney.
3a) The Cowboys keep it close against Baylor in the semifinals Friday night before losing a close contest decided in the game's final minute, showing the NCAA selection committee that they are going to be one of those teams no one wants to play in the Big Dance, and they are seeded sixth or seventh, or;
3b) The Cowboys keep it close in the first half before the Bears pull away in the second half, allowing Ford to sit his starters for the last 10 to 15 minutes of the game. OSU has still done enough with two victories in the Big 12 tourney, including an upset of Kansas State, to earn a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tourney.
4) OSU returns home to Stillwater on Saturday for a day of rest, learns on Sunday that it has earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tourney, and is placed in a Friday-Sunday bracket (in Jacksonville, Milwaukee, Spokane, Wash., or Buffalo) which allows them two-and-a-half days to prepare before flying to its first-round destination on Wednesday.
So, is a Big 12 title worth it? Not in this case because in the bigger picture – aka the NCAA Tournament – it's more important to have James Anderson, Obi Muonelo, Keiton Page and the rest of the Cowboys fresh when the ball is tipped next Thursday or Friday. And being a seventh seed is much better than a No. 8 or No. 9 (which the Cowboys were a year ago when they defeated Tennessee in a first-round game before losing to No. 1 seed Pittsburgh in the second round).