Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:28PM

Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-7 overall, 4-6 Big 12) at #19/19 Texas Longhorns (18-5, 7-3)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -4.5 | KenPom: Texas, 77-75 (59%)

By 2 P.M. on Saturday, it was clear that the Texas Longhorns were having an awful day. The team looked good on its first two possessions in a road game against Kansas State, but the wheels came off quickly after. Texas dug itself a quick hole against a hot-shooting Wildcat team, as KSU freshman Marcus Foster lit up the scoreboard and repeatedly crushed the Longhorns’ hopes any time they showed signs of life. When all was said and done, K-State whipped the Longhorns by a 75-57 count, ending a seven-game Texas winning streak.

Although Texas had an awful Saturday, it wasn’t the worst in the conference. If you haven’t been sleeping in a cave for the last 72 hours, you’ve seen exactly what happened — Marcus Smart, frustrated by his team’s losing streak and impending defeat at Texas Tech, took offense to heckling by a mouthy Red Raider fan. Having just fallen in front of the baseline stands, he popped up like there was Flubber on his ass, spun around, and shoved now-infamous superfan Jeff Orr as the man tried to stammer a last-second apology.

Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and social media, the event was analyzed to death within hours. But while pundits and Twitter experts focused on Smart, his draft stock, fan and player safety, and even how the event represented the decay of modern society, the one thing most often overlooked was how dire the situation at Oklahoma State had become. With the Cowboys already on a four-game losing streak, Smart was handed a three-game suspension, leaving coach Travis Ford without a leader and cutting even further into his short bench.

On February 3rd, the Cowboys had finally dismissed backup point guard Stevie Clark after his second brush with the law. The freshman had previously been suspended twice — for his first arrest and for another violation of team standards. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, sources said that Clark’s first suspension was related to marijuana, the same drug he was allegedly found with during his January legal tangle.

Prior to that, an injury to Michael Cobbins gutted the OSU frontcourt, forcing them to go small just before Big 12 play began. The team’s rebounding numbers, which were already pretty poor, suffered even more. The team has reclaimed just 27% of their own missed shots in league games, while allowing opponents to win back 32.1% of their own.

Although Texas will be without forward Jonathan Holmes in the frontcourt, the Horns still enjoy a sizable advantage inside. Factor in Oklahoma State’s lack of a true point guard, and it seems like Texas should easily win the matchup. But the Cowboys are still very talented, and very desperate. There’s some sort of quote about being cautious around an injured animal that would likely work here, but I don’t know it and don’t feel like looking it up. It probably goes something like, “A wounded tiger is most dangerous because Phil Forte can make 13 threes in one half.” I feel like that’s wrong, but you get the idea.

For a quick look at some of the best players still left on the Oklahoma State roster (and some stuff about that Smart dude, too), click on over to LRT’s preview of the first meeting between these two teams this season.

Keys to the game

1) Dominate the paint – The Longhorns did a fantastic job cleaning the glass in the first meeting with Oklahoma State, and they need to do the same thing tonight. They also need to feed the post early and often, not only to exploit their advantage inside, but also in an effort to get Kamari Murphy and Le’Bryan Nash on the bench in foul trouble. There is a massive dropoff in talent when OSU has to plug in frontcourt reserves, which generally means that Coach Ford just goes even smaller with the lineup. If Texas can commit to playing this game in the paint, another big home win should be in the books.

2) Extend defensive pressure – When Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State on Big Monday two weeks ago, Smart spent much of the game on the bench due to foul trouble. At the time, the Cowboys still had Clark as a point guard option, but he also had his playing time limited by fouls. That left Phil Forte to run the point for extended stretches, and the sharpshooter looked like a deer in the headlights when the Sooners rolled out full-court pressure and rushed ballscreens on the perimeter. OSU turned the ball over and frequently settled for jump shots, so if Texas utilizes the same approach tonight, the Cowboys could find it tough to get on the scoreboard.

3) Settle down in the backcourt – The Longhorn guards had an especially tough time against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, repeatedly turning it over. Isaiah Taylor had one of his worst outings on the year, and although Demarcus Holland had some nice assists to pick up the slack, the Longhorn offense still suffered. Taylor and Javan Felix need to play with composure tonight, as Markel Brown and Brian Wiliams still provide a ton of length for OSU’s defense on the perimeter. The Texas guards should still be their natural, aggressive selves, but have to avoid making mistakes against a very talented defense.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 6:34PM

Texas Longhorns (11-3 overall, 0-1 Big 12) at #11/12 Oklahoma State Cowboys (12-2, 0-1)
Gallagher-Iba Arena | Stillwater, OK | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU

The Longhorns suffered a frustrating loss at the hands of their biggest rivals on Saturday night, dropping their Big 12 opener to Oklahoma. Texas was already going to have a hard time reaching .500 in conference play, and in turn getting to the magical 20-win plateau, especially in such a deep league. Losing a home game against another mid-tier team makes those goals even tougher for Texas to achieve, and it means that an extra win is going to have to be picked off on the road at some point.

Tonight’s road game in Stillwater would not be a prime opportunity to earn that win back. Although Oklahoma State is coming off a loss in its own conference opener, the team is one of the top candidates to win the 2014 league crown. With a loaded, athletic lineup that can score in bunches and play stifling defense, the Cowboys will be tough to beat anywhere, much less at home. Add in the fact that Oklahoma State desperately wants to avoid an 0-2 start in conference, and the Longhorns clearly have their work cut out for them tonight.

Players to watch

Marcus Smart (No. 33) – If you’ve watched any college basketball in the last two seasons, you know who Smart is. A natural leader with a ton of talents, Smart brings some size and strength to the point guard role at 6’4″ and 220 pounds. He can guard multiple positions, has quick hands on defense, and is easily able to get to the rack. Excellent court vision helps him set up his athletic teammates all over the court, and solid body control allows Smart to make some highlight buckets on very difficult looks.

Smart also has range beyond the perimeter, but he needs to demonstrate better shot selection. Far too often, he forces shots with a defender in his face, and not at all in the flow of the offense. For a guy who was a surefire NBA lottery pick last year, you can’t help but feel that he’s trying to prove to scouts that he has a skill which really isn’t in his toolkit. At just a 31.5% success rate from beyond the arc, Smart needs to only shoot the three when he’s open and when it’s in rhythm.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Smart’s foul situation tonight. The sophomore still has a tendency to pick up silly fouls that limit his playing time, which could be a major concern tonight if Stevie Clark is still unavailable. Clark was suspended for four games in late November and was also arrested last Wednesday for marijuana possession. He was not officially suspended a second time for that arrest, but was held out of the loss to Kansas State on Saturday. The Cowboys have a short bench, so if their backup point guard is still out of action, Smart cannot afford to be whistled for careless fouls.

Markel Brown (No. 22) – Although Smart gets all the press, Brown is one of the nation’s best scorers. He also is a great shot blocker at the guard position, having swatted nearly 100 shots in his career. Brown really elevates for his smooth jumper, and he consistently knocks down 17-footers coming off of curls and pindown screens. Although Oklahoma State often works to get him free without the ball, he can also easily create his own looks with the rock in his hand, making him a very difficult cover. With Clark’s availability in question, Brown can also be relied upon to run the point when Smart is out of the game, but he’s at his best playing off the ball, keeping the defense busy fighting through OSU’s constant screening action.

Le’Bryan Nash (No. 2) – Nash came to Stillwater as a highly-touted prospect on the wing, but really struggled living up to his hype as a freshman. Although he’s an athletic guy with great slashing ability, Nash would hang out near the perimeter far too often, content with putting up long jumpers. Last year, Nash began to evolve as a sophomore, attacking the basket with more regularity. This year, he’s now consistently using his driving ability to get to the rack, not only piling up points, but also racking up fouls against the defenders unlucky enough to get tasked with containing him.

The best defensive gameplan I’ve seen against Nash this year came from Colorado, which used primarily a man-to-man defense. Although they allowed Nash to be matched up one-on-one on the perimeter, help defense immediately doubled him when he put the ball on the floor, exposing his weakness as a passer. Nash’s size is going to be a problem for the Longhorns to contain, as they lack a true wing and will naturally give up a few inches at that position. A similar approach utilizing aggressive doubling could help to negate that advantage for Nash and OSU.

Phil Forte (No. 13) – Friends with Smart since the fourth grade, Forte was recruited to Oklahoma State to fill the role of departing sharpshooter Keiton Page. Forte has played that part beautifully, sinking nearly 49% of his three-point attempts this season. Oklahoma State has so many good scoring options available on the floor at once that opponents often lose track of Forte and give him open looks. With Texas coming off a game in which the Sooners went 13-for-28 from long range, one would think that the Horns will pay close attention to the perimeter. If they don’t, Forte could try to challenge OU’s three-point numbers all by himself.

Keys to the game

1) Attack the basket – With Oklahoma State now down to a rotation of just six players — or seven, if Clark plays — foul trouble could quickly put the Cowboys in a pickle. They have a lot of length on the perimeter and interchangeable players who can switch most screens, so simple dribble penetration could be difficult. The Longhorns can’t be frustrated by a solid Oklahoma State defense early and simply give up on attacking with the bounce.

2) Play inside out – If the Horns have a hard time attacking the gaps in the OSU defense, they hopefully can get things going by exploiting their size inside. Now that big man Michael Cobbins (No. 20) is out for the year, the Cowboys have a very thin frontcourt and are giving up some defensive skill by having to increase the role for Kamari Murphy (No. 21). Against Kansas State, OSU’s solution was a lot of doubling in the post.

Texas bigs have had some problems against double-teams this season, including their last game against Oklahoma. Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert, and Prince Ibeh need to be confident with the ball and make quick passes when the defense collapses, while the guards need to be filling that vacated space and cutting to the hoop. This also offers a great opportunity for Damarcus Croaker to be a deadly role player if he spots up in the short corner for kickout opportunities.

3) Clean up the glass – That size advantage also offers a great opportunity for Texas to earn second-chance points with a strong showing on the glass. However, the Cowboys do get solid rebounding from their guards and wings, so the Longhorn backcourt has to do its part in finding bodies to box out. Rebounding will also be key on the defensive end for Texas, as Oklahoma State is such a good shooting team that the Horns cannot afford to give them second chances when they do actually miss.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:08PM

Texas Longhorns (13-15 overall, 5-10 Big 12) at #15/18 Oklahoma State Cowboys (21-6, 11-4)
Gallagher-Iba Arena | Stillwater, OK | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #249

Although it has been more than 10 weeks since the Texas Longhorns have put together a winning streak, the team still enters this afternoon’s showdown with Oklahoma State riding some momentum. Thanks to a furious 22-point comeback in the final eight minutes, Texas stormed back against rival Oklahoma on Wednesday night, eventually earning a 92-86 victory in overtime.

The emotional comeback rejuvenated a team that looked to be sleepwalking on defense for the first 30 minutes, and it energized the bench in a way seen only a few times in this disastrous season. The victory also gave the team some confidence as it heads down the home stretch of the season, although it’s possible Coach Rick Barnes may have been a bit too caught up in the moment. “I don’t think there’s a team in the country that wants to play Texas,” he told reporters after the game.

While the proud coach may have overstated things, it’s undeniable that the Longhorns have looked like a different team since the return of Myck Kabongo. The team has slashed its turnover rate since his return, and the Horns’ two best offensive efficiency marks of the season have come in the last three games. Although Texas still doesn’t knock down its shots with consistency, there is more fluidity to the offense on most possessions.

Markel Brown and OSU are still in the Big 12 title hunt
(Photo credit: David Smith/Associated Press)

Even with the improvements on offense, it’s hard to believe that Texas is somehow still in a position to avoid the first round of the Big 12 tournament and a potential quarterfinal matchup with the league’s first or second-place team. Although the odds are slim, the Longhorns could still grab the 6-seed in the Big 12 tourney by winning out, if Baylor loses to Kansas State and Kansas on the final two Saturdays of the season. To summarize and thus avoid getting into the minutiae of tiebreaking principles, the Longhorns would be slotted ahead of the Bears thanks to wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma.

Of course, the biggest hurdle in that scenario is Texas earning a very tough road win today. Oklahoma State is in the midst of its best season in nearly a decade, and historic Gallagher-Iba Arena is once again filling up and providing an intimidating home-court advantage. The Cowboys have lost just twice at home this year — by a combined two points — and the second of those losses took two overtimes to sort out. It’s safe to say that it will be a stiff challenge for the young Horns this afternoon, but at least there’s actually still something besides pride that this team can play for.

Meet the Cowboys

For an in-depth look at the Oklahoma State roster, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

The first match-up

In the final game without point guard Myck Kabongo, the Longhorns struggled to put the ball in the basket and never really challenged Oklahoma State in a 72-59 loss, the first OSU victory at the Erwin Center since 2004. Texas made only one of its 18 three-point attempts, the worst percentage ever by a Longhorn team, with the minimum qualification of at least 10 tries. Coming into the game, Oklahoma State opponents had made 34% of their shots from behind the arc.

Although the Longhorns actually bested their season average in the turnover department, the team still struggled to get any offensive flow thanks to numerous miscues by point guard Javan Felix. The freshman coughed it up eight times on the afternoon, while only logging one assist.

It was fellow freshmen Demarcus Holland and Ioannis Papapetrou who kept Texas in the game, combining for 28 points on 41.6% shooting. Unfortunately, the pair was also responsible for eight of the 17 three-point misses for Texas on the afternoon. Holland’s performance against Oklahoma State elevated him into the starting lineup days later against Iowa State, a role he has held for the last five games.

All-everything guard Marcus Smart (No. 33) led the way for Oklahoma State, pouring in 23 points to make up for seven turnovers. He was a strong 3-for-6 from long range, despite hitting just 27.7% of his three-point attempts prior to that game. OSU also enjoyed a solid performance from Le’Bryan Nash (No. 2), who had been consistently inconsistent all season. The 6’7″ sophomore snagged nine rebounds, a marked improvement in an area where he had been repeatedly under-performing.

It wasn’t only Nash who hit the glass hard, as Oklahoma State dominated the rebounding battle. The Cowboys reclaimed more than 41% of their missed shots, and they turned those extended possessions into an extra 14 points. On the other end of the floor, the Longhorns could only corral 25.6% of their misses against the long, athletic Cowboy roster. With struggles on the glass and struggles from the field, Texas was fortunate to limit the final margin to only 13 points.

Since then…

The victory over Texas was the fifth consecutive win for Oklahoma State, and it kept them just a game out of first place. The Pokes would then reel off two more, including a thrilling overtime win against in-state rival Oklahoma, which set up a monumental showdown with Kansas for first place.

Earlier in the year, Oklahoma State had ended the Jayhawks’ 33-game home winning streak, becoming just the second visiting team in 104 games to leave Phog Allen Fieldhouse with a win. When Smart punctuated the upset by doing a flashy backflip across the court, KU fans and players circled February 20th on the calendar, looking forward to the chance for revenge. The stage was only made bigger by the fact that both teams entered the game at 9-3 in Big 12 play and were squaring off for first place.

It would take two overtimes to decide the game, and a slew of whistles in the extra periods sucked much of the excitement out of an otherwise epic battle. Kansas made only one field goal in the two overtimes, but that one hoop would prove to be the difference. A jumper from Naadir Tharpe just inside the free throw line put Kansas ahead with 16.5 seconds left, and Markel Brown’s turnaround attempt from the perimeter drew iron in the final seconds.

The loss put the Cowboys just a game back of Kansas and Kansas State, but they have kept pace with the league leaders over the last week. Oklahoma State gets one more crack at the Wildcats when they host KSU in the season finale, but the team will still need outside help to catch up with Kansas. The Jayhawks have home games remaining against West Virginia and Texas Tech, but close out the year at Baylor. Although anything can happen, the schedule certainly seems to favor KU.

Le’Bryan Nash is coming off a career night
(Photo credit: Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

If Oklahoma State is going to run the table and finish 14-4 in league play, a big reason could be the emergence of Nash. The sophomore was a McDonald’s All-American, but never lived up to the hype in his freshman campaign. This year, he ceded the leadership role to Smart, but still was struggling to produce consistently. Nash often failed to play good defense, took poor position on rebounds, and liked to hang out on the perimeter, despite a three-point percentage hovering around the Mendoza line.

There is hope that the light has finally clicked on for Nash, however. In Wednesday night’s game against TCU, the sophomore was aggressive from the opening tip. He posted up and exploited his size advantage when mismatches arose. When facing bigger players who lacked foot speed, he would face up and drive to the rim. It all added up to a career high for Nash, who scored 28 and ripped down six boards in front of his family and friends who made the trip to Fort Worth from Dallas.

If Nash continues to give that kind of effort, the Cowboys will be very difficult to slow down the rest of the year. Of course, Nash’s sudden surge is not the only new wrinkle that opponents will now have to worry about. Guard Brian Williams (No. 4) is seeing even more minutes as he works his way back from a broken wrist, giving Oklahoma State additional length on the perimeter and another lockdown defender.

That defensive presence isn’t all that Williams brings to the table. Although his perimeter D is what he’s best known for, Williams averaged more than 16 points in the last six games of 2011-12. After missing the first 18 games of this season due to that broken wrist, it will likely take the sophomore a little while to build back up to that dominant level. When he does, an already-talented Oklahoma State team is going to be even scarier.

Keys to the game

1) Knock down the threes – The perimeter is one area where Oklahoma State opponents actually find success, but Texas was completely useless behind the arc in the first game between these two teams. The Longhorns should easily be able to improve upon the 5.6% mark they posted in that game, but they will need to do much better this afternoon to keep themselves competitive in the rematch.

In the last three games, Texas has connected on 35.2% of its three-point attempts. While the season average for the Horns is still an ugly 28.8%, the numbers are at least trending in the right direction. Thanks to OSU’s great shot blocking skills and ability to turn back most dribble penetration, the Longhorns are going to have to knock down threes to win this game. If they can continue with their recent trend, the Horns will have a shot, but a repeat of their performance in the first game could make things ugly in a hurry.

2) Battle on the boards – Texas was dominated on the glass when the teams first played in Austin, but the Horns were without sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes. If the Horns hope to stay in the game this afternoon, they will have to drastically improve upon their 58.5% mark on the defensive glass, and will have to win more second chances on the other end of the court.

The Cowboys tend to go with a four-out look, and their forwards are incredibly springy and athletic. If Texas elects to play both Holmes and Connor Lammert at the same time, the pair will have to get a body on the very slippery OSU forwards when shots go up. The Longhorn guards will also have to be alert, as Smart rebounds incredibly well from the perimeter. The Longhorns cannot afford to get into a shootout with the Pokes, so they will have to close out their defensive possessions with strong boards and eliminate second chances for OSU.

3) Avoid perimeter turnovers – Smart has some of the quickest hands in the nation, posting the country’s ninth-best steal rate. The rest of OSU’s perimeter D has length that makes it very difficult to penetrate or even pass it around the arc. As Texas learned in the first game, controlling the ball can be very tough against the Cowboys. Having Kabongo available this time around will certainly make a difference, but Texas still has to be careful.

While it’s obvious that turnovers hurt the offense by wasting possessions, miscues on the perimeter are even more deadly when playing on the road. Guard-to-guard passes that are swiped are almost always turned into a fast-break bucket, while balls stripped from the hands of a guard usually produce the same result.

In front of a pumped-up crowd at one of the toughest road venues around, live-ball turnovers that lead to fast-break points will only whip the crowd into more of a frenzy and build momentum for the home team. Texas not only needs to limit its turnovers this afternoon, but also has to hope that any miscues are mostly of the dead-ball variety.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:32AM

#22/24 Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-5 overall, 6-3 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (10-12, 2-7)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 12:45 P.M. | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)
LRT Consecutive Game #243

The Big 12 conference race has reached the turn, and it is just as competitive as pundits predicted during the offseason. Only one game separates the league’s top four teams, with Oklahoma and Baylor sitting just a game behind that pack.

While the league was supposed to be a battle from spots one through eight, the Longhorns have failed to live up to those expectations. Texas is mired in a tie for eighth place with Texas Tech, a full two games behind West Virginia. The Longhorns have lost three league games in regulation by six points or less and another two in overtime, leaving the team wondering “What if?” as the season starts down the home stretch.

This afternoon, the Longhorns welcome an Oklahoma State team to the Erwin Center that finally has broken through on the road. The Cowboys had won just once in 22 Big 12 road games before pulling off the upset at Allen Fieldhouse last weekend, and now find themselves in the midst of a championship hunt.

Although Texas has knocked off Oklahoma State eight straight years in Austin, that streak is in danger this afternoon. Stat guru Ken Pomeroy gives the Longhorns a 31% chance to win the game, predicting a five-point margin of victory for the Pokes. However, if Texas can manage to pull off the upset at home, it could provide some momentum for the final four weeks of the season, as Myck Kabongo makes his long-awaited return on Wednesday night against Iowa State. That tussle with the Cyclones is the first of four home games Texas will play against the league’s top half down the stretch.

By the numbers

This year’s edition of the Cowboys is the most successful for Travis Ford during his five years in Stillwater, with the team posting great numbers on both sides of the ball. Oklahoma State has a stifling adjusted defensive efficiency that is ranked 10th in the nation, as the team allows opponents to score just 0.864 points per possession. Their offensive numbers are nearly as strong, with the Pokes scoring 1.076 adjusted points per possession, good enough for 55th out of 347 Division I teams.

Their defensive dominance is particularly impressive because they are sound in every area of Dean Oliver’s Four Factors. Oklahoma State’s defensive turnover rate of 22.6% is ranked 58th in the country, while the team also limits opponents to just 29.5% of their offensive rebounding chances. The Pokes also avoid sending their opponents to the line, with a free-throw rate of 31.9%, ranked 89th in the nation. Add in their defensive effective field goal percentage of 44.9%, ranked 43rd nationally, and it’s clear to see why opponents are having such a difficult time finding the net against OSU.

Oklahoma State’s forwards do a great job blocking shots inside, a big reason why the team’s defensive field goal percentage inside the arc is 16th-best in the nation. That’s also a big reason why Cowboy opponents are frequently forced to take shots from the perimeter. OSU opponents take more than 35% of their shots from beyond the arc, a distribution that is one of the 100 highest in D-I hoops. That’s also the only place that Oklahoma State opponents are finding much success, as 34% of those attempts have gone down on the year.

Meet the Cowboys

Freshman point guard Marcus Smart (No. 33) is the face of the program this year for Oklahoma State, and for good reason. Although he’s not a great shooter — only 27.7% from three and 40.2% overall — Smart is a natural leader who puts his teammates in a position to score and manages to make big shots when the pressure is on. As a part of Team USA’s U18 squad, Smart impressed coaches Mark Few and Billy Donovan, who called him the best leader they have worked with.

While Smart averages nearly 4.7 assists per game, he also makes a big difference on the defensive end, where his quick hands pester opposing guards and lead to easy transition points for Oklahoma State. He averages 2.9 steals per game, giving him the nation’s ninth-best steal rate at 5.3%.

The team’s leading scorer is Markel Brown (No. 22), a quick, exciting guard with incredible hops. Brown can put the ball on the floor to create his own shot or get to the rim, and has range to knock down jumpers all over the court. He can explode off the ground in an instant, which makes him good for a highlight-reel dunk or two per game, and that also makes him a very good shot blocker despite being just 6’3″.

Sophomore Le’Bryan Nash (No. 2) was the big freshman name on last year’s squad, but he struggled with the weight of carrying an entire team. This year, he’s not the best and only option for Oklahoma State, and he’s flourishing with a better supporting cast. Although Nash has a good jump shot, he has been too persistent in taking shots from behind the arc, where he’s made only 23.1% of his attempts this season. When he stays near the block to post up or tries to face up other forwards from about 12 to 15 feet, Nash is much more effective.

Senior Philip Jurick (No. 44) is the man in the middle, who is called upon mostly to rebound and score the occasional putback. He’s playing about 20 minutes per game, but still leads the team with more than seven rebounds per game. Jurick ranks in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, and his 6.6% block percentage also ranks 120th for D-I players.

Joining Jurick in the frontcourt is 6’8″ sophomore Michael Cobbins (No. 20), who is actually slightly better at blocking shots. Although Jurick and Cobbins both have swatted 23 shots this year, the sophomore has a block rate of 6.8%. Long and lean, he also has springy hops that make him an excellent defensive rebounder. Cobbins can also knock down hook shots around the paint, and favors the power dribble even though he doesn’t have the big body of a prototypical forward.

Freshman guard Phil Forte (No. 13) has been a lifelong friend and teammate of Smart, and now he’s a key bench contributor for OSU. For Texas fans who remember the historic performance by Keiton Page in last year’s game at Stillwater, Forte could provide some flashbacks. The freshman has an incredibly quick release on the catch and shoot, and has knocked down 36.6% of his threes on the season.

Forward Kamari Murphy (No. 21) is a 6’8″ freshman from Brooklyn who is playing solid minutes off the bench. Built in the same mold as Cobbins, he’s a high-motor guy who works hard on the glass and also has great natural instincts and timing for blocking shots.

Junior Kirby Gardner (No. 1) is a juco transfer from San Bernardino Valley who plays around 11 minutes per game in relief of Smart. He has a great feel for pace, and uses that to his advantage when running the pick and roll with Jurick or the other bigs.

The final member of the rotation is guard Brian Williams (No. 4), who is working his way back from a broken left wrist. After missing the first 18 games of the year due to that injury, Williams appeared against Iowa State and Baylor, logging a total of 14 minutes and six points. Although he is still getting reacquainted with game speed, having Williams back in the mix will be a big boost as the Big 12 race heads down the stretch.

Keys to the game

1) Knock down early threes – Oklahoma State’s defense can be very difficult to crack, as the length on the perimeter makes penetrating difficult, and the solid shot blockers inside add another layer of resistance. The one area where opponents have found success against the Cowboys is on the perimeter, so that means that the Longhorns will need big games from Ioannis Papapetrou (No. 33) and Julien Lewis (No. 14), the only real three-point threats for Texas this afternoon.

In Big 12 play, Papapetrou has made 46.2% of his shots behind the arc, while Lewis has struggled to an ugly 24.4% mark. Lewis has made more than 34% of his attempts on the season, so there is reason to be optimistic that he can break out of his slump sometime soon. If Texas can knock down some threes early, adjustments from the Oklahoma State defense will hopefully open up things a little bit inside the arc.

2) Avoid perimeter turnovers – That aforementioned length gives opposing guards a lot of trouble on the perimeter, while Smart’s quick hands are worth a few easy buckets for Oklahoma State in every game. Texas is still struggling to hang on to the basketball, so this is a very scary match-up for the Horns. If Texas can avoid wasting possessions and giving up fast breaks with dumb perimeter turnovers, they might stay within striking distance of an upset. If not, the Cowboys will likely enjoy their first two-game road winning streak since 2009.

3) Turn back dribble penetration – Oklahoma State is not a team that dumps it in to the standard big man and watches as he does his work. Although Nash has the ability to post up on the blocks, the Cowboys usually employ pick and rolls and dribble penetration to get defenses moving and earn easy looks in the paint. If the Longhorns can keep Smart and Brown from slicing up the defense on the bounce, the Cowboys will have to rely more on perimeter shooting from the likes of Forte. If Texas cannot slow down the OSU guards, the Cowboys could find points very easy to come by.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:51PM

Oklahoma State Cowboys 90, Texas Longhorns 78

Oklahoma State senior Keiton Page saved his best performance for last. In his first seven games against the Texas Longhorns, the Oklahoma native was held to just 36 total points on 8-of-40 shooting. The Cowboys were a dismal 1-6 against Texas in those games, losing by an average of 14.5 points. Page made up for all of that on Saturday afternoon, exploding for a career-high 40 points to power Oklahoma State to a 90-78 win over Texas at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Keiton Page finally got the best of a Rick Barnes defense
(Photo credit: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Longhorns, and marked a big step backwards for a team that was progressing towards the NCAA tournament. Although Texas remained in Joe Lunardi’s bracket following Saturday’s action, the team was the next-to-last squad in the field. With tough games still to come against Baylor and Kansas, a win over Oklahoma State would have allowed the Longhorns a little more wiggle room though the final two weeks of the season and the Big 12 Championship.

What looked good

Although the Longhorns were down by just three points midway through the second half, there was not much for Texas fans to get excited about. Myck Kabongo set a new career high with 22 points, but took himself out of the game for much of the first half with a pair of early fouls. When he was on the floor, Kabongo was able to get to the rim with ease, knocked down his open looks from outside, and kept the offense moving. If Texas is going to find any success in March, the freshman point guard has to stop picking up needless fouls that relegate him to the bench.

Without Kabongo on the floor for much of the first half, freshman Sheldon McClellan picked up the scoring slack. He was aggressive from the wings and showed good body control when elevating to knock down the floater. When McClellan plays with his instincts, he’s very hard to stop, as evidenced by his performance in this one.

While Sheldon could definitely earn his way back into the starting five by playing like this, it’s also tough to give up the defense that Julien Lewis provides. Against smaller teams, the Longhorns could shelve the two towers look and give McClellan the nod over Alexis Wangmene. Regardless of who is actually in the starting lineup, it’s reassuring for Texas fans to see someone besides Kabongo and J’Covan Brown willing to take control and get buckets.

Sterling Gibbs also made some nice offensive contributions while filling in for Kabongo. He knocked down a triple and scored three points the old-fashioned way on a quick drive to the hoop. He struggled defending Page, however, getting called for two fouls while trying to contain him off the ball. With Texas having been whistled for six fouls in the first four minutes of the game, those off-the-ball transgressions turned into four easy points for the Pokes.

What needed work

The foul trouble that kept Kabongo out of the game in the first half was a team-wide epidemic. Wangmene and Clint Chapman both found themselves saddled with two fouls in the first few minutes, forcing the Longhorns to go with a rotating frontcourt. As a result, Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond combined to play 43 minutes.

Keiton Page consistently earned his way to the line
(Photo credit: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

The Longhorn defense was especially undisciplined in this game, looking nothing like a team coached by Rick Barnes. Texas defenders consistently bit on shot fakes, leaving their feet and fouling jump shooters. Page ended up going to the line 20 times on the afternoon, and made Texas pay by sinking every single free throw. When the Longhorns weren’t giving away free points at the line, poor rotation led to numerous easy buckets inside.

On the other end of the court, the Horns scuttled their comeback bid with poorly-timed turnovers. Texas coughed it up on 21.3% of their possessions. In the first half, those miscues led to easy fast break points for Oklahoma State. In the second, the Horns were at least able to limit the damage from the turnovers, but those wasted possessions were crippling when trying to dig out of a 14-point hole.

The Longhorn comeback was also undermined by frustrating offensive rebounds that ruined good defense. On the afternoon, Texas actually did an incredible job on the defensive glass, limiting OSU to an offensive rebounding mark of just 21.7%. But late in the game, with the Longhorns needing big stops to stay in it, those critical defensive boards were often just out of reach. All five of Oklahoma State’s offensive rebounds came in the second half, extending Cowboy possessions and burning critical time that the Longhorns needed.

The big picture

Yesterday’s loss kills the momentum that Texas had been building over the last two weeks, and knocks the Horns further down the S-curve. There have been numerous losses by other bubble contenders over the last week, so the loss isn’t quite as damaging as it could be. Still, the struggles by other bubble teams mean that the Horns let a golden opportunity slip away. Instead of stepping further away from a very mediocre pack, the Horns are now once again fighting for elbow room with all of the other bubblers.

A win over Oklahoma State would have practically guaranteed a 20-win season, which would be quite impressive to the committee when you consider Texas’ strength of schedule. The Horns can still get there, but now will have to mix in an upset of Baylor or Kansas, or a win in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship. That quarterfinal game will be against either Baylor or Iowa State, so a win there will be a tough task.

Of course, if the Horns happen to trip up against Oklahoma in Austin or Texas Tech in Lubbock, all of this discussion is moot. The loss to the Cowboys was the only questionable defeat that Texas could still afford at this point. Dropping one to the Sooners or the Red Raiders will have the Horns NIT-bound.

Up next: vs. Baylor (22-5 overall, 9-5 Big 12); Monday, 8 P.M. CT

Next Page »