Oklahoma State basketball: Playing what-if on Eddie Sutton
Watching the OSU-Kansas game Monday night, my mind drifted to another OSU-Kansas game. The 2005 regular-season finale at Allen Fieldhouse, when the Jayhawks won an 81-79 game that was as rousing as any I’ve ever seen.
The Cowboys had John Lucas (22 points) and Joey Graham (19) and Stevie Graham (10). Freshman JamesOn Curry had 15 points on eight shots. Ivan McFarlin did his usual dirty work in the middle.
Kansas countered with Wayne Simien, Keith Langford and Aaron Miles, with the likes of J.R. Giddens, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun playing supporting roles.
A week later, in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals, the Cowboys won a 78-75 thriller, then beat Bobby Knight and Texas Tech the next day for the trophy.
What a couple of games between those Cowboys and those Jayhawks. Kansas is still trotting out teams like that. OSU, not so much.
Barring an unprecedented four-wins-in-four-nights performance in Kansas City next week, OSU is about to post its fifth non-NCAA Tournament season in the last seven years. Think about that. OSU went 13 times in Eddie Sutton’s 15 full seasons but has been just twice since 2005.
When we talk about the decline of OSU basketball, we usually focus on the fall of Sean Sutton, how his 21/2 seasons as head coach were massively disappointing and his eventual arrest on prescription drug charges furthered an OSU tragedy. Or we focus on Travis Ford’s four years, how he went to NCAA Tournaments his first two seasons, with Sutton’s recruits, but has struggled since.
But a different viewpoint came to mind Monday night. If we’re going to play what-if – What if Sean Sutton had built upon that 15-1 start in 2006-07? What if drug addiction hadn’t wrecked his OSU career and threatened to wreck his life? What if Ford had been able to better build off those initial successes? – let’s play an earlier what-if.
What if Eddie Sutton hadn’t relapsed? What if the guy we thought might retire after the 1995 Final Four, or after the 2004 Final Four, actually still had the fire to keep coaching at a high level? Heck, we know Sutton still had the bug to some degree, since he went to the University of San Francisco in December 2007 and coached out that season?
What if Sutton had remained on the reins of Cowboy basketball?
Well, we know 2005-06 would have been a struggle. The Cowboys were just 13-10 overall, 3-6 in the Big 12 when Sutton drove drunk and crashed his car just before OSU’s trip to a game at Texas A&M. That was a totally rebuilt team, featuring really only two veterans, Curry and Marcus Dove, and Dove played just 22 games due to injury. Mario Boggan was a talented junior-college transfer, freshmen Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris played major roles, as did juco transfers Jamaal Brown and Torre Johnson.
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