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Oklahoma State Cowboys Banned from 2021 NCAA Tournament; Will Cade Cunningham Leave?

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in College Basketball

Updated Mar 18, 2021 · 1:17 PM PDT

Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham calling a play dribbling up the court during a game.
Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham (2) during of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in Stillwater, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
  • Oklahoma State has been banned from postseason tournament play in 2021 due to NCAA infractions by former associate head coach Lamont Evans
  • Cade Cunningham, the #1 recruit in the country, has signed an LOI with the Cowboys; will he stay in Stillwater?
  • The Cowboys closed at odds of +800 to make the Final Four before being taken off the board

The 2020-21 Oklahoma State Cowboys are being punished for the sins of a former assistant. Lamont Evans, a recruiting coordinator and assistant from 2016-18, admitted to accepting thousands of dollars in  bribes in return for steering Cowboy players to certain financial advisers. He pled guilty to bribery in Jan. 2019.

Friday, the NCAA finally handed down its punishment. The program will be on probation for the next three seasons and, more significantly, will not be allowed to participate in any postseason tournament in 2021. The school is appealing the decision.

OK State was heading into this season with its highest expectations since the Marcus Smart/Markel Brown years. With #1-ranked recruit Cade Cunningham joining Isaac Likekele and Yor Anei, the Cowboys were at a reasonable +800 in the 2021 Final Four odds, ahead of teams like Arizona, Dayton, Purdue, and UConn.

2021 Final Four Odds

Team Odds
Gonzaga +123
Villanova +143
Baylor +145
Virginia +175
Kentucky +223
Creighton +225
Kansas +250
Duke +263
Iowa +288
Wisconsin +313
Florida State +370
West Virginia +475
San Diego State +513
Oregon +538
Tennessee +538
Ohio State +575
Michigan State +600
North Carolina +600
Oklahoma State +800*

*Indicates odds as of June 4th. OK State is no longer listed due to postseason ban.  

Now, obviously, the team is no longer listed in the Final Four futures or the National Championship odds. This obviously stings for everyone in Stillwater, but the pain could grow in the coming days.

Almost immediately after the NCAA’s announcement, rumors started circulating about Cunningham potentially de-committing from OK State.

YouTube video

Cunningham is a sure-fire one-and-done who will be in the NBA in October 2021. This year was his only realistic opportunity to play in March Madness. That will undoubtedly tempt him to play elsewhere, but just how tempting will it be? There is no reliable public information on how important the NCAA Tournament is to the 6’7 guard out of Arlington, TX.

As 247Sports reminded everyone today, Cunningham’s brother is on staff at Oklahoma State. Family connections may outweigh chasing a title.

If Cunningham does choose to play elsewhere, there is no guarantee he chooses another college. The G-League route has become more profitable and several high-profile recruits have played overseas for a year after high school recently (Terrance Ferguson, RJ Hampton, Emmanuel Mudiay, etc.).

However, if you are a bettor looking to potentially capitalize on recent events, the one team you will want to look at is Kentucky. The “crystal ball” at 247 had Kentucky second in the race to land Cunningham, sitting at 24.5% before he made his announcement.

John Calipari still has two of his 13 scholarships available and UK is a veritable lock to, not just make the NCAA Tournament, but play multiple games on college basketball’s biggest stage.

In ten (full) seasons under Calipari, UK has made the tournament nine times. They have won at least one game in all nine of those tournaments. They have reached at least the Sweet 16 in seven.

If Cunningham’s biggest motivation is to play in March Madness, he is likely to end up in Wildcat blue. But it’s also unlikely that March is his only focus.

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