STILLWATER — Oklahoma State, at 2-2, sits right in the middle of the Big 12 standings, lagging well behind 5-0 Kansas and looking down on 0-4 Texas Tech.
Yet the Cowboys aren't so much 2-2 with a bullet, but with an anvil, following Saturday's 41-point loss at Baylor and entering a nine-game stretch that features matchups with five ranked teams and five road games overall.
Consider, too, that OSU hasn't won a league road game since 2010, as they visit Iowa State Wednesday night (8 p.m., ESPNU) for Game 1 of this grueling run.
Cue the Travis Ford rally cry?
Ford's OSU teams have proven stubborn when counted out, rallying to make the NCAA Tournament in each of his first two seasons and loitering in the 68-team conversation much of last year, despite a 6-10 conference finish. So write them off at your own risk.
Still, do these Cowboys have something special in them?
“I think it's a time for all of us to stand up a little bit,” said Keiton Page, OSU's only senior and the one connection, along with Ford, to each of those recent resilient teams.
“I know how this team is; I know how these guys were feeling after the Baylor game. I don't have a doubt how they're going to respond.”
Ford also knows who this team is – a cast of eight available scholarship players that includes five freshmen, three of whom are starters. So these Cowboys are short on experience, with only Page and sophomore Markel Brown veterans of Big 12 play, but also short on size and shooters and effective rebounders.
For all the overachiever, little-guy competitiveness that drives Ford, he's not ready to predict any stirring run by his latest squad.
“Oh, I don't know,” Ford said. “I don't ever want to say you can't, at all. The ball's always thrown up and you've always got a chance.
“Our makeup is a little different than some of those (other) teams.”
Ford's first team, in 2008-09, was 3-6 in league play when Byron Eaton found himself as a point guard – at Ford's urging – and the Cowboys came together late, producing a six-game Big 12 winning streak that all but secured the program's first NCAA Tournament berth in four years. That team also had Terrell Harris, James Anderson and Obi Muonelo.
The following year, OSU stood 4-5 as losers of three straight in the Big 12, but responded with a three-game winning streak on its way to a 9-7 conference finish.
Oklahoma State at Iowa State
* When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
* Where: Hilton Coliseum, Ames
* Radio: KXXY 96.1 FM
* TV: ESPNU
THREE THINGS TO KNOW:
* In his second year as coach, Fred Hoiberg has overhauled the ISU roster with transfers, including four from Division I programs.
* Royce White, a transfer from Minnesota, is a 6-8, 270 point forward who leads the Cyclones in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocks. He'll even bring the ball up the floor, creating a major matchup problem for OSU.
* Tyrus McGee, a junior college transfer and ISU's sixth man, is from Stringtown.
Oklahoma State (9-8, 2-2);;;;;
Iowa State (12-5, 2-2);;;;;