STILLWATER – For the first time in more than five years Sunday, the Cowboys will play with a national ranking attached to them.
Better yet, the schedule sets up for Oklahoma State to maintain Top 25 status, even enhance it, with seven of the next eight games inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. And until a New Year's Eve showdown with No. 17 Gonzaga, the Cowboys should be regular favorites.
So, who's on board for the return of ranked basketball at OSU?
“It means a lot to us,” sophomore forward Le'Bryan Nash said of the No. 20 ranking, “but it means even more to our fans. We need them to come to our games and see that we're a winning team and to support us. We need that right now, especially with all the home games we've got. We need a packed house, especially for the big games.
“Right now we're showing the fans that we're a winning team and we'd like to see them pack the house.”
Opportunity starts with Sunday's meeting with Portland State, which enters at 1-2. The Cowboys play at Virginia Tech for the only remaining road game in non-conference play Saturday, before closing the first semester with six straight home games.
OSU, 4-0, earned its Top 25 status — its first since the week of Feb. 12, 2007 — with a 3-0 run through the Puerto Rico Tip-Off that featured a rout of then-No. 6 North Carolina State.
As much as the status spike, the Cowboys seemed to gain chemistry and confidence and momentum with each game in the tournament.
“It should give your team confidence,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “You don't want to be overconfident. We're not trying to be great right now.
“You're going to try to win every game, no question. We're glad we won the tournament. We're glad we won some big games. But our goal is not to be great in November or December. We've got to, as we continue to preach to our guys, be very humble with some of the early success and understand.
“How you handle success is just as important as you handle failure and how you handle adversity. It's just as important.”
To push the point, Ford and his staff used the N.C. State game as a teaching tool. And not the game's finer moments, either.
“We've watched 45 minutes worth of film against N.C. State as far as things that we could do better,” Ford said. “There's a lot of room for improvement. But I am proud of the effort.”
That effort was most apparent on the defensive end, with the Cowboys holding its three tournament foes to 30.7 percent shooting (56-of-182) from the floor and creating 35 turnovers.
Consider it another sign of growth for a Cowboys team coming off a season when the Lob Stilly movement provided the only positive perceptions.
“We start with defense,” Nash said. “When you play defense first, you win a lot of games.
We stress it a lot. All you have to do on the offensive end is put the ball in the basket. And we've got too many scorers on the team not to do that.”