Opinion: Cade Cunningham’s performance in Cowboys’ OT win shows why he’ll be No. 1 pick in NBA draft

No need to manufacture any drama about who’s going to be the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. It’s going to be Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, who is not only the most talented prospect in his class but one who came to college determined to produce and lift a program, not just run out the clock until he becomes a multi-millionaire. 

The notion of an elite freshman dragging a team to a deep NCAA Tournament run has gone out of style in college basketball the past few years. But after Cunningham’s 40-point, 11-rebound performance Saturday to lift the No. 21 Cowboys to a 94-90 overtime win at No. 8 Oklahoma, it would be wise to make a special note on Selection Sunday of where Oklahoma State lands in the bracket. 

That’s not because the Cowboys have a great roster — they don’t. But is Cunningham good enough to knock off a couple higher seeded teams and carry Oklahoma State to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005? There’s no doubt it could happen — assuming the NCAA doesn’t interfere over the next couple weeks. 

Out of all the schools who were caught up in the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption that became public in 2017, Oklahoma State was the first to receive its penalty last June 5. The most significant part of that punishment was a postseason ban, which seemed pretty harsh because Lamont Evans, the former assistant coach who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, spent only one year at Oklahoma State and was fired immediately when the charges became public. 

But the penalty was doubly harsh because Oklahoma State had the No. 1 ranked recruit in Cunningham on the way, and suddenly there was doubt about whether he’d show up on campus. 

But Cunningham, whose brother Cannen was hired as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State in 2019, came anyway. Meanwhile, the school appealed the penalty, which meant until the NCAA’s infractions appeals committee weighed in, the Cowboys would be eligible for the 2021 tournament. 

So far, the NCAA hasn’t said another word about the case. Which means unless that happens in the next 15 days, Cunningham will play in the Big Dance after all. And thank goodness for that, because if Saturday was a preview of what to expect when there’s a lot on the line, he could truly end up engineering a special tournament run. 

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