(right) was effective for Oklahoma State in his return from a three-game suspension. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)
The last time Oklahoma State played Texas Tech, the Cowboys hit the nadir of their disappointing season, thanks in large part to Marcus Smart's altercation with a fan that led to a three-game suspension. Perhaps, then, it was fitting that Smart's first game back came in the return matchup with the Red Raiders on Saturday. It's safe to say this is a game Smart and the Cowboys will remember much more fondly.
Smart had 16 points, 10 assists and six steals, leading Oklahoma State to an easy 84-62 victory. The win won't do much in terms of the Cowboys' tournament hopes. They put themselves squarely on the bubble after a seven-game losing streak, the first four of which came with Smart on the floor. What it does do, though, is give them their first win in nearly a full month and set them up for a home stretch that could very well determine if they go dancin, or stumble into the NIT.
Oklahoma State is now 40th in RPI and 33rd on kenpom.com. It owns wins over Memphis, full-strength Colorado and Texas, and has just one loss to a team outside the top 50 in RPI. Chances are that if the selection committee were meeting this weekend, the Cowboys would land in the bracket. That, of course, is not the case, and Oklahoma State's remaining schedule gives it a chance to prove that it at least resembles the team that entered the season as a national championship contender. Three of its last four games are against teams that are locked into the field of 68.
On March 1, the Cowboys host Kansas. Two days later, Kansas State comes to Stillwater. The Cowboys then end the season by traveling to Ames to take on the Cyclones
. If they can manage to go 2-1 in those games, they'd be 5-10 against top-50 RPI teams heading into the Big 12 conference tournament. While it's too early to project whom they might face in the tournament -- they would have to play in one of two first-round games if they finish in the bottom four -- they'll certainly draw Kansas, Texas, Iowa State or Oklahoma in their first meaningful game. This is a team that looks like it's just two strong wins away from getting itself to March Madness. With four likely chances to get those two wins, they'll need the Smart that showed up on Saturday if they are going to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.