Accurately sizing up the stakes of Oklahoma State's clash with Gonzaga proves difficult.
Much-anticipated game, for sure.
“I think we've already proven that we're an OK basketball team,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “It's more of trying to beat a really good basketball team. We're not bad. And I think they're great.
“So I don't look at it as a statement game, I look at it as an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country and see where we're at.”
Ford offers necessary perspective amid the natural temptation to be overly dramatic with the biggest non-conference game inside Gallagher-Iba Arena in decades.
It's a big game, matching two Top 25 teams, yet hardly the most important game in the Cowboys' season, with Big 12 play on deck.
Still, the spotlight is on. And the national media, the fans and, yes, the players know it.
So the spotlight's at stake, for sure.
Leave it to a freshman to offer perhaps the best take:
“Over the past couple of years, Oklahoma State basketball has been down the drain,” said Cowboys point guard Marcus Smart. “This is a game that can really establish things.”
Establish legitimacy — to outsiders and a fan base apparently needing reason to hop on the bandwagon.
“It'll be a big game for us, a statement game, and one to prepare us going into the Big 12,” said OSU forward Michael Cobbins.
“It'll be a great test for our team, to see where we're at and how the rest of our season could go.”
The Zags have already mowed through four Big 12 teams, recently adding Baylor to a list of conquests that also includes Kansas State, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
The Bulldogs are big, presenting matchup concerns for the Cowboys and anybody else they face. And they're clearly good, already at 12-1 in a nonconference grind that represents the beef of their schedule, with the West Coast Conference a relative breather after what they've been through.
“I've enjoyed watching them on film,” Ford said. “They pass the ball extremely well. They play aggressive defense. They've got incredible size. Not a lot of weaknesses on this basketball team.
“They're a team that come March, don't be surprised if they're in the Final Four. Don't be surprised at all. They're that good.”
At this point, despite early wins over Tennessee and then-No. 6 North Carolina State, we don't yet know how good are the Cowboys. Or how good they can become.
A recent five-game run of routs over forgettable foes has left us all seeking another checkpoint.
“I hate games like that, six games where you're just coasting,” said Cowboys forward Le'Bryan Nash. “But it was good for us. It's good to get wins. And now we're ready.
“And my team looks ready.”
Ford, for all his measured words, is ready, too.
This Gonzaga game represents many potential things for these Cowboys: a barometer, a résumé builder, a wake-up-the-echoes of Gallagher-Iba siren.
“Gonzaga's a great team,” Smart said. “They're great enough to play in the Big 12 — they've got the size they physicality, everything. So this could be a great launching pad for us to get ready for the Big 12. This is preparing us for the Big 12, this game right here.
“And this is a big opportunity for us to show that OSU basketball is back. I can't wait.”