By John Helsley
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OK, so the magic number for NCAA Tournament inclusion may have dropped to 8 in the Big 12, if the league gets the six bids it is projected to receive.
That’s good news for Oklahoma State, which is 4-5 and faces road trips to Texas and Kansas, as well as Nebraska (Today) and Oklahoma.
The bad news: the Cowboys haven’t won a league road game since February of last season. And any math adding up to 8 Big 12 wins requires a breakthrough in an enemy gym somewhere.
Could today be the day?
Five keys for the Cowboys at Nebraska:
1. Shoot Straight. Sounds simple, right? But it’s more complicated than that, as the Huskers will pack the lane, taking away OSU’s offensive strength, which is using Jéan-Paul Olukemi on drives and getting trash baskets from Marshall Moses and Matt Pilgrim. Keiton Page, Olukemi and Ray Penn will get some open looks. For a team that has been wildly inconsistent from the perimeter, the Cowboys will have to knock down some 3s.
2. Fill The Void. Just as Darrell Williams was coming off his best two games at OSU, and seeming to figure things out, the skilled forward was suspended amid sexual assault charges. Williams wasn’t a regular impact player, so it’s not like the Cowboys are without their go-to guy. But he was a starter at a position where OSU has lacked any consistency. That spins the focus to a familiar figure: Matt Pilgrim. A bit of an enigma, Pilgrim has played better of late and is capable of lessening the loss of Williams. Roger Franklin and Jarred Shaw factor in as well. And watch for Ford to utilize more of a four-guard look, too, with Olukemi filling an Obi Muonelo-type role.
3. Be Patient. The Huskers aren’t at all sexy, with a pedestrian offense. But they will get after teams on the defensive end, which is why they lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing just 59.1 points a game. For the Cowboys, the key will be showing patience with their offense, working the ball and working off screens and not firing up ill-advised shots.
4. Road Worriers. The Cowboys haven’t won on the road in the Big 12. The Huskers are 14-1 at home, with only a loss to Kansas appearing as a blip. So this looks like a tall task for the Cowboys seeking a breakthrough. Still, it’s not like the Huskers are world beaters inside the Devaney Center. Nebraska does own a nice home win over Texas A&M, but otherwise they’ve beaten Iowa State and Colorado and a bunch of nonconference lightweights.
5. Tit For Tat. The Huskers can defend, but so can the Cowboys. And Nebraska struggles to score, ranking 11th in the league in scoring. The Huskers don’t have anyone among the league’s top 20 scorers. That should assure that OSU is in this game to the end. Now, they have to find a way to win it.