Golden Opportunity

Improving their postseason stock is of utmost importance to the Cowboys, but it won't come easily. Oklahoma State, with 20 wins already, just needs a win to get a good seed at the Big 12 Tournament -- the Buffs, however, need a win to get noticed by the NCAA selection committee. Taking all that into consideration, the always-tough-at-home Buffs won't just lie down and roll over for OSU.

At first glance, a win at Colorado doesn't seem like a big thing.

The Buffaloes (17-10, 7-7 in Big 12) haven't been a heavy hitter in basketball since the days of Chauncey Billups. However, CU is undefeated at home in Big 12 play this season, with wins over No. 6 Kansas, No. 4 Texas and Missouri.

When the Oklahoma State basketball team takes on the Buffs tonight at 8 in Boulder, a win would help the Cowboys (20-7, 9-5 in Big 12) in Big 12 rankings and in the national scene.

If nothing else, a win would increase OSU's confidence.

"Our goal this week is to win two games and get better as a basketball team," said OSU associate coach Sean Sutton of the CU game and a Saturday game against Texas A&M.

"I think that, certainly it would be a big confidence boost — to go get another road win against a very quality team,"  Sutton said. "And come back and close out the conference, hopefully, and beat Texas A&M and have a two-game winning streak going into the conference tournament.

"I think it's always important to play well down the stretch, and we have not lately played very well. I think it's important that we regroup and enter postseason play on a positive note."

The No. 20 Cowboys have an opportunity to improve their stock for the postseason. While OSU has lost five of the last seven games, a win in a place no other Big 12 team has won would help in offsetting home losses against Baylor and Texas Tech.

In Big 12 rankings, if the Cowboys win one more game of the two left, OSU should have possession of fourth place in the Big 12. One Missouri loss would leave the fifth-place Tigers in fifth place.

Finishing in the top four of the Big 12 is large in terms of playing in the Big 12 tournament. The top four teams will earn a first-round bye, and will begin the tournament on Friday, March 14. The lower eight teams will begin the tournament play a day earlier.

There is also much at stake for the Buffaloes. Teams on the fringe of getting in the NCAA tournament, like CU, need quality wins to increase chances of being picked for the tournament.

A win over OSU could put the Buffs in the Big Dance.

With so much at stake for both teams, will the game be an emotional, hard-fought contest?

"No question,"  Sutton said. "I think both teams will play extremely hard. We're fighting to try to finish in the top four — trying to improve our NCAA seed. Colorado's battling to get into the NCAA tournament, and I'm sure it's going to be a very hard-fought, very competitive game.

"Our team is going to have to play better than we have in the last two games — if we want to go up there and win — because nobody's been up there in our conference and beaten them on their home court yet."

The Buffaloes feature two players in the starting lineup over 6-foot-8. David Harrison, at 7 feet, averages 13.5 points and 8.1 rebounds a game. Forward Stephan Pelle, at 6-foot-8, averages 12.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.

The strength of the Buffs is the frontcourt. For OSU, a team that was out-rebounded by 20 against Kansas, the frontcourt has been an issue for most of the season.

"They may have the best front line in the Big 12,"  Sutton said. "They're very strong, they're very powerful. Rebounding will be one of the biggest keys of the game.

"They crash and attack the offensive glass, and our guys have not rebounded the ball very well the last three weeks. It will be a major key if we want to win."

In the past couple of weeks, fouls have also been a problem. Against Kansas, starting forward Andre Williams fouled out with 10:05 left in the game. That is where 7-foot center Frans Steyn and 6-foot-8 forward Onye Ibekwe come in.

Though the underclassmen don't have a lot of experience, Sutton said there's a good chance the duo could see more playing time because of their size.

"There's not any doubt (that) we're going to have to play both of those guys because of Colorado's front line," Suttonsaid. "They have a tendency to wear people down and get people in foul trouble.

"Both of those guys (Steyn and Ibekwe) have gained some confidence and are ready to help the team, especially at the defensive end of the court. I think both of those guys will have an opportunity to play Wednesday night."

Steyn and Ibekwe could play a bigger role for OSU for the rest of the season. The two big men are starting to understand the system and what is expected of them.

"I think they're both more comfortable and more relaxed in what we're doing," said Sutton. "And Frans has had a little more game experience than Onye, but both of those guys are hard workers and both competitive.

"I think they realize that they have a chance to help the team down the stretch."


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