The last time Oklahoma State was in the NCAA Tournament was in 2005, thanks to the outstanding senior class of John Lucas, Daniel Bobik, Terrance Crawford, Stephen and Joey Graham, and Ivan McFarlin, along with freshman guard JamesOn Curry. This team made it to the Sweet 16, the only time Curry made it to the big dance.
The year before, the Cowboys, led by the same core of players, had senior Tony Allen, who was the defensive stopper and a great slasher who opened up for the floor for his shooters. This team made it to the Final Four after a clutch cold-blooded three by Lucas in the closing seconds against then-No. 1 seed Saint Joseph's.
Speculation was the Cowboys should be able to continue their appearances to the tournament with the explosive Curry, defensive stopper Marcus Dove, and the defensive post presence and rebounding of David Monds and Aaron Pettway.
Along with signing extremely talented junior college prospects Mario Boggan, Torre Johnson, and Jamaal Brown, the Cowboys also signed an extremely talented freshman class headlined by McDonald's All-American Byron Eaton. Terrel Harris, Roderick Fleming, and Kenny Cooper joined Eaton, so the slip in the Big XII standings was only supposed to be slight because of chemistry.
The season didn't turn out the way fans thought it might or even hoped that it might. The young Cowboys finished 17-16 with a 6-10 conference record, while only three players averaged double figures: Boggan led the team (14.8 ppg), Curry was second (13.5 ppg), and Johnson third (10.1 ppg). Eaton (7.8 ppg) and Harris (4.5 ppg) showed glimpses of promise but didn't live up to the hype. Year one of the Eaton/Harris era ended with a first round defeat in the NIT against Miami.
Sophomore year came quick for the duo after Fleming transferred because of lack of playing time. Eaton and Harris helped the Cowboys get off to a fast start, being ranked as high as 15th in the nation with a record of 15-1. Boggan (19.0 ppg) and Curry (17.3 ppg) once again led the team in scoring, with Harris and freshman Obi Muonelo averaging 10 points apiece.
But after one of the most memorable games in college basketball history (a triple overtime win over perennial superstar freshman Kevin Durant), the Cowboys collapsed, as some of the upperclassmen became head cases in the locker room. They finished with a 22-13 record but once again only had six wins in conference play. Once again they lost in the first round of the NIT at home.
With Boggan and Monds graduating and Curry leaving early for the NBA Draft, the scoring load for Eaton, Harris, and returning sophomore Muonelo increased dramatically as a large portion of their offense was gone.
Luckily another McDonald's All-American joined them, freshman James Anderson, as well as junior college transfers Anthony Brown and Brad Garrett and freshmen Nick Sidorakis, Ibrahima Thomas, Marshall Moses, and Martavius Adams. However, with the departure of their main post presence Kenny Cooper, the Cowboy interior looked thin once again.
Despite the offense from Anderson (13.3 ppg), the junior campaign of Eaton and Harris was once again a lackluster one. Eaton finally managed to break the double-figure mark scoring wise (11.5 ppg), and Harris stayed around the same as the previous season (10.5 ppg) as they finished 17-16 and 7-9 in conference play, highlighted by a huge win against the soon to be NCAA Champion Kansas Jayhawks and a first round NIT exit.
Now in their senior year, Eaton and Harris have helped lead the Cowboys to a 17-9 record and 6-6 in conference play. Playing one of the toughest schedules in college basketball, these two underachieving seniors could finally be reaching their potential on the college stage as they make a large push for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Led by Anderson in scoring (18.0 ppg), Eaton (14.8 ppg), Harris (14.7 ppg), and Muonelo (13.9) are not far behind under first year head coach Travis Ford's high-octane offense.
With four regular season games left before the conference tournament, Eaton and Harris have a slim margin of error to help get the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament. This is their chance to finally live up to expectations their senior year, to go out on top; that way everyone will remember them. They may not make it past the first or second round, but just by making it, they have finally done what nobody thought they could or even would do.
These underachievers have a chance to prove every critic wrong, and now is their chance. Four games left—can they pull it off? It's crunch time, and their backs are against the wall. It's time to find out what Harris and Eaton are made of.