Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list) & ESPN Full Court
No time for a full-fledged game preview this afternoon — especially with the intriguing Texas A&M/Missouri tilt on TV at the same time — so here’s your quick and dirty look at a struggling Oklahoma Sooner squad.
(Sorry, kiddos. This time it isn’t a picture book.)
By the numbers
The Sooners are having a hard time scoring, but it’s not because they aren’t shooting the basketball well. Their effective field goal percentage, which gives extra weight to three-pointers, is a solid 53.5%, good enough for a top-forty national mark. Unfortunately, it’s the other three-quarters of Dean Oliver’s “four factors” that Oklahoma struggles with.
The Sooners cough it up on 22.8% of their possessions, a mark so bad that it puts the team 276th nationally out of 345 Division I teams. When they manage to hang on to the basketball and happen to miss a shot, the Sooners are only reclaiming the ball 29.4% of the time. That percentage is good for 269th in the country. And as far as manufacturing their points? The Sooners have the 292nd-highest free-throw rate in the country, meaning that they simply don’t know how to get to the line.
Defensively, their effective field goal percentage is an ugly 51.1%. That number is inflated by the fact that their three-point defense is simply atrocious. Opponents are hitting 37.2% of their long-range attempts so far this year, a mark that is 272nd in the country. With the way that Jordan Hamilton, J’Covan Brown, and Cory Joseph have been knocking down threes in the last month, that could be very, very bad news for Oklahoma.
Meet the Sooners
While Tuesday night’s “meet the opponent” section was full of familiar faces on the Texas Tech roster, Jeff Capel and the Sooners are victims of roster overhaul. With nine new players on the team, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Sooners were still wearing nametags at practice.
Cade Davis is the team’s lone senior leader, and his 9.9 points per game in 2009-10 was tops for returning Sooners. Long known as simply a three-point marksman, Davis has added a wrinkle to his game by learning to attack off the dribble. He’s hitting 39.6% of his threes so far this year, but now can blow by defenders who decide to play him too tightly.
Leading the team in scoring is sophomore Andrew Fitzgerald, who showed flashes of brilliance last season, but spent much of the year in the shadows of Tiny Gallon. This year, Fitzgerald has started every game and is averaging 13.5 points per night. He’s occassionaly had difficulty making point-blank looks inside, but the Sooners feed him the ball often enough that he still scores in bunches.
The only other Sooner to start every game is freshman Cameron Clark, a really athletic wingman who crashes the glass hard and can score from just about anywhere. He’s chipping in 9.3 points per game this year, but has come on strong in recent weeks. In his last four games, Clark is averaging a lofty 15.8 points.
Sophomore transfer Carl Blair is the team’s only true point guard, so he’s being called on to eat up a lot of minutes this year. Although it took him awhile to crack the starting rotation, this University of New Orleans transfer played 38 minutes in each of the first two Big 12 games. If the Longhorns can manage to get Blair into foul trouble, there’s really no other solid ballhandlers to take over at the point for Coach Capel.
Joining Blair in the backcourt is Steven Pledger, a three-point bomber who has knocked down 38.6% of his attempts so far this year. He’s 6-for-11 from long range in conference play, including an eye-popping 5-for-10 performance at Baylor on Tuesday night. The Sooners are fairly overmatched in this game, but if Pledger gets hot from behind the arc, things could get dicey for the Horns.
The only other Sooners who see consistent minutes are newcomers Nick Thompson and Calvin Newell. Thompson is a tough match-up, because although he’s a 6’9″ guy who is being used inside, he’s also a heck of an interior passer and can step out to knock down a three. To capitalize on that three-point threat, the Sooners love to run Thompson out high for ball screens, taking a big defender out of the paint while leaving Thompson available for the pick-and-pop.
Newell, meanwhile, checks in about eight inches shorter. He’s a really shifty guard with a lightning-quick first step, but he prefers to facilitate the offense once he blows by the defense and drives the lane. He certainly has a sweet shot, but prefers to use it off the pass.
Keys to the game
As previously mentioned, this should be a one-sided affair. Vegas has pegged the Longhorns as 19.5-point favorites, while stat guru Ken Pomeroy gives the Sooners just a 3% chance to win on the road this afternoon.
To get the dominating win all Texas fans are expecting, though, the Longhorns need to chase shooters off the perimeter, forcing the offense to go through Fitzgerald. Yes, he’s leading the team in scoring, but he also has the tendency to miss shots he shouldn’t. Against a much-stronger rebounding team like the Longhorns, that should lead to a lot of one-and-done possessions.
Of course, that doesn’t work well unless the Longhorns dominate the glass. Oklahoma is barely posting a positive rebounding margin per game, while the Longhorns have looked very strong on the glass so far. Repeat the dominating rebounding performance from Tuesday night, and Texas should cruise to another early conference victory.
Finally, the Texas offense can’t become stagnant. Oklahoma is using a matchup-zone this season, courtesy of assistant coach Bryan Goodman, who brought the look from his time on the Bucknell bench. The Longhorns have shown the tendency to stall out against zones, and simply can’t afford to do that against a less-talented Oklahoma team. The Longhorns can also avoid this problem by pushing in transition and beating the defense down the floor, especially off of the frequent Sooner turnovers.
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