LUBBOCK, Texas — Oh what a five-game winning streak, sprinkled with some magical moments, can do to swing perception.
Before Oklahoma State's surge to the doorstep of the Big 12 lead ensued, on the heels of a loss at Baylor, message board critics wondered about the cost of Travis Ford's buyout, pondering the feasibility of a coaching change.
Now, as the No. 17-ranked Cowboys bid for No. 6 in a row as a strong favorite Wednesday at Texas Tech, the message board buzz is quite different concerning a Ford buyout — hinting of worry, as in what an interested suitor would have to pay to steal him away.
Clearly, these are fickle times.
And not just off the floor.
Before going streaking, the Cowboys still stood as road kill, a seemingly talented team struggling to get over the hump. Rolling into Texas Tech, they've now won at Kansas and Texas — long-running rough spots for OSU teams — and threaten to move into a first-place tie in the conference standings.
That's right, first place.
“The Big 12 is wide open for anybody who really wants it,” said sophomore forward Michael Cobbins. “You've got to show that you really want it and just take it.
“Coach has tried to keep us confident. He told us that we were going to hit our stretch and things were going to work, we just had to stay together and keep plugging away at it.”
And that's what the Cowboys have done, kept plugging. Lately, they've kept winning, becoming the league's hottest team while rising among the contenders.
With KU's blowout win over Kansas State Monday night, the Big 12 standings read like this: Kansas and Kansas State at 8-3, OSU 7-3.
This is uncommon ground for the Cowboys, who claim but one regular season championship (2004) in the history of the Big 12. No OSU team has finished better than five games out of the league lead since 2005.
And here stand these Cowboys, lacking believers beyond their own locker room walls a few weeks ago, bidding to do something big as a young core continues to develop, revealing an upside that few Big 12 teams can match.
Not that it'll be easy. Games against KU and K-State remain, although at home. A major Bedlam clash also looms Saturday, with tickets inside Gallagher-Iba Arena scarce, suggesting a return of the rowdy for an OU team that lurks just behind the Cowboys at 7-4.
First things first: this trip to Tech, which is just 1-4 at home in the Big 12, yet with an upset of Iowa State as the lone win.
“You've got to be very cautious,” Cobbins said. “In the Big 12, no games are a given — home or away. You've just got to bring your A game.”
There's work to be done by the Cowboys, for sure.
But there's also opportunity.
“We have a lot of great teams in the Big 12 and we're just fighting for spots right now,” said Cowboys guard Marcus Smart. “It's a good thing that's going on, good competition.
“It's real wide open, nobody's a dominant team. Everybody thought Kansas was, but we see what happened with them. The door's wide open.”
No. 17 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
* When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
* Where: United Spirit Arena, Lubbock, Texas
* TV: ESPNU (Cox 253, HD 718; Dish 141; DirecTV 208; U-Verse 605/HD 1605)
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
Three things to know
* The Cowboys dominated Tech earlier this season, rolling 79-45 — OSU's largest margin of victory among conference games.
* OSU has already bettered its 2011-12 total for overall wins and tied the total for conference wins.
* Tech is 8-8 at home this season, yet just 1-4 inside United Spirit Arena in the conference.