1.27.11
Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:38PM

#8/7 Texas Longhorns 61, Oklahoma State Cowboys 46

For the second time in just five days, the Longhorns were the hated enemy in a sold-out, hostile gym. But as has become the norm this season, Texas fed off the negative energy and silenced the fans, emerging from Gallagher-Iba Arena with a 61-46 victory.

The win was the fifth on the road for the Longhorns, who have tripped up just once away from home this season. In early December, Texas was embarrassed by an average USC team in Los Angeles, losing by 17 points. Since then, the Horns have been undefeated on the road, winning by an average margin of 14.2 points.

With the victory, the Horns keep their perfect conference mark intact, moving to 5-0 in Big 12 play. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, dropped to 2-4 in the conference, falling into a tie for 9th place with Kansas State.

Dogus Balbay had a breakout performance
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

What looked good

The most-hated Longhorn in Stillwater wasn’t Jordan Hamilton or Tristan Thompson. Instead, it was Dogus Balbay, who responded to the jeers by having a career night. Balbay more than doubled his scoring average, putting in 10 points, all in the first half. Along with Cory Joseph, the Turkish guard also prevented OSU’s sharpshooting Keiton Page from even scoring a point.

Balbay’s hustle was visible everywhere on the court Wednesday night. He grabbed five boards and had four assists in the winning effort, and constantly batted away Oklahoma State passes. Even with most of those deflections ending up out of bounds, Balbay still came up with two steals.

As it has been all season, Balbay’s staunch defense was just one part of Texas’ stifling performance on D. As a team, the Longhorns held Oklahoma State to 32.1% shooting from the field and limited the Pokes to only 0.793 points per possession. Coming into the game, OSU was averaging roughly 1.04 points each time down the floor.

Freshman big man Tristan Thompson worked through a difficult first half and ended up with a very productive night. He scored all 14 of his points in the second half, including a seven-minute stretch where he scored 11 straight points for Texas. On defense, he frustrated the Cowboy bigs with three blocks.

Another reassuring sight in the win was the clear effort Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown were making in looking for open teammates. In addition to his 12 points — all coming behind the arc — Hamilton was credited with two assists. When not taking open threes, he was attacking off the dribble and looking for open teammates as the defense collapsed on him. If not for fumbled passes by other Longhorns, Hamilton would have had another few assists.

Brown, meanwhile, seemed to be quite aware that it wasn’t his night to shoot. Although he forced up a bad three near the end of the first half, he mostly played within the flow of the offense. After a few misses, he was content with passing off to other guards coming off of screens and curls. His deferential attitude didn’t result in any assists against Oklahoma State, but it is definitely preferable to poor shot selection.

Alexis Wangmene had a solid game off the bench
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

In addition, the alternating big games from Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene continued, with the big man from Cameroon providing the quality PT against the Cowboys. Wangmene played just 11 minutes, but worked hard inside and earned two trips to the line, which he turned into four points. He grabbed a pair of rebounds as well, and only turned it over once, on a bobbled one-time pass from Hamilton.

What needed work

Unfortunately, the Texas offense was very sloppy with the ball in the first half, particularly in transition. The team’s 23.7% turnover percentage was its third-highest of the season, behind only the neutral-site loss to Pitt and a very sloppy win against Lamar.

With Missouri coming to town on Saturday, that lack of ball control in high-tempo situations is cause for concern. The Longhorns may have won this one by 16 points, but had they simply held on to the ball, the margin of victory likely would have crept past twenty. The Tigers are going to push the tempo and pressure the ball, so Texas cannot afford to have a repeat performance on Saturday.

In the half-court, Oklahoma State was very committed to limiting Texas’ points in the paint, and that often led to double- and triple-teams when Thompson and Gary Johnson would get the ball in the lane. When they would manage to put up a shot against the army of defenders, there was never an orange jersey anywhere near the rim.

Not only did this cost Texas a bunch of offensive rebounding opportunities, but it also meant that Thompson and Johnson had very few options to dish it off when OSU collapsed. With the Cowboys focused on the ball, Texas could have capitalized with easy layups by players cutting from the wings, and it would have resulted in more putbacks on Johnson and Thompson’s missed jumpers.

Next up: vs. #13/11 Missouri (17-3 overall, 3-2 Big 12); 8 P.M. CT, Saturday

1.26.11
Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:46PM

#8/7 Texas Longhorns (16-3 overall, 4-0 Big 12) at Oklahoma State Cowboys (14-5, 2-3)
Gallagher-Iba Arena | Stillwater, OK | Tip: 6:30 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN

If there were ever a prototypical “trap game”, tonight’s tangle with Oklahoma State in Stillwater would be it. The Longhorns are coming off of their biggest regular-season win in school history, a road upset of the 2nd-ranked Kansas Jayhawks that vaulted Texas to first place in the Big 12. This Saturday, the Horns will host a Missouri team that was ranked in the top ten as recently as two weeks ago.

But tonight, Texas must first tackle a young, tough Oklahoma State team in a gym that can be very difficult to steal road wins in. The Cowboys have won 13 straight at Gallagher-Iba Arena, with the most recent loss coming against Texas last season. If the Horns have a letdown after Saturday’s big win or look ahead to the Tigers, they could easily be tagged with a loss tonight.

Travis Ford hated the ending of Inception
(Photo credit: Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman)

By the numbers

Glancing at Dean Oliver’s Four Factors, the Cowboys are generally unremarkable. They aren’t exceptional in any category, but also manage to avoid being particularly terrible at any facet of the game. The one factor they do excel in is free throw rate, as OSU earns nearly one free throw attempt for every two field goal tries. Their 45% FTR puts them 34th in the nation.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys tend to put opponents on the line even more than they get therethemselves. OSU opponents have a FTR of 46.3%, and have been converting at an impressive 72.9% rate. The Pokes should get a bit of a break from a Texas team that has struggled at the line all season. Of course, the Horns made 83% of their free throws in a pair of games against A&M and KU last week, so OSU could be catching Texas at the wrong time.

The most surprising number the Cowboys have posted this year is a disappointing 31.2% mark behind the arc. On a team with sharpshooting Keiton Page in the backcourt, that number is far too low. But without James Anderson on the roster this season, Page is drawing a lot of extra attention from defenses, and his three-point percentage has dropped to 35.1% as a result.

When it comes to tempo, Oklahoma State is once again average. They run a slightly slower pace than the D-I average, but they certainly wouldn’t be classified as a “burn” offense. The Longhorns average just 1.5 more possessions per game, so there is hardly any difference in style between the two teams. That being said, it still could benefit Texas to push things against Oklahoma State. The Horns have a more-efficient offense, so adding possessions only serves to further exploit that advantage.

Marshall Moses is having a breakout season
(Photo credit: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)

Meet the Cowboys

Coach Travis Ford has a young team to work with this season, and following the December surgery on guard Fred Gulley, he has a short bench to manage, too. The Cowboys run eight deep, although Ford has been giving more minutes to his younger players as the season wears on, hoping to provide some experience for his bench.

OSU is led by senior Marshall Moses, who is one of the most-improved players in the Big 12 this year. He’s turned into a double-double machine in his senior campaign, and is averaging more than 15 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Moses gets the bulk of his points down low, and he still looks stiff trying to take a midrange jumper, but there’s no doubt that he’s the key to OSU’s success.

Joining Moses in the frontcourt is Darrell Williams, a juco transfer who played at Midland College before making the trip to Stillwater. He’s a real force inside, and would likely be the team’s leading rebounder if he could keep himself out of foul trouble. Williams is averaging more than seven boards a game, but has been limited to just 20 minutes a game thanks to those foul issues. Against Kansas State, Williams fouled out in roughly five minutes on the court.

Matt Pilgrim is the other big man for Coach Ford, and he started 11 games this year before being supplanted by Williams in the starting five. Pilgrim isn’t nearly the scoring threat that Moses is, mostly due to the fact that Pilgrim seems averse to attacking the basket. He has the post moves to score, but has to be constantly reminded by his coaches to actually put them to use. Fortunately for OSU, even when he’s not scoring, Pilgrim has active hands on defense and leads the team in steals.

While OSU has a talented frontcourt, albeit a thin one, the future of the team is clearly in the backcourt. Junior Keiton Page is the second-leading scorer on the team with 13.8 points per game, but he has been a streaky scorer this season. After pouring in a combined 43 points against Alabama and Stanford, Page managed just four against Gonzaga and UTSA. The Longhorns can’t afford to give him open looks tonight, but if they are able to front him and frustrate him early, he could have a quiet game.

Jéan-Paul Olukemi is the newest star for OSU
(Photo credit: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)

The most impressive guard for OSU has been Jéan-Paul Olukemi, a transfer from Vincennes University who burned his redshirt during his transfer season. As a result, Olukemi is just a sophomore this year, and it’s clear he is going to be a Big 12 star in the near future. Olukemi is incredibly athletic, can easily create his own shot off the dribble, and knows how to crash the glass from the wings. OSU has struggled at times this season when their guards fail to penetrate, so Olukemi’s playmaking abilities often inject life into a stagnant offense.

Along with Page and Olukemi in the backcourt, the Pokes rely on the services of tiny point guard Ray Penn, Jr. Listed at a generous 5’11″, what Penn lacks in height, he makes up for with quickness. While he knows how to get to the rim and can also knock down the three, he’s most comfortable facilitating the offense. Penn can blow by defenders easily and draw help, which has allowed him to rack up a team-high 51 assists on the year.

Off the bench, Coach Ford has two options at guard. Senior Nick Sidorakis was a starter for much of the year before Olukemi played his way into the starting five, so he provides experienced leadership off the bench. Sidorakis has had a tough season, especially behind the arc, where he’s just 7-for-32 this season.

The other reserve guard, Markel Brown, is also struggling from long range, where he’s made just 29% of his attempts so far. A freshman, Brown is one of those players earning more minutes as the season rolls on, and he will likely be a key component of a pretty salty OSU roster next season. He comes from Peabody High in Louisiana, where he played on an undefeated state championship team, and was named Player of the Year in his home state. While he’s not contributing much on offense yet, Brown is already being relied upon for solid perimeter D.

In the frontcourt, Jarred Shaw and Roger Franklin have not played many minutes off the bench, but could see some extra action tonight against UT’s bigs. The pair has combined for an average of 2.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. Also on the bench is sophomore Reger Dowell an exceptionally quick guard from Duncanville who is averaging just six minutes per game.

Texas has to limit Keiton Page’s points
(Photo credit: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)

Keys to the game

Through their first four conference games, the Longhorns have a free-throw rate of 53.4%, a result of a commitment to attacking inside. Against an Oklahoma State team that constantly puts opponents on the line, this bodes well for Texas’ success. If the Longhorns pile up the points inside, they will not only earn a ton of trips to the line, but they’ll also draw a lot of fouls on the thin OSU frontcourt. Moses, Pilgrim, and Franklin are certainly talented, but if the Longhorns can saddle them with fouls, there won’t be much help coming from the bench for the Pokes.

Defensively, the Longhorns need to keep an eye on Keiton Page. While Moses and Olukemi are going to score a chunk of points tonight, Page is the one who is liable to go off for 20-plus at a moment’s notice. If the Longhorns can limit the damage from the junior guard, it’s unlikely that the rest of the Pokes are going to combine for enough to pull off the upset.

Finally, Texas will succeed if Hill or Wangmene step up. It seems that either Matt Hill or Alexis Wangmene has a good game every time the Horns take the court. Against KU, Hill put in a ton of key minutes on the defensive end, while against A&M, Wangmene had a great performance. Against a talented OSU frontcourt, Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson are going to need some help, especially if they find themselves in foul trouble. If either Hill or Wangmene step up once again, the Horns should be just fine.

2.25.10
Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:06AM

#21/21 Texas Longhorns 69, Oklahoma State Cowboys 59

The Texas defense stifled James Anderson
(Photo credit: Jack Plunkett/Associated Press)

For the first time in more than a month, the Texas Longhorns have a winning streak.

While two wins in a row is not a whole lot to crow about, Wednesday night’s 69-59 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys is a huge step in the right direction for a team that had lost six out of its last ten. The win pushes the Longhorns to 8-6 in league play, and into a three-way tie for fourth with Baylor and Texas A&M, two teams they will face — on the road — in their last three games.

Things didn’t start off beautifully for Texas, as Oklahoma State shot nearly 50% from the field for a majority of the first half, including a 6-of-12 mark from behind the arc. The Longhorns did force eight turnovers in the first half, but the flurry of long-range scoring for the Pokes ensured that Texas could find no breathing room in the first twenty minutes.

James Anderson also couldn’t find much breathing room for those first twenty minutes, as Justin Mason and solid help defense limited the Big 12 Player of the Year candidate to just six first half points. Five of those came in the first three minutes, but Anderson was held scoreless from the field for more than 24 minutes after that.

In the second half, it was the entire Oklahoma State offense that couldn’t breathe. The Pokes were limited to 2-of-10 shooting from behind the arc, and shot just 33% from the field. Anderson was able to add another eight points to his total, but OSU managed just 24 total points in the final twenty minutes. The Texas defense took all of its little lapses from the first half and completely eliminated them in the second.

Beyond the defense, the biggest storyline of the night came from the biggest player on the court. Against a much smaller Oklahoma State lineup, Dexter Pittman finally turned in the performance fans have been waiting for since Fayetteville. After Texas mustered only six points in the paint during the first half, the start of the second half was all about Pittman. The Longhorns made a concerted effort to get him the ball inside, and his strong moves with the ball made it clear he wasn’t going to be stopped.

The Dexter Pittman of old finally resurfaced
(Photo credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

Dexter’s final line on the night was 16 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks in 20 minutes. If that is the kind of production Texas can get from him down the stretch, there’s not much more you can ask for. Pittman is not a guy who needs to be playing 25-plus minutes per game because it limits his effectiveness. Dexter can’t hang with run-and-gun teams, and big men with long range can pull him out of the paint and limit his defensive presence. But in games like this one, he’s one of the most effective weapons the Longhorns have, and he’ll have to produce at that level the rest of the way.

As always, Damion James turned in a huge effort for the Horns. He knocked down a ton of midrange jumpers in the first half to kickstart the offense, and pulled down seven boards on the night. His 19 points were certainly important, but what was much more notable was his 6-of-8 performance at the line. Heading into the game, James was shooting just 64% from the charity stripe.

Also impressive was Jordan Hamilton, who did so many little things right tonight. For one, his defense was much improved. Even when he was beat my his man, it wasn’t for lack of effort. Oftentimes this season it has seemed like Hamilton only cared to play on one side of the ball, but not in this game. Not only did he move laterally and pressure the ball on defense, but he made smart decisions with the ball on offense. He took the open three-point looks against the zone in the first half, then took the ball to the rim when OSU played the perimeter later in the game. And, most importantly, Hamilton passed the ball instead of forcing it when there was nothing there.

Oklahoma State couldn’t hold Hamilton
(Photo credit: Jack Plunkett/Associated Press)

Apart from the continual free throw woes (21-of-36 on the night), the biggest disappointment in this game was J’Covan Brown. Coach Rick Barnes inserted the freshman back into the starting lineup after limiting him to just five minutes against Texas Tech on Saturday. Unfortunately, Brown seemed to be trying to prove himself the entire time and looked completely uncomfortable on the floor. When J’Covan is playing freely, attacking the defense, and finding his open teammates, the Longhorns are tough to stop. But if Brown is going to respond to the spotlight the way he did tonight, Texas is going to have to struggle through the rest of the year with a point guard by committee.

Looking ahead

The regular season sweep of Oklahoma State has positioned the Longhorns to make a late-season push for one of the first-round byes in the league’s conference tournament. Texas, A&M, and Baylor are all tied for fourth place, and are just a game behind Missouri in third. The Tigers still have games left with Kansas and Kansas State, while the Longhorns travel to both College Station and Waco. With just three games left on the schedule, everything is truly still up in the air.

2.24.10
Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:25PM

Oklahoma State Cowboys (19-7 overall, 7-5 Big 12) at #21/21 Texas Longhorns (21-6, 7-5)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip 8 P.M. | TV: ESPN2

The Longhorns return to the Erwin Center as victors, having withstood a late charge from Texas Tech to secure a narrow 71-67 win on Saturday. But while the victory was huge, it was a loss for Texas that loomed even larger. Dogus Balbay went down early in the first half with an ACL tear that has sidelined him for the rest of the year. Coupled with the November injury to Varez Ward, the once-deep Longhorn backcourt is now in total disarray.

Texas managed to beat Oklahoma State in their first meeting, but a huge reason for the win was the defensive performance of Balbay against OSU superstar James Anderson. After scoring 22 of his team’s 34 first-half points, Anderson was held to just four points in the second half. Without Balbay on the court tonight, Anderson could have a career game.

If you need a refresher on OSU’s style of basketball or their key players, click here for the preview from the first match-up. If you don’t, let’s dive right into our keys for tonight’s game……

Keys to the game

First and foremost, Texas will have to find a way to shut down James Anderson. We hate to belabor a point, but without Balbay, the Longhorns are going to have to find a way to keep the Cowboy guard from going off for 30-plus points. At 6’6″, he’s a tough match-up for Texas, especially when you consider that the best defenders Rick Barnes has on his roster are a pair of 6’2″ guards in Avery Bradley and Justin Mason. While Jordan Hamilton is a better match-up physically for Anderson, his defense consists mostly of watching people blow past him and then compounding the mistake with fouls from behind.

While Anderson is much taller than the Texas backcourt, the Cowboys are actually much smaller across the board than Texas. The Longhorns must control the defensive glass in order to limit the number of Oklahoma State possessions. The Pokes don’t turn the ball over that often, so giving them second and third chances will only serve to keep OSU in the game and wear out an already thin Texas lineup.

In the same vein, the Longhorns also need to take advantage of their size inside. Whether that means Dexter Pittman needs to step up and have the kind of game we haven’t seen from him since Fayetteville, or if it means that Gary Johnson has a second-straight career game by hustling down low, the fact remains that Texas must make its easy looks. The first time these teams met, the Longhorns missed a lot of shots just a few feet from the basket. Had Jordan Hamilton not had a magical game, Texas would have ended up on the losing end.

The biggest thing we will be looking at tonight is how J’Covan Brown handles point guard duties. As we wrote yesterday, failing to play him at this point amounts to giving up on the season. There will certainly be hiccups along the way, but now this is undoubtedly J’Covan’s team to run, and we are very interested in seeing how he handles the pressure.

Texas hasn’t won two games in a row in over a month, a stretch in which the team has lost six out of ten. Tonight provides the Longhorns an opportunity to finally string a pair of wins together, and to position itself for quite a battle in the league standings during this last week and a half.

The five teams in places three through seven are separated by just one game, and with only four more games on each team’s schedule, there is little room for error. A Texas win tonight means that there is quite a bit on the line this Saturday in College Station. A loss likely means that this former No. 1 team won’t even earn a bye in its conference tournament.

2.02.10
Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:26PM

#9/10 Texas Longhorns 72, Oklahoma State 60

Jordan Hamilton couldn’t miss in the last 22 minutes
(Photo credit: Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman)

Oklahoma State led the visiting Longhorns by nine points with two minutes left in the first half. Junior guard James Anderson had 22 of his team’s 34 points on 8-of-9 shooting, incuding a perfect 3-of-3 behind the arc. Gallagher-Iba Arena was rocking, and it looked like the Texas Longhorns could be on their way to a fourth loss in five games.

Then Jordan Hamilton took over.

The freshman swingman scored seven points in the final two minutes of the first half while Anderson added a pair of OSU free throws, and Texas closed the gap to just four points heading to the locker room. Hamilton added 18 more in the second half, part of a career-high 27-point performance, and the Longhorns stormed past the Cowboys in the final twenty minutes, cruising to a 72-60 win.

What looked good

Obviously, Hamilton’s breakout performance was the highlight of the night. His shot selection was much better, and even the two questionable ones he threw up in the first half somehow found the bottom of the basket. Perhaps fueled by his unconscious shooting, Hamilton also worked a lot harder on the defensive end. He was pressuring OSU ballhandlers past the perimeter, making it nearly impossible for the Pokes to get any offense going outside of drives by Anderson and Obi Muonelo.

While Anderson’s first-half explosion keyed the early Oklahoma State lead, a few of his baskets were coming even in the face of good pressure. However, quite a few of his buckets were coming when he beat the defense off the dribble and sailed to the rack for easy points. In the second half, though, Dogus Balbay played incredibly on defense, holding Anderson to just four points in the final twenty minutes. Even though Anderson had a full six inches on Balbay, the Cowboys didn’t ever look for him when he actually tried to isolate his defender on the blocks.

J’Covan Brown also had a very solid night, a fact that might be overlooked since he only scored five points. When Balbay started piling up fouls late in the game, Brown was able to lead the team with a steady hand from the point guard position. J’Covan had just one turnover to four assists and played a full 30 minutes off of the bench. In fact, when the teams came out for the second half, Coach Rick Barnes opted to make just one change from his starting lineup — Brown was on the floor in place of defensive stopper Justin Mason.

Another Horn giving big production from the bench was Gary Johnson. He played very good defense inside, denying access to the bucket and forcing his man to take well-contested shots. Gary was the only Longhorn with double-digit rebounds, as he grabbed ten boards to go with his eight points.

J’Covan Brown performed well under pressure
(Photo credit: Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman)

Finally, it should be noted that Texas shot 6-of-7 from the free throw line in this game. Before anyone gets too excited and thinks the team has turned some sort of corner, keep in mind that all seven attempts came from the team’s three best free-throw shooters — Brown, James, and Johnson. (Jai Lucas technically has the second-highest free-throw percentage on the team, but has just seven total attempts all year.) The free-throw monster is still definitely going to affect future games, but it was nice not having to watch free points clank off the iron.

What needed work

A recurring theme in these games is Texas’ inability to knock down incredibly easy shots inside the paint and just outside the lane. In the first half, the Longhorns missed six layups according to the official play-by-play. While Texas has a bunch of good shooters that can knock down midrange jumpers and treys, on some nights those shots aren’t going to fall. The Horns have to be able to get the ball inside and actually convert on the easy looks.

The other point of concern was rebounding, as Texas again had trouble corralling boards that hit them right in the hands. The final count had the two teams deadlocked with 31 rebounds each, but the Longhorns should have easily dominated that battle. The Longhorns far outsized the Cowboys, but they allowed OSU to steal too many boards that they had already established position on. Against a solid frontcourt like that of the Kansas Jayhawks, Texas will allow far too many second-chance points if they keep coughing up rebounds.

Looking ahead

Texas has a long week off to prepare for the Oklahoma Sooners, who they face in Norman on Saturday. Although the Sooners are talented, the team is in disarray. They have lost three of their last four, including a 17-point shellacking at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday. Road wins are not going to be easy to come by in the Big 12 this season, so the Longhorns definitely need to take advantage of winnable games such as this one.

2.01.10
Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:34AM

#9/10 Texas Longhorns (18-3 overall, 4-2 Big 12) at Oklahoma State (16-5, 4-3)
Gallagher-Iba Arena | Stillwater, OK | Tip: 8:10 P.M. | TV: ESPN (HD)

Travis Ford has quickly improved the OSU program
(Photo credit: Jeff Tuttle/Kansas City Star)

After the loss to Baylor on Saturday, ESPN’s Pat Forde welcomed Texas to “the crisis zone.” While an 18-3 record is certainly not something to panic over, there is no doubt that if the Longhorns still have any designs on a Big 12 title or a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament, their slide has to end here.

Unfortunately for Texas, their next match-up will not be an easy one. Gallagher-Iba Arena is not a place where opponents often find a win, but it’s been especially tough for ranked Longhorn teams. When Texas travels to GIA with a number next to their name, they are just 1-6.

By the numbers

There isn’t anything that Oklahoma State does exceptionally well, but they aren’t particularly bad at any facet of the game, either. With the exception of their loss to Missouri on Saturday, the Pokes are best at controlling the basketball, which is important for what is a rather small team. Thanks to their smaller lineup, Oklahoma State can sometimes have trouble earning offensive rebounds. As a result, limiting the number of turnovers is key to keeping their offense clicking.

If tonight’s game comes down to free throws, the Cowboys have a distinct advantage. While Texas is shooting just 61.3% from the charity stripe, Oklahoma State is significantly better with a 71.4% mark. Fortunately for the Longhorns, Coach Travis Ford has quite a short bench on his sideline, so he can’t afford to waste fouls trying to make Texas earn its points from the line.

One other statistic of note is that the Cowboys take more than 39% of their shots from behind the arc. While the Longhorns have a very strong interior defense, it is often at the expense of their perimeter D, and OSU is a team will certainly try to take advantage of it. Luckily, they are shooting just 33.5% from behind the arc, so unless they have a banner day from three-point range, the Pokes will need points from other places to pull off the upset.

James Anderson is a scoring machine
(Photo credit: Jeff Tuttle/Kansas City Star)

Meet the Cowboys

The undeniable star of Oklahoma State’s lineup is junior guard James Anderson. With 22.5 points per game, he’s responsible for 30% of the team’s scoring. There’s no way Texas will completely shut down the sweet-shooting guard for 40 minutes, so the Horns will have to make sure they don’t allow the other Cowboys to beat them.

Senior Obi Muonelo is an all-around threat for Oklahoma State, despite checking in at just 6’5”. He’s a scrappy rebounder and a quality ballhandler, although at times he tends to play a little out of the control when trying to drive the lane. During his four years, Muonelo has also developed an outside shot to compliment his inside and mid-range games. So far this season, he’s leading the team with a 46% mark from the perimeter. Besides the out-of-control drives, the only other knock on Obi’s game is his pitiful 55% free throw shooting.

Freshman Ray Penn was one of the top point guard recruits in the country this spring, but he likely will not be in action tonight. Team doctors discovered a “hot spot” on his shin that they believe could develop into a stress fracture, so Penn sat out the Missouri game as a precaution. Since the only treatment is rest, Penn will likely miss a handful of games.

With Penn and his thirty minutes per game now out of the rotation, tiny sharpshooter Keiton Page is helping to pick up the slack at the point. Page is the kind of feisty, hustle guy who just irritates the hell out of opponents and their fans. He’s always chasing down loose balls, and is an incredible shooter that seems to always knock down a three in the clutch.

Another player picking up more minutes at the point is freshman Fred Gulley, a product of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Like the injured starter Penn, Gulley is a lightning-quick guard who tends to score more than dish out assists. Coach Ford wants both of his freshman points to work on their decision making and develop into facilitators, but there is no question that Gulley is already an offensive threat. His quick first step might even make the defensively-sound Texas backcourt look a bit slow at times tonight.

In the middle, Marshall Moses chews up most of the minutes and grabs most of the rebounds. He’s averaging 9.9 boards to go with his 10.6 points per game, which is even more impressive when you consider how often he is in foul trouble. Moses has only fouled out of two games this year, but he’s averaging nearly four whistles per game. That limits him to just 27 minutes per contest, the least amount of playing time among the five starters.

When he’s on the floor, Moses has a nice set of offensive tools. He’s solid around the basket, has a good midrange jumper that is excellent for busting zones, and he’s playing some stiff post D as of late. The Cowboys don’t have a ton of depth down low, so Texas would be wise to attack Moses early and often in the hopes of piling up fouls.

Backing up Moses is transfer Matt Pilgrim, a hard-nosed big man who is coming off his best game of the year. Pilgrim started his career at Hampton, but transferred to Kentucky to play for Billy Gillispie. When John Calipari took over head coaching duties, Pilgrim suddenly found himself without a scholarship offer. The NCAA wisely offered him a chance to transfer elsewhere and play right away, giving the Cowboys an immediate injection of talent in the post.

Pilgrim isn’t a flashy player, but he is built like a tank. Down low, he’s a bull of a forward that will pick up a ton of points on putbacks. Against Missouri, he scored 21 points in just 23 minutes off the bench as he relieved the foul-plagued Moses. Tonight, he will likely be needed for another quality performance against a much bigger Texas team.

Freshman Roger Franklin is the only other Oklahoma State player who sees significant minutes. As a high school teammate of Texas’ Shawn Williams at Duncanville, Franklin started all four years. He’s a very athletic guy, but still needs to develop the body to compete in the physical Big 12. With his twelve minutes per game during his freshman campaign, he’s logging the experience necessary to make him a major threat in future seasons.

Keiton Page can haz bazketball?
(Photo credit: Jeff Tuttle/Kansas City Star)

Keys to the game

Against a smaller Oklahoma State, Texas must dominate the rebounding battle. The Cowboys aren’t going to cough the ball up that often, so the best way for the Longhorns to limit scoring chances is to prevent offensive rebounds.

As we’ve already mentioned, Anderson will get his points tonight. There have been a few teams that have shut him down for the first half, but he always comes out of the locker room firing. While Texas obviously can’t concede a 40-point night to the guard, the Longhorns should be more concerned with limiting the damage from the other Pokes. This will really hinge on whether or not Dogus Balbay, Justin Mason, and Avery Bradley can play serviceable D on Anderson.

Finally, the Longhorns simply have to control the basketball. There have been a rash of dumb turnovers in the last two Texas losses, and nothing gets a road crowd more riled up than a bunch of easy transition buckets. The Longhorns cannot afford to give up possessions by making stupid mistakes, and the young team also can’t afford to let the crowd fuel big runs. There is no question that crowd energy played a part in the losses to UConn and Kansas State.

The big finish

Already two games behind the Jayhawks in the league standings, Texas honestly can’t afford to lose any more games if there are any hopes of winning a conference title. Kansas simply doesn’t lose at Allen Fieldhouse, and their only “tough” road tests left are at Missouri and next Monday night in Austin. (Texas Tech fans will point out that Lubbock has also been a house of horrors for the ‘Hawks, but we generally laugh at Tech fans and wave dismissively when they start talking about basketball.)

With another road game on Saturday in Norman and the aforementioned Kansas game waiting on Monday, this stretch of schedule could be deadly for the Longhorns. As much as a game can be “must win” when a team is 18-3, this game is that. Texas absolutely needs to steal a road win tonight.

1.25.10
Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:11PM

Texas slid to sixth in both polls this afternoon following back-to-back losses on the road. The Kentucky Wildcats ascended to the top spot as the nation’s lone undefeated team, while Kansas moved up to second in both rankings.

The K-State Wildcats took a slight dip after a home loss to Oklahoma State, even though they were the first team to knock off Texas with a Big Monday victory earlier in the week. KSU is 11th in the media poll and is ranked 13th by coaches. Baylor is the only other Big 12 representative, checking in at 24th in the Associated Press rankings, although Texas A&M, Missouri, and Oklahoma State all received votes in both polls.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Longhorns also took a dive in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology, sliding to the 2-seed line in the Salt Lake City regional. In Lunardi’s mock bracket, Texas is paired with 1-seed Syracuse, an absolute nightmare match-up for a Longhorn team that is paralyzed by zone defenses.

The Jayhawks maintained their hold on a 1-seed, but were moved to the Houston regional that the Longhorns vacated. Lunardi awarded five other bids to the Big 12, putting K-State (3-seed), Baylor (5), Missouri (8), A&M (9), and Oklahoma State (11) in the mix.

3.14.09
Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:27AM

Zaire Taylor led Mizzou’s attack with 19 points
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Following Baylor’s historic win over Texas in the first semifinal of the day, fans were looking forward to another great game in the nightcap, a re-match that was expected to be a forty-minute offensive showcase. When Oklahoma State and Missouri first met at Gallagher-Iba Arena earlier this season, the Cowboys rallied back from nearly 20 points down but fell just short in an exhausting 97-95 shootout. Although it had been nearly two months, the game was still fresh on the minds of boosters from both universities. Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as scripted.

[3] Missouri 67, [7] Oklahoma State 59

The Cowboys came into this one shooting nearly 40% from long range on the year, putting them in the top 25 nationally for three-point shooting. The Tigers, meanwhile, boasted the country’s 15th-most efficient offense, and the 17th-fastest tempo of basketball. All signs pointed to another game testing the century mark, bound to keep the capacity Ford Center crowd on its feet. That was before they put lids on the rims.

Oklahoma State didn’t hit a three-pointer for the first 34 minutes of the game, while Missouri mustered only 21 points in the first half. The two teams were still sprinting up and down the court, forcing turnovers and creating havoc. But the two teams combined to shoot only 28% in the first twenty minutes, causing one Tiger fan behind us to wrack his brain trying to remember the last time his team had such a futile start.

Byron Eaton courageously returned after this injury
(Photo credit: Donna McWilliam/Associated Press)

The big moment of the night came after halftime, but it had an unfortunate beginning late in the first session. Byron Eaton injured his ankle on a fast break and laid on the court for what seemed like minutes. After being helped off the court by two teammates, he spent the rest of the half with his face buried in a towel as team medical staff tended to his foot. When the Cowboys returned to the court in the second half, their senior leader was nowhere to be found, and the orange-filled Ford Center was abnormally quiet. But moments later, Eaton sprinted out of the tunnel to a roaring ovation and joined his team for the shootaround.

While Eaton was largely ineffective the rest of the game and the upset bid ultimately fell short, his effort was gutsy. Most pundits already had the Cowboys in the NCAA field, so it may have been more prudent to play it safe and shut him down for the rest of the game. But Eaton, always a fierce competitor, wanted to go back out and help his team, and the lift he provided by returning was immeasurable.

For Missouri, the game was strange not only because of their early offensive struggles, but also because of the fact that Coach Mike Anderson stuck with a smaller core of players for a bulk of the minutes. While ten different Tigers average more than 12 minutes a game, the starters ate a huge chunk of the minutes in this one. Every one of the five starters played at least 25 minutes, while only Marcus Denmon cracked the 12-minute plateau from the bench. While it’s true the Tigers have played one less game than Baylor as the teams head into tonight’s championship, it will be interesting to see if there is enough fatigue from this up-tempo semifinal to affect Anderson’s rotation.

3.12.09
Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:22AM

It’s a mess of sleet, ice, and snow outside as the Big 12 Championships roll into the second day of action. Although temperatures are expected to be back in the 70′s within a week, Mother Nature decided that folks traveling to OKC for the tournament would just love a three-day visit from some bitterly cold weather. So rather than going out in this last gasp of winter that has gripped the city, we’ll take a look back at all of yesterday’s action from the Ford Center.

Mike Singletary led Tech in a furious comeback
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

[11] Texas Tech 88, [6] Texas A&M 83

The best game of the day was certainly the last one, although it seemed like the nightcap between Texas A&M and Texas Tech was well on its way to being the worst of the four first-round match-ups. In fact, when we finally threw in the towel at halftime and hit the exits, the Aggies led by 19 points, and there were no more than 1,500 hardy fans remaining in the seats. But those who stuck around were treated to the single most-impressive performance in the history of the Big 12 tourney.

Mike Singletary — a forward whose role all season long was simply that of an effective sixth man — scored 35 points in the second half, including 29 straight for Texas Tech, and led the Red Raiders back from a 22-point deficit to steal the win. Oddly enough, we were joking midway through the first half that Singletary was Tech’s entire offense. At the time, his four points were all that Tech had mustered in the first seven minutes of the game. Who knew how accurate our wisecracks would actually be?

[9] Baylor 65, [8] Nebraska 49

While Nebraska’s four-guard sets have sometimes made it difficult to rebound against bigger teams, it seemed that a match-up with the similarly guard-oriented Baylor Bears might hide that weakness for Coach Doc Sadler and the Cornhuskers. That was anything but true in this one, as the Bears outrebounded Nebraska by a ridiculous 43-18 margin. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Kevin Rogers grabbed more boards than Nebraska all by himself. Rogers posted a double-double with 20 rebounds and ten points.

It’s also notable that this game started the day off with three technical fouls. There were three more in later action, and an additional warning on the Oklahoma State bench even after they had already been tagged with a T. Despite the temperatures outside, it was quite heated inside the Ford Center.

Marshall Moses was all smiles after his 18-point night
(Photo credit:Donna McWilliam/Associated Press)

[7] Oklahoma State 81, [10] Iowa State 67

Perhaps the most heated of all the action came in the prime-time game, featuring the Cowboys from OSU. The Pokes hail from Stillwater, just 66 miles NNE of the Ford Center, and the arena was packed to the gills with folks wearing road-cone orange. Craig Brackins took charge early for Iowa State, as he often does, and drew not only tons of whistles from the refs, but the ire of the OSU faithful as well. The fans grew more and more restless as the fouls piled up for Oklahoma State, while the Cyclones stayed foul-free.

With seven minutes left in the first half, the Pokes had seven team fouls to the zero for Iowa State, and some additional commentary from the OSU bench heading into the media timeout resulted in a technical foul. The irate crowd absolutely ate up the tactical maneuver from Coach Travis Ford, and when the Cyclones were finally whistled for their first infraction with only three minutes left in the first half, mock cheers rained down on the court and Ford slapped the scorers table so hard it could be heard from across the arena.

Interestingly enough, foul calls in the second half were much more even until Iowa State was forced to intentionally hack at the Pokes in the final minutes. It’s tough to tell if this was a result of Ford’s lobbying or of OSU’s newfound commitment to pounding the ball down to Marshall Moses in the paint, but the newfound whistle equity allowed the Cowboys to cruise to a first-round win.

3.02.09
Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:21PM

It’s the first Monday in March, which means that the power begins to shift from the pollsters and over to the bracketologists. We’ve still got your weekly rundown of both, but you can be certain that fans of teams on the cusp of the polls are just a teeeeensy bit more concerned about the various bubble watches floating around the internet. On to the goodies……

Following Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State, the Longhorns slipped from both major polls this week, falling into the “others receiving votes” category. Oklahoma slid only a few spots after their Griffin-less loss to Kansas on Monday night, checking in at 4th with the AP and 5th with the writers. The Jayhawks benefitted from that victory and their blowout win over Missouri yesterday, jumping to 9th in both polls. The Tigers slid to 12th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, while the much more vengeful Associated Press shipped them all the way to 15th for their deer-in-the-headlights performance at Allen Fieldhouse. Oklahoma State also grabbed a slight bit of attention from the AP, earning two points in this week’s poll for their five-game winning streak.

For once, the resident bracketologists at Sports Illustrated and ESPN agree on the Longhorns…sort of. Andy Glockner seeds the Longhorns 9th, facing off against Utah, while Joe Lunardi pegs Texas an 8, taking on UNLV. The common ground for the two men? A trip to Dayton for this first weekend, which sits just fine with this basketball traveler, who is strongly pulling for a Friday/Sunday pod that doesn’t involve the fabulous March weather of Minneapolis. For a complete list of the tournament sites this year, click on over to my favorite Wiki.

The folks assigned to watching the bubble are also in agreement that the Longhorns really just need to win tonight to seal up their tournament bid. Both Andy Glockner of SI.com and Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com think Texas should be in. But like any good college basketball fans would know, Andy and Mark are fully aware that this schizophrenic Longhorn team could just as easily lose their last two regular season games, lay a turd in the Big 12 Tournament, and be sweating things out on Selection Sunday. For the sake of my heart and currently-forming ulcers, this doomsday scenario would be best left on the table.

This week’s consensus blogpoll at CBS Sportsline follows the lead of the major polls, with UConn ascending to the top spot. For the second straight week, our ballot was dubbed “Mr. Numb Existence” for being the one amongst the 42 submitted which most closely approximated the consensus poll. We’re not sure if that’s some sort of sign that we watch too much basketball, but we’ll take it as a compliment. Be sure to check out the link in this paragraph to not only see the rankings, but to get all of the great analysis by Jerry Hinnen of the Auburn blog The Joe Cribbs Car Wash.

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