With one team (Kansas, naturally) favored to finish on top of the Big 12 standings, the other nine teams figure to scramble to finish in the top half and hopefully earn an NCAA Tournament bid. There are several teams that could surprise, and Oklahoma State is on the dark horse list.
The Cowboys are coming off a 12-20 train wreck. Last season was derailed when coach Mike Boynton dismissed four players in a month’s time just as league play started. They finished the season with just seven healthy scholarship players. Still, they scrapped and lost six Big 12 games by six or fewer points.
All five starters return, and Boynton landed a top 20 recruiting class to help bolster the roster. How they develop will likely determine this season’s record.
I’m excited about the whole group,” said Boynton, who is in his third season. “How much they all will play as freshmen, I probably couldn’t tell you until we get into the season. And once we get to Big 12 play, it’s a different story. I’m excited about the whole group.”
Top 3 story lines
Trials by fire. The player dismissals and the limited roster became a positive as point guard Isaac Likelele and center Yor Anei were thrown into deep water as freshmen. Both swam well. The 6-foot-10 Anei finished seventh nationally in blocked shots and his raw offensive skills are improving. Liklele was impressive playing for USA Basketball last summer.
Flowing Waters. A 6-foot-6 senior guard, Lindy Waters should wind up as a first-team All-Big 12 selection. All he needs to take the next step is to score consistently. Last season he averaged 12.8 points per game and made nearly 45 percent from 3-point range. Waters has improved each of his three seasons so it’s not unreasonable to expect him to average 18 to 20 per game.
Toeing the line. Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in 3-point shooting percentage last season. Even with the line moving back, the three should still be a major weapon. Jonathan Laurent, a 6-foot-6 grad transfer from UMass, made 46.7 percent of his threes last season.
Number to know
If Oklahoma State fails to make the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season, it will be the longest such streak since 2006-2008. That stretch came after the Cowboys played in eight consecutive NCAAs.
Reasons to hope
The Cowboys have something rare – three talented seniors who have spent their careers in the program. Waters, McGriff and Dziagwa were around for the school’s last NCAA Tournament appearance and should provide leadership for the newcomers.
Reasons to doubt
Oklahoma State has a challenging nonconference schedule, which could help the freshmen get prepared for Big 12 play. But if the youngsters struggle early, gaining confidence in the 18 rock fights also known as conference games won’t be easy.
KenPom.com preseason rank: 40.
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