Dallas - A fine city.
They love their Cowboys here, just not their Oklahoma State Cowboys, as evidenced by all those comfortable chairs remaining empty throughout OSU's Thursday night victory over Iowa State, 79-70, at American Airlines Center.
The Big 12 Conference tournament moves to Oklahoma City next March, which is good news. The buzz that's lacking here will return. Though no such announcement has been made, the conference plans to hold its 2008 tourney in the Kansas City Sprint Center, scheduled for completion in 2007, which is even better news.
The lifeless feel to the home of the Dallas Mavericks during the opening-round games should give way to a far more jazzy environment with the University of Texas playing this afternoon and the huge Dallas-based alumni support for Kansas University tonight, but it still won't feel as if the town is excited to be serving as host for this non-football, non-Mark Cuban event. Cuban's antics have made the Mavericks a hit, but college basketball, at least not at the conference-tourney level, doesn't stoke the passion.
Part of the blame for the opening-round blues could be attributed to a fact driven home by the quality of play, which is that the Big 12 is nearing the end of a down season.
The best team to play Thursday was Oklahoma State, KU's opponent tonight, and even at that the Cowboys went longer than six minutes without a field goal in the second half, committed 14 second-half turnovers and generally lacks steady guard play.
The poor quality of the league, relative to most years, looms as a cause for concern for teams coming out of Big 12 play and into the NCAA Tournament. That's why it's fortunate for the Jayhawks, in a way, that if they are going to win the Big 12, they're going to have to defeat the three teams most capable of giving them a hard time in order to do it: Oklahoma State tonight, Oklahoma (if it defeats Nebraska) Saturday and Texas (if it survives Texas Tech and the winner of today's Colorado/Texas A&M showdown) on Sunday.
The Cowboys are no pushover. They drilled Texas by 21 points on ABC, and at Oklahoma, with an ESPN audience tuning in, only lost, 67-66, because a zebra swallowed his whistle on a blatant, late travel by the Sooners' Kevin Bookout.
For the Jayhawks, the Cowboys are a tougher out now than Colorado or Texas A&M. Mario Boggan, a 6-foot-7 junior-college transfer, is a quick wide-body with soft hands and a soft touch from the field (59 percent) and the line (82 percent). Torre Johnson, an active, fast 6-foot-6 junior, made the most of his 23 minutes with 20 points and five rebounds against Iowa State.
David Monds (eight points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes), an active 6-foot-8 inside player, and offensively challenged 6-foot-9 Marcus Dove, who is so quick and such a versatile defender he gave Brandon Rush trouble in the Feb. 13 game at Gallagher-Iba Arena, a 64-49 KU victory, provide depth.
The Jayhawks have plenty of motivation to play well here. Coach Bill Self is on the record as saying he thinks his team's NCAA seeding could vary as much as from third to seventh, based on its performance in the tourney.