By John Helsley
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The Cowboys have lost four straight and by all accounts dropped from NCAA Tournament consideration, confirming the disappointment that has surrounded the program for much of the past two months.
So, what now for OSU, with three regular season games and the Big 12 Tournament remaining?
Five things to watch as the Cowboys finish their stretch run:
1. Recruiting. Travis Ford and his staff are hardly satisfied with how this season has played out. They never expected to contend for a Big 12 title, but they did count on making a strong play for inclusion on the NCAA dance card. Instead, the team has frustrated Ford from the get-go with its inconsistencies and lack of basketball IQ. Ford isn’t sitting still. Incoming super-recruit LeBryan Nash will infuse the team with an elite talent and Ford is looking for more, especially after cutting ties with former commitment Karron Johnson. The Cowboys are looking for a point guard, a shooting guard and help in the post. A new name to the point guard mix: Jeremy Jones, a Juco prospect at Seward Junior College. Academic issues hurt Jones out of high school, but he’s fast becoming a hot target. Along with the Cowboys, Jones is drawing interest from OU, Kansas State, Arizona State, Indiana, North Carolina, Arkansas and others.
2. Personnel Push. We’ve already seen Reger Dowell make a play for a more prominent role with two strong games back-to-back. Now’s the time for that, with Ford watching to see who’s serious about helping the team going forward. He’ll likely get Jarred Shaw and Roger Franklin more playing time, as both will be needed next year.
3. Alternate Postseason. The Cowboys would appear headed for the NIT, or one of the lesser postseason tournaments (CBI/CIT). With a couple of wins, OSU could secure its place in the NIT and make a case for hosting a first-round game.
4. Style Points. With Dowell gaining more and more exposure at the point, it’ll be interesting to see if the Cowboys pick up the pace in these final games. They’ve already made more of an attempt to attack the rim, and that’s one of Dowell’s major strengths. It’s also a style that figures to fit next year’s team, so why not start revving it up now?
5. Body Language. When there’s an emergence of new faces, somebody gets kicked to the curb. Ray Penn has already seen his playing time decrease and the Dowell experiment cuts into his PT further. In the second half at Kansas, Jéan-Paul Olukemi was left on the bench. How will those guys respond? The answers could be revealing on next season.