Mediocre Cowboys now play the waiting game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — John-Michael Wright doesn’t know this feeling. He’s new to the House of Lords. New to one of these power conferences in which mediocrity is a hall pass to the NCAA Tournament.
That’s not the way it works in the House of Commons. When Wright’s High Point University teams lost in the Big South Tournament each of the previous three years — 69-59 to South Carolina-Upstate, 83-54 and 68-51 to Winthrop — Wright knew there was no bubble. The Panthers were done.
“Honestly, I haven’t been in this position before,” Wright said in a quiet OSU locker room after the Cowboys lost 61-47 to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals Thursday night. “This is all new to me.”
Call it the Waiting Game. One, two, in the case of the Cowboys three excruciating days, waiting for the NCAA selection committee to punch March Madness tickets.
OSU is the ultimate bubble team; 1815 overall, seventh place in the Big 12, in a year when Big 12 basketball is a bowling ball of butcher knives. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Cowboys in his projected field of 68; CBS’ Jerry Palm has the Cowboys out.
Nobody knows. Everybody cares. So we all wait, knowing deep inside that these Cowboys don’t deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.
Don’t misunderstand. All those other bubble teams jostling with the Cowboys? The Penn State/Rutgers/Arizona State/North Carolina crowd? They don’t deserve to be in, either.
Mediocre résumés. Mediocre records. Mediocre teams. That’s what the NCAA power structure wants, with its expanded 68-team bracket and selection process that caters to the power conferences. Ultimate opportunity for the well-resourced schools.
So I’ll be pulling for the Cowboys to get in, in part because they won’t be taking the place of a Utah State or Nevada. They’ll be taking the place of one of those dull Big Ten teams.
“I hope the committee gives us grace,” Wright said. “We are just going to sit, wait and be patient for our name to be called on Sunday.”
Grace is what OSU needs after another paltry offensive performance: 47 points, 27 percent shooting, more turnovers (20) than baskets (14). The Cowboys were weary from their Bedlam game Wednesday night in T-Mobile Center. Even when rested, they often are the ultimate grit-and-grinders, with the grinding part our teeth while watching this team try to score.
Losing to Texas actually might help with OSU’s NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) ranking — told you the system is stacked against the commoners — but that 61-47 score was a little one-sided. The committee might grimace.
The good news is, there were so many relevant games televised opposite OSUTexas, the committee couldn’t focus solely on Kansas City. Xavier-DePaul, Penn State-Illinois, North Carolina-Virginia, Auburn-Arkansas. Lots of interesting games with 6 p.m. tipoffs.
“It’s kind of out of our hands,” OSU’s Bryce Thompson said. “I feel like we did what we could. Obviously, we didn’t take care of business tonight, but overall, I think we gave ourselves a chance. So now it’s just in their hands.”
Yes, Big 12 basketball this season is like trying to survive Jurassic Park. But when monsters are all around, beheading one or two is optimal. Instead, OSU went 0-9 against the top four in the league. And that after an unimpressive non-conference performance, with losses to Central Florida and Southern Illinois, the latter at home.
Mike Boynton can only hope that sweeps of Iowa State(!), Texas Tech and OU, plus wins over Texas Christian and West Virginia, turn committee heads.
And the point guard from High Point hopes he gets the chance to experience March Madness.
“It would be a big deal,” Wright said. “I’ve been in college for four years and I’ve never been. It’s obviously something I’ve wanted to experience.
“Just wanting to be in that environment, playing against other teams from different leagues. The whole tournament feel is something I love and I’m not ready for it to end.”
Take cheer, Mister Wright. You’re now in the House of Lords. The system is set up in your favor. And if the Cowboys don’t make it, they have only themselves to blame.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.