Oklahoma State is the scariest underdog in college basketball, a sentiment that was emphatically backed up by the Cowboys’ statement victory over No. 5 Kansas on Saturday by a score of 72-65. After plummeting down standings after being ranked as high as fifth early in the season, Marcus Smart’s boys have begun to turn things around and now have a defining victory under their belts. The entire season was more or less on the line with the Kansas game, but the Cowboys dug deep and refused to die. Regardless of where they are seeded, if Oklahoma State can still make the NCAA tournament, absolutely nobody will relish an opportunity to face them.
The Cowboys hit rock bottom somewhere along the lines of the team’s seven-game losing streak and Marcus Smart shoving a fan in the crowd. Coming off a debilitating loss to Iowa State in triple overtime, Smart shoved a man sitting court-side late in a loss to Texas Tech. Smart was visibly frustrated, likely a culmination of the season slipping away. Oklahoma State’s star was then suspended for the next three contests, all losses.
Upon his return, Oklahoma State has looked rejuvenated and much more like the team that had themselves in title discussions early on. This team is full of athletic fiery players and they have embraced the underdog role much more than they ever appeared to settle into the title contender role. The victory over Kansas was the second time the Cowboys have taken Bill Self’s Jayhawks down to the wire this season, proving they can most definitely hang with the big boys. Oklahoma State’s problem has been playing down to the competition. Few clubs are as talented as they are.
‘These guys are really talented,” said Bill Self after the loss to The Oklahoman. “They can get really hot and make a serious run, no question.”
On paper, this is easily an elite team. Marcus Smart has been mentioned as a possible top five pick in the 2014 NBA Draft for good reason, and Markel Brown has provided more electric poster dunks this year than anyone across the country. LeBryan Nash has been moved into the paint more to use his strength while point guard Phil Forte III has thrived in his new starting role, posting three consecutive 20-point games prior to the victory over Kansas, all reasons why Oklahoma State is the scariest underdog in college basketball.
“You can tell that everybody’s enjoying themselves a little bit better now,” said Smart according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We’re not putting as much stress on each other. We’re just going out there and having fun.”
An OK State team having fun is horrible news for the rest of the teams in the country. When they are loose they will play just like they did against Kansas, taking turns carving up and breaking down the defense to create open shots and launching alley-oops to Markel Brown from half-court.
Oklahoma State is the scariest underdog in college basketball now that they are playing the same way they were early on. Their biggest Achilles heel other than themselves is their lack of depth down low, something that they have proved they can overcome against gigantic teams like Kansas. The Cowboys have begun to caught fire heading into the pivotal month of March, and the nation should be on watch once again.
By Justin Hussong
Minneapolis Star Tribune