STILLWATER — Oklahoma State passed another checkpoint at the Big 12 Tournament, the last given element in this 2012-13 schedule.
Now comes the unknown.
A welcome unknown: a date and place for the Cowboys' highly anticipated return to March Madness. That news comes Sunday, with the release of the NCAA Tournament bracket.
Most projections peg the No. 14-ranked Cowboys as a No. 4 or 5 seed, meaning at least one round as a favorite this postseason, followed by a tossup game for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16.
Already, it's been a welcome season for OSU, with a jump to 24 wins — the program's most since 2004-05 — and 13 regular season conference victories for just the third time in school history.
The Cowboys finished third in the Big 12, one game behind co-champions Kansas and Kansas State. They produced the conference Player of the Year and the Tisdale Award winner in freshman Marcus Smart. And it's been a fun ride for the Cowboys and their fans, with a few lows — including Friday night's dismissal from the Big 12 Tournament — and a fair share of highs.
The lows are easily recognized, too. The loss of Jéan-Paul Olukemi to a season-ending knee injury; the loss at Virginia Tech, a team that tumbled to a 13-19 finish and an RPI of 176; a disinterested Bedlam loss in Norman; a 2-3 start to conference play that extended their trend of league road struggle to 1-21 since 2009; and Friday night's sluggish 68-57 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament.
“This loss is behind us,” Smart said Friday night. “We lost; there's nothing you can do about it, you can't change the past.
“Whatever seed we get, we're going to take it and run with it.”
Where will the ride take them as they venture further into March? The good news for now is that there is more to March, following two seasons on the outside of this preferred Madness.
So as the Cowboys transition forward, let's take one last look back at the positive defining moments in this journey, which remains incomplete:
Best impact: Marcus Smart. We'd heard the advance hype on Smart, and it was heavy. And yet, he produced on every bit of it — and more — totally transforming a team without an identity into a tough, clutch, never-relenting squad. The Cowboys are now formed in his image, which is ultimately described with one word: winner.
Best firestarter: Markel Brown added a major layer to his game with an improved perimeter shot. The Cowboys' leading scorer used it to extend OSU's offense and to ignite big wins, none bigger than at Kansas, where Brown drilled five first-half 3s and finished with seven. He's shooting 41.7 percent from the arc, fifth-best in the Big 12.
Best development: Le'Bryan Nash had been saddled with high expectations since the moment he stepped on campus as a freshman a year ago. And it often looked as if it weighed him down. With the emergence of Smart and Brown, Nash has settled into a less demanding role that appears more comfortable. And to his credit, he's altered his game, giving up perimeter shots to thrive as a hard-to-handle slasher and scorer.
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