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Pokes Now Within Striking Distance of NCAA Tournament Thanks to Two Monster Road Wins

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I’m not sure it’s the best formula to follow in the long term, but it certainly seems to be working for Oklahoma State right now. Lose to unranked teams at home, beat highly-ranked teams on the road. It’s a curious way to build a resume — like somebody whose last two jobs have been “cleaning neighborhood pools” and “studying under the tutelage of the secretary of labor” — but it has OSU on the precipice of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Following wins over then-No. 7 Kansas and then-No. 19 West Virginia away from GIA, the Cowboys have started getting a little love from pollsters. Well, one pollster.

They are “ranked” No. 40 in the country, just behind TCU and just ahead of Florida State, albeit based solely on the votes from Dick Vitale. No other college basketball writers voted for OSU in this week’s poll. CBS Sports does not even have them on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Neither does ESPNSB Nation has them in those “also considered.”

And yet … there’s a pretty clear path for the Pokes to presumably get in. Who knows, maybe 8-10 in the Big 12 is not going to get it done, but it would be borderline unprecedented for a team in a conference this tough to go 8-10 with a good nonconference record to be left out. So I have to presume that 8-10 is going to get it done.

One of the interesting parts of all of this to me is how closely-bunched the Big 12 is. Two losses separate fourth from last. Two losses! OSU could move in a tie for last place with a loss against Kansas State on Wednesday. Or it could move into a tie for fourth with a win and an OU loss to Texas Tech. That’s insane. Just imagine if OSU had beaten Kansas State and Texas Tech on the road — two games it feasibly could have won!

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Anyway, let’s try to get OSU to eight conference wins based on their remaining 6-game schedule. All data, rankings and predictions are from KenPom.com where OSU is the No. 65 team in the country as of Tuesday The KenPom prediction is what percentage chance he gives OSU of winning each game.

Date Opp. KenPom Rank KenPom Predic.
Wed Feb 14 Kansas St. 55 60%
Sat Feb 17 at TCU 25 24%
Wed Feb 21 Texas Tech 7 33%
Sat Feb 24 at Texas 44 31%
Tue Feb 27 at Iowa State 92 48%
Sat Mar 3 Kansas 14 39%

Things change quickly. All of a sudden, TCU (lost 3 of 4) and Texas (lost 3 straight) look vulnerable. Kansas State has lost 3 of 4. Kansas has lost 2 of 3. Iowa State is all over the place. I’m not sure there’s a “they’re definitely going to lose that game” left on OSU’s schedule. So let’s shift my categories around a bit.

“Need to win” games

• Kansas State at home
• at TCU or Texas
• at Iowa State

I was pretty sure OSU had to beat either Baylor or TCU at home over the last two weeks to get into the NCAA Tournament. Turns out I may have been wildly wrong about that. But I’m positive they have to beat Kansas State at home (probably) to get in. KSU is a bubble team that OSU should have beaten on the road. They represent the “easiest” matchup OSU has left on the slate and could provide some downhill momentum before traveling to TCU.

Speaking of TCU, you don’t have to beat them and Texas on the road, but you probably have to win one or the other. Both are flailing a bit — their only win in the last seven combined games was over each other (TCU won by 16).

Ask Trae Young how exciting Iowa State is in Ames. It’s not a game I’m looking forward to, but it probably represents the “easiest” potential victory other than Kansas State left on the schedule.

“Don’t need to win” games

• Texas Tech at home
• Kansas at home

If you would have told me the following two things before the season, my mind would have melted.

  1. OSU will go 4-5 in GIA in the Big 12.
  2. OSU will make the NCAA Tournament.

And yet that’s in play over the final six games. One of these teams is probably going to win the Big 12, and OSU could go a long way in helping determine the eventual outcome. How great would it be, by the way, to break Bill Self’s heart on the final day of the season and end Kansas’ preposterous run of Big 12 Conference crowns?

KenPom still predicts OSU will finish 7-11 in the Big 12, which likely won’t be enough unless the Pokes make it to the semifinals or finals at the Big 12 Tournament. You can get them to eight wins pretty easily, though, especially the way they’ve played on the road the last few weeks. Whether it will happen, however, remains to be seen.