The reasons behind such swings of momentum are hard to support with concrete evidence, but the corner Oklahoma State has turned since Jan. 18 has been nothing less than astounding.
That’s when Kansas State (17-10, 6-8 Big 12) knocked off the Cowboys (18-9, 7-7) in Stillwater, Oklahoma to the tune of 96-88. The loss was Oklahoma State’s sixth in a row, a harrowing sign for a Cowboy club teeming with potential.
But Oklahoma State responded to the loss and promptly rattled off five straight wins before finally dropping a road tilt with then-No. 6 Baylor Feb. 8. But again the Cowboys responded, this time with three straight wins, a streak that stands today.
In total, the Cowboys have won eight of their last nine, and K-State will try to curb a blisteringly hot Oklahoma State team when the Wildcats and Cowboys square off 8 p.m. Wednesday night in Manhattan on ESPNU.
If it’s at all encouraging to K-State, the Wildcats will also enter fresh off a win, if only one. K-State edged Texas on Saturday, a 64-61 road win made possible by forward D.J. Johnson’s last-second and-1 tip-in.
The win snapped a three-game skid for the Wildcats, whose remaining regular-season slate includes games only against teams in the bottom half of the Big 12 — an ostensibly encouraging sign for K-State fans, but the Cowboys are unquestionably the best among the Wildcats’ remaining foes.
For that, in large part, Oklahoma State has a pair of guards to thank. Jawun Evans and Jeffrey Carroll, who check in at second and third respectively in the Big 12 scoring rankings, have been hard to cool down amid their team’s winning streak. Evans has scored in double figures — including a 27-spot against Oklahoma on Saturday — in the Cowboys’ last eight games, and Carroll has notched double figures in 13 of Oklahoma State’s last 14 contests.
Add the return of Cowboy coach Brad Underwood, who coached at K-State from 2006-2012, to Bramlage Coliseum in the mix, and Wednesday night’s match-up becomes all the more intriguing.
But a close tilt is far from guaranteed for K-State. The Wildcats, once reliant on feeling nearly invincible in what continues to be billed as the “Octagon of Doom” — one wonders if that remains a fair nickname — have been nothing of the kind in Manhattan of late. K-State has posted a paltry 3-4 Big 12 home record this season.
It’s a record perhaps emblematic of the Wildcats’ season as a whole — perplexing. They’ve knocked off then-No. 7 West Virginia at home and dethroned then-No. 2 Baylor on the road, but they’ve also dropped a road contest with Texas Tech and a home game against TCU.
K-State has been difficult to figure out this season, but the good news for the Wildcats is that two of their best players seem to be healed from injuries. After missing most of his team’s loss to Iowa State last Wednesday with a sprained ankle, Johnson played — well, at that — in K-State’s win over Texas.
Guard Kamau Stokes, who K-State coach Bruce Weber said underwent a small toe procedure to play against Iowa State, played his usual starting role in both the Iowa State and Texas games.
The duo makes up a healthy portion of the Wildcats’ starting lineup, and with senior Wesley Iwundu continuing to record consistent numbers — he hasn’t failed to score in double figures since Jan. 14 — and K-State’s friendly remaining schedule, the Wildcats look to have their work laid out for them to make a push for the NCAA Tournament.
First things first, though — for the Wildcats, that’s Oklahoma State.