The Cowboys cruise into Christmas with a 10-1 record and a No. 24 national ranking, clearly at work on restoring pride to the program.
And it's a welcome development, following back-to-back Marches with no Madness and a 2011-12 season that produced but 15 wins total, not to mention the first losing record in more than two decades.
Travis Ford's recent recruiting is revealing solid work, with his latest class delivering three impact players — Marcus Smart, Kamari Murphy and Phil Forte — who are averaging more than 25 minutes a game and another, Kirby Gardner, who is coming on as a valuable backup at the point. The chemistry, on the floor and off, appears much improved. The defense has dominated and the offense features multiple options, making OSU a team to watch in the Big 12 and beyond.
Still, there's work to be done before declaring the Cowboys as “back.”
The biggest games await, starting with a New Year's Eve clash with No. 14 Gonzaga that leads right into a Big 12-opening road game at Kansas State. This team is still in more of a state of proving, than proven.
But hey, why hush optimism?
The Cowboys have done about all they could do thus far, knocking off highly ranked team in North Carolina State to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and taking care of business otherwise, with the only blemish being a road loss at surprising Virginia Tech.
The Pokes appear primed for a major bounce-back. And to help pull it off, in the spirit of the holiday season, here's a good guess at Ford's wish list for the coming months.
Good health. Team doctors and trainers have earned their keep the past 12 months and are still hard at work trying to maximize the active roster. Jéan-Paul Olukemi has been lost, but 7-footer Marek Soucek should return from nagging knee woes to lend depth, and there's hope that wingman Brian Williams continues a speedy recovery from what once looked like a season-ending wrist injury. As is, the Cowboys are a good team. With Williams back, at even 80 percent, they could be very good.
Good vibrations. Let's face it, OSU's recent teams revealed unrest, with players coming and going and some in trouble with the law. These Cowboys, however, seem solid. They're not only likable, but they like each other. And it shows.
Reliable road map. For the Cowboys to blossom into a Big 12 contender, they'll have to do some damage on the road. And the road has been a scary place for Ford's teams, which have gone 10-31 in true road games — 6-27 in enemy Big 12 arenas — over four seasons. That can't continue, especially with so many league teams appearing vulnerable. Ford and his staff must identify factors, whatever they are, to flip history. Better players should help. Still, the veterans have little road success to lean on and the newcomers will be finding their way.
Crowded house. Theories abound on why attendance is down at Gallagher-Iba Arena. And frankly, they're a bit tired. Instead, how about a reason for a return of the “rowdiest arena in the country”: these Cowboys could be on the verge of a special season, with a talented cast that plays hard, is fun to watch and easy to pull for. Ford keeps saying it, they'd appreciate more support. A great home environment can lift a team. With this team, a good lift could be enough to hoist them toward the top of the Big 12.