Tip: 8 PM | TV: ESPN
Texas needed a second-half comeback to secure its first conference win on Saturday night, and now just two days later they are looking for their first road win in the Big 12. The Longhorns travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma tonight to take on the Cowboys of Oklahoma State in a game televised as a part of ESPN’s Big Monday.
Gallagher-Iba Arena is a tough place for any team to play, and it has been hard for the Horns to find a win there in recent history. Texas has lost on four out of its last five trips to the deafening arena, including losses by the Final Four and Elite Eight squads. Personally, I’ve been to Stillwater three times and have yet to see a win. For purely selfish reasons, a win tonight would be huge.
The Cowboys provide a difficult match-up for the Longhorns, however. Texas has struggled with perimeter defense all season, and the Pokes are addicted to the longball. They are currently on pace to set a school record for three-pointers attempted, as nearly 40% of the shots they take come from behind the arc. If the Longhorns don’t lock down the perimeter, this game could get very ugly in a hurry.
By the numbers
Oklahoma State has had an up-and-down year, coming into this one on a two-game slide. The Pokes play a fairly quick style of basketball with over 70 possessions per game, which is definitely the kind of game that Texas likes. As long as Texas executes and doesn’t give up a ton of open looks, this plays into the favor of the visiting Longhorns.
The Cowboys have been very good defensively, but it is hard to tell if that’s a result of beating up on teams like Rogers State and East Tennessee State, or if they are a genuinely strong team. Again, the bi-polar nature of the club makes it hard to get a definitive read on the Pokes, but they are definitely a speedy team and they love the pressure defense. The only downside to this for Sean Sutton is that sometimes his young, quick players will over-pursue and find themselves out of position on defense.
Offensively, Oklahoma State is a slightly above average team. The thing holding them back is an inability to control the basketball, as they are averaging 17 turnovers a game. Ken Pomeroy’s stats show that the Pokes have turned the ball over on more than 20% of their possessions in all but five of their games this season.
This team doesn’t look quite like Sean Sutton had expected, as JamesOn Curry left early for the NBA and Jai Lucas decided to go to Florida after initially committing to play in Stillwater. Despite that, this fairly young team still has an exciting bunch of playmakers that should be earning more wins than they are.
Freshman James Anderson is leading all scorers, although he struggled against Iowa State on Saturday. Anderson sprained his ankle late in the loss to Baylor, so one has to wonder if his poor play this weekend was a result of the lingering effects of that injury. He has incredible range and can absolutely fill it up from behind the arc. Even if he’s beyond NBA range, he can knock it down without blinking. At 6’6″, he could have a really good night against the short Texas guards, but even if he’s matched up with a taller Longhorn, he still has a quick enough release to pop one in somebody’s eye.
Terrel Harris is taking a bigger role in the offense this year, and he’s responding quite well. The junior guard can also sink the three and he’s averaging 1.27 points per shot. He’s quick with the ball and is going to require a solid defender to try to neutralize him. Once again, his height creates a problem, though. At 6’5″, he’s pretty tall for Justin Mason to defend, and the Longhorn big men won’t be able to keep up with him. One thing that could level the playing field are his poor handles, as he’s turning the ball over nearly four times a game.
Inside, the big man for the Cowboys is Marcus Dove. Yes, you read that correctly. Marcus Dove is now being relied upon as the inside scorer. But unlike the last three seasons, he’s not a complete stiff with the ball this year. Dove has added some post moves — he loves to try to spin off the dribble — and is averaging nearly eleven points per game. His shot still needs some work though, so he’s taking a lot of shots each game to get his points. Oh, and he’s still a kickass defender. Damion James will have a long night if Sutton matches these two up.
Little fat boy Byron Eaton still runs the point for Oklahoma State, and he’s still doing a serviceable job. Eaton is averaging just shy of ten points per game and gets the transition game going for the Pokes with his quick hands. The guard leads the team in steals, so D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams need to take care of the ball up top.
Ibrahima Thomas is a lanky forward for the Pokes and although he’s still a bit raw, he’s an exciting guy to watch. He’s a 6’11″ beanpole from Senegal that plays with a ton of energy, but it often gets him into trouble. He’s picking up fouls at a pace of about one every five minutes, and oftentimes he misses easy shots that he shouldn’t because he’s rushing things. If he adds some weight and keeps working at it, I think Thomas is going to be a pretty solid forward by the time his four years are through.
Much like Colorado, Oklahoma State sticks with a core group of seven or eight players and their bench doesn’t provide much help beyond Obi Muonelo. The lanky guard can score from just about anywhere on the floor, but he prefers the mid- and long-range jumpers. Like the other Oklahoma State guards, Muonelo’s height is going to cause match-up problems for Texas.
Further down the bench, freshman Martavius Adams gives some minutes down low, but he really struggles to post up and hardly ever scores. Guard Nick Sidorakis can run the point when Eaton needs a breather, but he lacks the scoring threat that Little Fat Boy provides. Tyler Hatch is still on the team for some reason, still sucks, and still looks like Mr. Peepers.
What to look for
Obviously the number one concern for Texas in this one is to lock down the perimeter. Although the 10-7 record can be misleading, the Pokes have a ton of talent and can light it up from long range. The Horns also need to force turnovers and get transition buckets. Nothing will take the rowdy Gallagher-Iba crowd out of it faster than Damion James throwing down a monster dunk on the break.
This is definitely a game that Texas can lose, but hopefully the Horns can build some momentum in conference play by grabbing a win on the road. And for my own peace of mind, I hope they finally get over the hump in this nightmare of a gym.