Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma State basketball: Did Marcus Smart's suspension affect the Cowboys' seed?

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 17, 2014 at 10:20 am •  Published: March 17, 2014

Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart (33) tries to get past Kansas' Wayne Selden, Jr. (1) and Jamari Traylor (31) during the Big 12 Tournament college basketball game between Oklahoma State University and Kansas at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 13, 2014. Kansas won 77-70. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart (33) tries to get past Kansas' Wayne Selden, Jr. (1) and Jamari Traylor (31) during the Big 12 Tournament college basketball game between Oklahoma State University and Kansas at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 13, 2014. Kansas won 77-70. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

How much did Marcus Smart’s three-game suspension affect OSU in the seedings for the NCAA Tournament? It’s impossible to know, because the NCAA basketball committee conducts things with a democratic process. One person, one vote.

Smart was suspended in February for three games after shoving Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr. Smart missed games at Texas, at Baylor and against OU in Stillwater. The Cowboys were blown out in Austin, lost in overtime in Waco and lost a last-minute Bedlam game. That raised OSU’s losing streak to seven and put the Cowboys’ NCAA hopes in serious jeopardy.

But since Smart’s return, OSU has gone 5-2, with the only two losses in overtime — at Iowa State and against Kansas in Kansas City. The Cyclones (third) and Jayhawks (second) were seeded high in the NCAA, so OSU’s post-suspension resume’ is very strong.

During the NCAA teleconference with committee chairman Ron Wellman on Sunday night, I asked how the Smart suspension played into OSU’s seeding, if at all.

“Well, yes, we talked about that,” said Wellman, athletic director at Wake Forest. “How individual committee members treated that and the emphasis they placed upon that, I don’t know. That’s the beauty of the committee. We have 10 members who treat this objectively for sure, but subjectively, too, because they have their own criteria of what to emphasize in certain cases.

“Marcus Smart was suspended for those three games and they lost all three games. But we also need to remember that Oklahoma State had lost four (straight) games, I believe it was, prior to that suspension.  So it was not only the factor of Marcus Smart but the way the team was playing at that particular time of the year.

“It appears they’ve recovered nicely and they’re very deserving of being in the tournament and the seed that they have received from the committee.”

OSU is a ninth seed and plays Gonzaga on Friday in San Diego in the first round of the West Regional. The winners almost surely gets top-seeded Arizona.

It was a solid seed for the Cowboys, who finished 8-10 in the Big 12. OSU is the first team in Big 12 history with a losing conference record to make the field.

In the past, I have not been a supporter of including teams in the field that had a losing conference record. That’s clearly a measure of support for the power conferences. The NCAA in general caters to the 6-7 power conferences (this year, the lines are murky on whether or not the American Conference should be included in that group).

But in a chaotic world in which it’s difficult to know the strength of teams because of a lack of interconference matchups, and in a world in which non-conference scheduling is left to individual schools and leagues, the very best indicator of a team’s strength is conference finish. That’s the part of the schedule that is regulated and required, by at least someone. Yet that’s given some haphazard treatment by committee members and always has been. I find that odd.

Of course, OSU could argue, and probably rightfully so, that it wouldn’t have finished below .500 if Smart had not been suspended. Even giving the Cowboys just one of the three games without Smart  would have risen OSU to 9-9. And it’s likely that OSU would have won both games, considering how they’ve played since his return.

We haven’t talked about it in weeks, but I still say the suspension was excessive. One game seemed plenty. Three games? Draconian.

But I digress. Back to the committee. The committee also plays god when it comes to injuries and suspensions. What would a team have done with a certain player? What will a team do without a certain player, like Kansas and injured center Joel Embiid? It’s crazy. Judge a team on what it’s done, not on what it would have done or what it might do.

Wellman was asked about Embiid and Kansas. Here’s his response: “Obviously, we can’t comment on Embiid’s medical condition. That’s up to Kansas to do that.  But we have been in close contact with Kansas, and they’ve been very transparent about what Embiid’s situation is and his possible availability.  They’ve made public statements about that, as well. Kansas has had one heck of a season.  They’re a No. 2 seed.  Certainly his injury was taken into consideration.  As I said earlier, injuries probably play more of a factor in the seeding of teams versus the selection of teams.  But we believe that Kansas, even without Embiid, if they don’t have him, is very deserving of a two seed with the season they have had. They have more top‑50 victories, more top‑100 victories than anyone on the board.  They also have nine losses, which probably kept them out of consideration for the No. 1 line.”

So there you have it. The political nature of college basketball — what, you thought football was the political game on college campuses? Not a chance — has affected this OSU season in a variety of ways.

 


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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