It's crunch time. With only seven games left in conference play, it's time for the OSU basketball team to turn it up a notch. This is the part of the season that Travis Ford excels in. Each of his first two years at OSU there were questions of whether or not the team would make the NCAA tournament after playing average to sub par ball for the first 2/3 of the schedule. Each of those years the team responded by going on clutch runs. Two years ago, OSU finished the last seven games with a 6-1 record. Last year, they finished 5-2 in their last seven games including a win over top ranked Kansas.
Both years OSU made the NCAA tournament because they turned up the intensity level down the stretch. This year, the Cowboys must do the same if they want to receive an invite to the Big Dance. Can they do it? Click the jump for the keys.
Matt Pilgrim, It's Your Turn
The squad has been hit hard by the suspension of Darrell Williams. Coming off back to back great games, this seems like the worst time to lose the starting big man. But where one has fallen, another must step up. That has to be Matt Pilgrim. His play all season has ranged from head scratching to fantastic. Just when he does something great, he follows it up with a bone headed mistake. With Williams' suspension, there is no longer room for the latter. Pilgrim must live up to his ability. We saw flashes late last season and we've seen more throughout this season. But for these final seven games, we need to see excellence from Matt on an every game basis. How he steps up will be key.
Find Your Outside Game
Calling all three point shooters--Keiton Page, Ray Penn, Markel Brown, and Jean-Paul Olukemi--I hope you've been saving your long range stroke for the final stretch because your team is going to need it. Currently, OSU shoots an abysmal 29% from beyond the arc--worst in the Big 12. The shooters need to do better than that if they want to win four or five of these next seven games. Whether they are struggling to getting open looks or simply just clanking bricks, Page and company need to figure out a way to get the ball in the hoop.
Stay Aggressive on Offense, Play Smart on Defense
This is becoming a broken record but OSU needs to find a way to continue to get to the free throw line without sending their opponent there as well. This is more important than ever with one less big man in rotation. The Pokes' interior cannot afford to get into foul trouble. Otherwise, Coach Ford will be forced to play Jarred Shaw and Roger Franklin much more than he would like to. At the same time, OSU must continue to get to the free throw line as they have in the last two games. It is one of the most important keys to slowing down and/or killing any momentum an opponent may have. On top of that, it is an easy source of offense when the shots aren't falling.
Make Them Pay in Transition
This team is loaded with athletes that can run. If I were Coach Ford, I would be running transition basket drills all day long for the remainder of the season. Both Olukemi and Brown are terrific slashers that can create contact going to the hoop. With either of them drawing attention in transition from defenders, Page can spot up behind the arc while Moses and Pilgrim can fly into the paint and finish strong. That is a recipe for easy buckets, free throw attempts, or both. Both Penn and Page must push the ball upcourt whenever they have the opportunity. Whether that be a steal, a long rebound, or beating a full court press, OSU must take advantage of catching their opponent on their heels.
This season is still fully in OSU's hands. They are not out of it by a long shot. The last two years have proven that if the focus and determination are there, Coach Ford's team can accomplish their goals. The right players need to step up and make plays on both ends of the court. If they can do that, the Pokes will defy the odds and go dancing once more.