Back in the summer, when Oklahoma State's basketball schedule crystallized, Travis Ford appreciated a challenging nonconference run for what figured to be a young and talented team.
“Back then,” Ford said, “It was, ‘This team needs to be thrown to the wolves.'”
The wolves are circling.
With the Cowboys still struggling to secure an identity, Ford now carries second thoughts with his team about to embark on a five-game trek that won't find them back inside Gallagher-Iba Arena until New Year's Eve. Even then, OSU's final nonconference opponent will be Virginia Tech, a team that has beaten the Cowboys once already.
“Geez,” Ford said. “Be careful what you wish for. That's my fault.”
The next three weeks could prove revealing for the Pokes, beginning with a testy road game at Missouri State Wednesday night. The Bears are 4-2, yet return Missouri Valley Player of the Year Kyle Weems from a 26-win, NIT team of a year ago.
From there, OSU's schedule includes a game against No. 15 Pittsburgh in Madison Square Garden, Mountain West favorite New Mexico in the All-College Classic, No. 16 Alabama in Birmingham and SMU in Dallas.
“I feel that we're ready for it,” said freshman forward Michael Cobbins. “There are things that we've gotta critique for ourselves, you know, cutting down turnovers, doing a better job on the defensive end, and just keep getting better.
“That's all it is. It's just a mindset.”
Cobbins touched on just a few of the pressing issues confronting the Cowboys, who have yet to put together a complete performance in a 5-2 start that includes home wins over Texas-San Antonio and Tulsa that required late rallies just to survive.
*Rebounding. With little bulk beyond 6-11 center Philip Jurick, the Cowboys haven't responded to Ford's call to collectively hit the boards.
*Consistency. Whether it's freshman phenom Le'Bryan Nash or junior Jéan-Paul Olukemi, OSU needs to be able to count on regular production from one, if not both. So far, it hasn't happened.
*On-floor chemistry. With a rotation that can stretch 10 deep, Ford has been mixing and matching lineups in an effort to find the right fits. That hasn't helped with flow on the offensive end.
“In my staff meeting (Sunday), I was talking to my coaches and I told them we have got to find the right people for the right places,” Ford said. “I like all of our players, and it is difficult getting everybody time. It is a challenge.
“We're asking certain guys to play different positions, and I'm really starting to see the effects of them not understanding different positions, right now. It's something we have to work on.”
And the immediate work must come away from Gallagher-Iba, where the Cowboys are 0-2 this season after going 6-12 outside Stillwater a year ago.
And the wolves are circling.
“There's no air. There's no breathing room,” Ford said. “In June and July it didn't look that bad. I look at it now and it's, ‘This is actually what we're doing? This is what we have to do?'
“It could be good. It could be bad. That's why these guys came here. And that's what I told them.”
at Missouri State
When: 8:05 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: JQH Arena, Springfield, Mo.
TV: ESPNU (Cox 253)
Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
Three things to know
The Bears have lost two straight, falling at Oral Roberts and at New Mexico in the past week.
OSU is 6-0 all-time against Missouri State, including an 84-70 win over the Bears in Stillwater a year ago.
The Bears are led by center Caleb Patterson, who starred at Ringwood High and started his career at Colorado.
Oklahoma State (5-2)
Pos., Player, Ht., Cl., Pts., Reb.
F, Jéan-Paul Olukemi, , 6-6, Jr., 8.6, 5.0
C, Philip Jurick, 6-11, Jr., 2.4, 6.7
G, Cezar Guerrero, 6-0, Fr., 9.9, 1.9
G, Keiton Page, 5-9, Sr., 11.5, 1.5*
G, Markel Brown, 6-3, So., 12.0, 6.9
Missouri State (4-2)
Pos., Player, Ht., Cl., Pts., Reb.
F, Kyle Weems, 6-6, Sr., 12.5, 6.7
F, Isaiah Rhine, 6-10, Sr., 2.3, 1.5
C, Caleb Patterson, 6-11, Sr., 13.7, 3.8
G, Nathan Scheer, 6-4, So., 4.2, 2.0
G, Michael Bizoukas, 6-1, Sr., 7.2, 5.3*