Already scuffling to form an identity, the Cowboys face a revealing stretch of games — five of six away from home — before Big 12 play opens on Jan. 4:
Wednesday: at Missouri State (4-2). The Bears won 26 games a year ago, finishing atop the Missouri Valley regular season standings, before a conference tournament upset cost them an NCAA bid. Only one starter returns, although it's a good one — conference Player of the Year Kyle Weems.
Saturday: vs. No. 15 Pitt (8-1), at Madison Square Garden. The Panthers' only loss came to No. 3 Syracuse. Senior guard Ashton Gibbs is an All-American candidate on a team that reloaded following a Big East championship run that landed it a No. 1 NCAA seed. Khem Birch, a 6-9 freshman forward, was rated the nation's No. 2 recruit.
Dec. 17: vs. New Mexico (6-2), Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Lobos, picked to win the Mountain West with four starters returning from a 22-13 squad, have been up and down so far. Still, they do own a neutral floor win over Boston College and a win at Arizona State, along with a home victory over Missouri State.
Dec. 21: vs. No. 16 Alabama (7-1), in Birmingham. The Cowboys beat the Crimson Tide a year ago in the All-College, thus the neutral-court rematch. Anyone for a football doubleheader? This Tide team returns three All-SEC players that added a stellar recruiting class.
Dec. 28: vs. SMU (5-3), American Airlines Center, Dallas. The Mustangs won 20 games a year ago, but are rebuilding. There's little height and the Mustangs don't shoot it or score well.
Dec. 31: Virginia Tech (5-3). The Hokies beat OSU last year and again this season in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals in Madison Square Garden, 59-57. Tech has since lost two of three, including a 69-61 verdict to Kansas State. Back home, the Cowboys will want this one.