STILLWATER, Okla. — The final two weeks of college basketball's regular season could leave us with as much uncertainty as we had back in the first two.
The raucous court-storming scene that unfolded here after Oklahoma State knocked off sixth-ranked Kansas was one of many that marked a wild weekend in college basketball and set the stage for what promises to be a dizzying run-up to Selection Sunday on March 16.
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Among the notable outcomes: Michigan State, which had all of its players for the first time in nearly two months, took another step back in a home loss to Illinois. Kentucky, the nation's preseason top-ranked team, continued its regression with coach John Calipari being ejected from an inexplicable loss at South Carolina. And Virginia clinched its first outright Atlantic Coast Conference ACC title in 33 years by handing Syracuse its third loss in four games.
Today's new USA TODAY Sports coaches poll should see plenty of shake up after five of the top 10-ranked teams lost on Saturday. Eleven top-25 teams lost this weekend, eight to unranked teams.
And then there is Wichita State, which improved to 31-0 and became the first team since Saint Joseph's in 2004 to enter its conference tournament unbeaten. The Shockers, who made an improbable run to the Final Four last year, are a legitimate national championship favorite this season as a likely No. 1 seed.
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"If you asked me to pick one team (to win the national title), I don't think I could," SMU coach Larry Brown told USA TODAY Sports. "Maybe Wichita State. People are forgetting them. I don't care who you play. The fact that you have not had a bad night and gotten beat, it's pretty remarkable."
And what occurred here at Gallagher-Iba Arena late Saturday night was also remarkable. Oklahoma State's 72-65 victory against Kansas was not as surprising as was the fact that the result represented yet another pivotal turn for a Cowboys team that has had no shortage of drama this season.
Some so-called NCAA tournament bubble teams possess more impressive résumés. But perhaps none can match Oklahoma State (19-10, 7-9 Big 12) in sheer intrigue.
Historically, it is nearly impossible to suffer a seven-game losing streak during the regular season and still earn an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. But the Cowboys can put themselves in position to do so, likely by beating Kansas State at home Monday or Iowa State on the road in their regular-season finale. Even then, they would likely need at least one win in the Big 12 tournament.
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A team that entered the season with realistic Final Four aspirations saw its hopes take a hit when forward Michael Cobbins suffered a season-ending injury in late December. Then reserve freshman guard Stevie Clark was dismissed from the team. And Marcus Smart served a three-game suspension for shoving a Texas Tech fan on Feb. 8.
Smart's incident threatened to stain the reputation of a player who has been defined by character and poise throughout his relatively brief college career. Smart told USA TODAY Sports that frustration and self-imposed pressure built throughout this season, to such an extent where he had not enjoyed playing in a game since the Nov. 19 rout of Memphis.
But since his return, Smart has played well in three games – all Oklahoma State victories – and helped lead the second-half charge against Kansas on Saturday. Smart scored one point and missed all seven of his field goal attempts in the first half. He scored 20 points on 5 of 7 shooting from the floor in the second half.
"His plays, once he made one or two, I could see it coming," said Cowboys coach Travis Ford, whose team shot 63.6% from the field in the second half. "He gets in that mindset … He was pumped up for the game. He was probably a little over pumped up at times."
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For good reason. The crowd included Oklahoma City stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as well as coach Scott Brooks. And Kansas has won at least a share of the Big 12 in 10 straight seasons, including now the league's outright championship this season.
Kansas coach Bill Self believes Oklahoma State is "definitely a tournament team. They are too talented … They can get hot and make a serious run, there's no question."
After a topsy-turvy weekend that saw No. 4 Louisville, No. 5 Syracuse, No. 6 Kansas, No. 8 Saint Louis and No. 10 Creighton each lose, the same could be said of a lot of teams, but few as fascinating as Oklahoma State. As the crowd rushed the court and fans lifted guard Markel Brown in the air, Ford stood and absorbed the scene, yet another twist in a turbulent season.
When asked what he was thinking at that moment, Ford said: "There was a lot. I was just happy for the guys. Been through a lot."
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