Selection Sunday came and went and the Oklahoma State Cowboys did not hear their name when the field of 68 was announced. The Cowboys finished the 2022-2023 season at 18-15 with an 8-10 conference record and were placed firmly “on the bubble” by most bracketologists with most of them having the Cowboys as the 1st team OUT. Sure enough, their predictions were right and Oklahoma State was listed as the 1st team OUT of the tournament field. But that does not mean that the season is a total loss for the Cowboys as they were able to earn a bid and a #1 seed into the next best thing…the NIT (National Invitational Tournament).
The NIT every season is filled with power 5 teams that just missed getting into the dance as well as mid-major teams that won their conferences regular season title that ultimately failed to win the conference tournament. Tomorrow night’s 1st round matchup will feature one team from each side of the coin in that regard as the OSU Cowboys will take on the Youngstown State Penguins.
The Cowboys come into tomorrow’s content scuffling a bit as they finished the regular season losing 6 of their last 8 games including a 5 game losing streak that took place the last 2 weeks of February. Their only wins in that period were against Texas Tech and Oklahoma…the 2 worst teams in the Big 12 this season. And the glaring thing, that probably had a lot to do with the Cowboys missing the tournament, is Cowboys inability to score the last 2 games. OSU managed just 57 points in the Big 12 1st round win against OU and just 47 points in their losing effort to #7 Texas in the Quarterfinals. If OSU wants to make a deep run in the NIT, they’re going to have to wake up their offense because those numbers aren’t going to get the job done…especially against a this Youngstown State team.
Youngstown State comes the NIT as the regular season champions of the Horizon League as they finished the year at 15-5 in conference and 24-9 overall. Unfortunately, the Penguins were unable to get the job done in the Horizon League Tournament as they fell in the Semifinal to the eventual champion Northern Kentucky (who will play in the NCAA Tournament as a 16-seed and will face #1 Houston on Thursday night). That loss in the conference tournament all but solidified their spot into the NIT field as one of the regular season champs who couldn’t get it done in the conference tournament. And don’t let the mascot name fool you…this Penguin team comes into the NIT as a very dangerous team! Youngstown State averaged a whopping 82 points per game this season and there are just 2 instances this season where they scored fewer than 70 points (both were losses)! Dwayne Cohill is the Penguins leading scorer as he averaged 17.8 PPG this season and averaged 51.3% shooting from the field and 43.2% from 3-point range. Cohill was named to the 1st team All-Horizon League and for good reason. Cohill was not the only person to make an All-Horizon League team. Brandon Rush (14 PPG) and Adrian Nelson (13.6 PPG) were named to the 3rd team All-Horizon League, John Lovelance Jr. was named to the All-Freshman team in the Horizon League, and head coach Jerrod Calhoun was named the conference coach of the year! This Penguins team is loaded from top to bottom with talent and guys who can score when they need them to.
While it may not be the same as the NCAA Tournament, this Youngstown State team will come into tomorrow night’s game fired up they weren’t able to get the job done in the Horizon League Tournament and will look to send a message and make a deep run in the NIT. OSU will have the advantage in tomorrow night’s game in that the game will be played in Stillwater…but that may be one of their only advantages. This has the potential to be one of the best 1st round games in this year’s NIT and if the Cowboys aren’t careful, they could be going home early. If the Cowboys are unable to wake up their offense, there might be little their stellar defense can do to get the #1 seeded Cowboys into the 2nd round of the NIT.