Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:04AM

#16/18 Oklahoma Sooners (10-3 overall, 1-0 Big 12) at #10/10 Texas Longhorns (12-2, 1-0)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
Vegas: Texas -6 | KenPom: Texas, 67-64 (63%)


The Texas Longhorns are back in action at the Drum tonight, as they host rival Oklahoma in their Big 12 home opener. Both teams started conference play with a win on Saturday, as the Longhorns dispatched Texas Tech in Lubbock, while the Sooners handled Baylor in Norman.

The conference is so deep this season that seven of its teams are currently found in the Top 25 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. With those teams so closely matched, the result of every game between the seven contenders can quickly swing the projections. Home teams are favored to win anywhere from 60% to 75% of the time in matchups between the top seven, and Pomeroy’s cumulative odds project a log-jam between those teams, with everyone bunched between 12-6 and 10-8 at season’s end. With the margin for error truly razor-thin in this year’s race, every head-to-head result will cast a long shadow.

Oklahoma already defended its home court against another contender on Saturday, and now looks to make a big move with a road win against another. Last year, the Sooners took advantage of missed Texas free throws down the stretch to win in Austin for the first time since 2005. The Longhorns are certainly looking for revenge after being swept by their rival last year, but are also hoping to score their first RPI Top 50 win in three tries. With one of the NCAA tournament regionals taking place in Houston this year, stockpiling big wins for the résumé will take on added importance.

By the Numbers

The first thing you’ll notice when watching the Sooners or looking at their per-possession stats is that they love to get out and run. Oklahoma averages 70.1 possessions per 40 minutes, which is currently the 25th-fastest pace in the country. The Sooners look up and push the ball after both makes and misses by their opponent, and they love to shoot the transition three if they aren’t able to get all the way to the rim.

The Sooners make it very tough for opponents to score
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Oklahoma has also made vast improvements on the defensive side of the ball this season. The Sooners are currently allowing 0.872 adjusted points per possession, which is the 5th-best mark in the country. The team has not had a season with an adjusted defensive efficiency even ranked in the Top 50 since 2008-09, when Blake Griffin still patrolled the paint, so these kinds of defensive numbers are big news in Norman.

The Sooner defense is led by a stable of quick guards that can play right in the jerseys of their opponents and extend pressure beyond the perimeter. Thanks to their speed and good help defense, the Sooners can recover quickly when opponents find an angle to penetrate. Inside, Oklahoma has undersized forwards by Big 12 standards, but they can still clean up shots that make it to the paint, as they’ve posted a 12.5% block rate, currently 69th-best in the nation.

On the other end of the court, one glaring weakness for the Sooners is an inability to win back missed shots. With those undersized forwards and an offense that is focused on the perimeter, Oklahoma has quite a few one-and-done possessions each game. The Sooners win back just 29.5% of their missed shots, an OR% that is currently 227th out of 351 Division I teams.

Since the Sooners have a perimeter-oriented offense, they also don’t earn many trips to the free throw line. Their free-throw rate of 30.3% is one of the 50 lowest in the country, which means that OU earns roughly three free throws for every 10 field goals they attempt. Despite having guards that all possess the ability to get to the rack, Oklahoma will often settle for jump shots rather than working the ball for a better look.

Meet the Sooners

At the point, 6’0″ sophomore Jordan Woodard (No. 10) sets the table for the Oklahoma offense. He pushes the ball really well in transition and has a knack for finding the open shooter before the defense gets set, leading to numerous threes. Woodard nearly broke the record for assists by a freshman at OU last year, and he’s off to another strong start this year, logging dimes on 27.6% of the baskets scored when he’s on the court.

A common recipient of Woodard’s transition assists is 6’4″ junior guard Buddy Hield (No. 24). The Bahamian product is Oklahoma’s most consistent three-point threat, as he’s knocked down 38 of his 100 looks on the year. He also takes nearly 30% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, so the Sooners really struggle when he has an off night.

Hield can be very streaky from beyond the arc, and often heats up in a hurry. He can miss his first four or five long-range attempts in a game, and then suddenly hit transition threes on back-to-back possessions. If the Sooners go on a big run during a ballgame, chances are very good that Hield provided a flurry of threes to spur the surge.

The third man in Oklahoma’s three-guard look is 6’4″ junior Isaiah Cousins (No. 11). Cousins actually has a higher three-point percentage than Hield, but is a little more judicious with his shot selection. He’s coming off a 4-for-8 performance from long range against Baylor, and has connected on nearly 44% of his attempts this season.

Inside, 6’8″ forward Ryan Spangler (No. 00) is a beast on the defensive glass, grabbing more than 20% of misses by opponents when he’s on the court. That stat doesn’t even tell the entire story, as his quick hops and persistent effort often lead to opponents fumbling the ball out of bounds and giving it to OU.

Spangler also has a nice face-up game on offense, and is very accurate from long range. Although he only takes about one three-pointer per game, his 43.8% success rate makes opponents bite on his frequent shot fakes from the perimeter, which open up driving lanes for the big man. The Longhorn forwards have a very bad habit of biting on fakes, so they will have to stay grounded when Spangler catches the ball on the perimeter.

TaShawn Thomas has made an immediate impact at OU
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

The final piece of Oklahoma’s starting five is Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas (No. 35), a 6’8″ senior who received a waiver from the NCAA to play right away for Coach Lon Kruger. Thomas is another face-up big man for Oklahoma, as he possesses adequate handles to drive against opposing forwards. His dribble is a little loose, so he is susceptible to the quick hands of guards helping down from the perimeter. Unlike Spangler, Thomas does not shoot it from behind the arc, but he can stretch the floor with midrange jumpers.

The starting five for Oklahoma eat up a ton of the team’s minutes, but are all well conditioned enough to play long stretches at the team’s breakneck pace. However, with a thin, untested bench, foul trouble could be a problem against the depth of Texas.

In the backcourt, OU’s main options are 6’4″ Frank Booker (No. 10) and 6’1″ JUCO transfer Dinjiyl Walker (No. 2), who combine for about 26 minutes per game. Booker is a very scrappy player who hustles all over the court and isn’t afraid to take a charge in the paint. Offensively, he lives on the perimeter, with more than three-quarters of his shots coming from outside. Unfortunately, he is not very accurate, with just 22% of his threes going down so far.

Walker is a shifty guard that varies his speed and uses hesitation dribbles to find cracks in the defense. He also takes quite a few shots from outside, with nearly half of his looks coming from beyond the arc. Like Booker, Walker is not very accurate, having made just 28.6% of his threes through 13 games.

Down low, the Sooners also have a pair of reserve options in the frontcourt. D.J. Bennett (No. 31) is a 6’8″ senior who is averaging about 10 minutes per game. He is a strong rebounder and has great timing for blocking shots, particularly as he comes over in help situations. However, his preference for trying to log blocks also leads to quite a few fouls, as he averages more than eight fouls per 40 minutes.

Freshman Khadeem Lattin (No. 12) is 6’9″ and incredibly athletic, but has only played about 11 minutes per game. His biggest impact as a freshman has been on the defensive end, as he’s logged some impressive blocks when he’s wiped fast-break buckets right off the board after hustling back in transition. Like Bennett, Lattin still gets whistled quite a bit when defending inside, as he averages nearly six fouls per 40 minutes.

Keys to the Game

1. Get back in transition – The Sooners take nearly 27% of their shots in transition, a rate that is currently 31st-highest in D-I, according to Hoop Math. Texas needs to get back in transition, quickly find the shooters, and stop the ball, as Hield and Cousins do not need much space to sink a three.

While Oklahoma has shown patience when having to play half-court offense against a zone, they tend to settle for quick, contested jumpers against man-to-man defenses that stop them on the break. If the Longhorns can limit transition points and force Oklahoma into tough jumpers, their advantage on the glass should severely limit scoring chances for the Sooners.

2. Don’t turn it over – A big part of the challenge for Texas in stopping Oklahoma’s transition offense will be limiting the turnovers that have plagued them all season long. The Sooners don’t force a ton of miscues, but the Longhorns have proven that they can give it away even against low-pressure defenses. In addition to not giving OU runout opportunities by turning it over, the Longhorns also must avoid bad outside shots, as those can start breaks just as easily as bad passes can.

The Longhorns can’t lose track of Cousins or Hield
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

3. Stay glued to the shooters – Even though Thomas and Spangler have both shown the ability to knock down jumpers, the Longhorns should be content with letting those two take shots. Texas needs to focus on shadowing Hield and Cousins all over the court, and cannot allow them many open looks.

The Horns had some issues with ball-screen defense against Stanford, which could definitely pose a problem again tonight. If Texas gets hung up on screens, or chooses to go under them, Hield and Cousins will quickly make them pay in this game. However, if the Longhorns can force that pair to take a bunch of challenged shots in order to earn their points, Oklahoma will find it much tougher to snag a road win tonight.

4. Pound it down low – Texas has a distinct advantage inside, and needs to try to get the ball into the paint for easy points. In addition to getting the offense going for Texas, a focus on scoring inside may also tag Spangler and Thomas with fouls.

The Sooners don’t have much depth in the frontcourt, and the style of play differs quite a bit from their starters to their reserves. Bennett and Lattin don’t have the accuracy of Spangler and Thomas on long jumpers, so it makes it even easier for the Longhorns to defend when those players are used in screens for the OU shooters. If Spangler and Thomas are sitting on the bench for extended minutes tonight, the Longhorns have a good chance to defend their home court.

[Ed: This post was revised after publishing to reflect the new rankings for both teams in the January 5th polls.]

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:25PM

#24/23 Texas Longhorns (21-7 overall, 10-5 Big 12) at Oklahoma Sooners (20-8, 9-6)
Lloyd Noble Center | Norman, OK | Tip: 3 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN Full Court/ESPN3
Vegas: Oklahoma -4.5 | Pomeroy: Oklahoma, 83-78 (66%)

The Longhorns are looking to avenge their only home loss in conference play as they head to Norman this afternoon to take on the Sooners. In addition to trying to split the season series, the Horns are also still barely alive in their pursuit of a shared conference title, and are in the midst of a tough battle for the league’s No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Sooners are currently tied for fourth in the league with Kansas State, just a game behind Iowa State and Texas with three games to play. Since Oklahoma won the first meeting with Texas, a loss today would doom the Longhorns in a head-to-head tiebreaker, and also bury them in any multi-team tiebreakers involving OU. Although the final week of the schedule is more favorable to Texas than the other three teams, the tiebreaker math means that a loss this afternoon would make it very tough for the Horns to earn that No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament

Keys to the game

1) Crash the boards – In the first meeting between these two teams, the Sooners dominated the rebounding battle, holding the Horns to just a 26.7% mark on the offensive glass. On the other end, OU reclaimed 45.9% of its own misses, including some back-breaking boards in the game’s final minutes that led to key second-chance points.

While the Longhorn bigs will have to do a much better job to win the battle of the boards this afternoon, the Texas guards also must step up. Although Ryan Spangler (No. 00) and Tyler Neal (No. 15) did a good job on the boards, it was the quick, athletic guards and wings who consistently outraced Texas to the ball. If the Longhorns can’t keep OU from winning rebounds and extending possessions, it will be very tough to avenge their earlier loss this afternoon.

2) Pound it inside – The Longhorns found quite a bit of success early in the second half when they ran the offense through Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley down low. Foul trouble plagued Holmes throughout the game, and the Texas offense clearly struggled when he was cooling his heels on the bench. While he obvioulsy has to avoid that same scenario this afternoon, Texas has to exploit its size advantage all game, even when the frontcourt reserves are on the court.

3) Clog the gaps – Much of Oklahoma’s offense comes from the slashing ability of its young, talented backcourt. However, the Sooners have proven that they will often settle for long jumpers when penetration isn’t there, even forcing challenged looks with a defender in their face. If the Longhorns can keep the OU guards in front of them and shade off the ball to discourage drives, they may be able to slow the Sooner offense down and give themselves a chance for the road win.

4) Challenge shooters – Oklahoma is full of great shooters who can knock it down all over the court. Texas quickly learned that fact in the first meeting, as poor defense led to numerous wide-open looks in the first half on which the Sooners capitalized. While it can be tough to take away driving lanes while also preventing open looks, Texas can do so with quick rotation and good communication on D. If the Horns are able to stop the drive, but leave shooters open on the arc as a result, Oklahoma could snow Texas under with a flurry of threes. Neutralizing the high-powered Oklahoma offense is a tall order, so the Longhorns certainly have their work cut out for them on the road this afternoon.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:34PM

Oklahoma Sooners (11-2) at Texas Longhorns (11-2)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: LHN

After a surprisingly strong non-conference campaign, the Texas Longhorns are ready to tip off against tougher competition in the Big 12. The Horns — who are the sixth-youngest team in Division I, according to Ken Pomeroy — reeled off 11 wins in 13 non-conference games, including an impressive road victory against a talented, albeit inconsistent, North Carolina team.

Texas was not the only surprise team in the Big 12, though. Their opponents in tonight’s conference opener, the Oklahoma Sooners, have also posted an 11-2 mark. After losing three starters from last year’s team that went to the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma was expected to be a middle-of-the-pack team that might hang around on the bubble. Although the Sooners will probably still finish in the middle of the table in a fairly loaded Big 12, they have shown that even the top-tier teams in the league should be worried about playing them.

Lon Kruger has OU exceeding preseason expectations
(Photo credit: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)

If the Sooners are truly going to live up to the new expectations they built in non-conference play, they will have to overcome some long odds in the first few weeks of the season. League schedule-makers did Lon Kruger no favors, giving the Sooners road trips to Texas, Kansas State, and Baylor in their first five games, while tabbing Kansas and Iowa State as the teams to visit Lloyd-Noble during that stretch.

Making an early statement in the Big 12 would be quite impressive for OU, given that opening gauntlet. Pomeroy gives the Sooners odds of no greater than 39% to win any of their first five games, with OU having a 32% chance to win tonight’s tilt in Austin, their most-winnable of the three road games. Looking at the cumulative odds for that stretch shows that Pomeroy gives the Sooners a 15% chance to be sitting at 0-5 in league play on January 19th.

By the numbers

Texas fans have seen some up-tempo basketball from the Horns this season, but it has been nothing compared to the track meets going on in Norman. Oklahoma has the ninth-fasted adjusted tempo in D-I hoops, according to Pomeroy, squeezing in 74.6 possessions per game. With the Horns having 72 possessions per game, fans should be treated to some exciting, up-and-down action tonight.

Oklahoma plays with a four-out, one-in look, but the team still has fared pretty well on the offensive glass. The Sooners have reclaimed nearly 35% of their missed shots, thanks in large part to guards and wings that rebound really well for their size. Oklahoma did have trouble when they played a much larger Michigan State team, as they won only 20.5% of their offensive rebounding chances in that game. Against the size of Texas’ frontcourt, OU could face similar struggles tonight.

Keeping the Sooners away from offensive rebounds will be especially important for Texas tonight because Oklahoma generally doesn’t miss very many shots to begin with. OU’s effective field-goal percentage of 53% ranks them 56th in the country, and it’s not a number inflated by layups. OU has a handful of good shooters who can knock down midrange looks and they are also accurate behind the arc, even though a long-range attack isn’t a key aspect of their gameplans.

All told, the Sooners score an adjusted 1.14 points per possession. Although their defensive numbers of 1.032 adjusted PPP are just a shade below the national average, that per-possession disparity adds up in a hurry when the game is played at Oklahoma’s pace. Since Texas loves to play nearly as quickly as the Sooners do, the Longhorn defense will have to step up tonight. The Texas offense is simply not reliable enough to keep up with Oklahoma’s if the Sooners are scoring at their usual rate.

Ryan Spangler is Oklahoma’s lone presence inside
(Photo credit: Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman)

Meet the Sooners

Oklahoma lacks the interior size it enjoyed with Amath M’Baye and Romero Osby last season, so Coach Kruger has adjusted his approach this season. The Sooners typically trot out only one big a time, with former Gonzaga Bulldog Ryan Spangler (No. 00) holding that role in the starting five, despite checking in at just 6’8″.

Spangler plays much bigger than his listed height, providing excellent interior defense and great performances on the glass. The sophomore has scored a ton of hoops on tip-ins this season and has a defensive rebounding rate of 23.8%, ranking him 73rd in Division I. Spangler has also shown the ability to face up opposing forwards and centers and take them off the bounce, but he has yet to prove that he has much of a shot. Teams can easily turn him into a one-dimensional threat by giving him space anytime he leaves the block, but they must always be aware of his location on the floor so they can get a body on him as soon as a shot goes up.

The team’s leading scorer is senior Cameron Clark (No. 21), an exciting player who averages 18.5 points per game, or roughly 21% of OU’s scoring. Clark made a splash as a sophomore before returning to a reserve role on last year’s loaded squad and ultimately ascending to the leadership role in his senior year. He is an incredibly athletic player who has always been known for his highlight-reel dunks, but he also has a good shot that is accurate all over the floor. Although his midrange game can be streaky at times, Clark has made 50% of his threes, but averages less than three of those attempts per game.

Even though Clark can sometimes go through cold spells from the midrange, he always finds a way to score. In Monday night’s overtime loss to Louisiana Tech, the senior was just 7-of-17 from the floor, but repeatedly attacked the basket to earn trips to the line. He also proved just how clutch of a player he can be when he grabbed an airballed three and raced out to the perimeter to hit his own game-tying, fadeaway triple with just 0.6 seconds left on the clock in regulation.

OU’s other aggressive scorer is sophomore guard Buddy Hield (No. 24). Hailing from the Bahamas, Hield has a good understanding of how to vary his speeds to beat the defense, and he has great strength and body control to score through contact. Like all of the Oklahoma guards, Hield is also very good at passing while driving to the hoop, often setting up Spangler underneath or kicking out to open teammates for midrange jumpers or threes.

Freshman point guard Jordan Woodard (No. 10) has been very impressive in his first year at Oklahoma, but he is coming off of the roughest outing of his young career. In the loss to Louisiana Tech, Woodard coughed it up eight times against just two assists, and made only 31% of his shots. Typically, he is another aggressive perimeter player for the Sooners, repeatedly attacking the rim for easy points or trips to the free throw line. Like Hield, Woodard’s driving ability often opens things up for little dumpoffs in the paint or kickouts to open teammates, and his personal assist rate of 26.9% ranks him in the Top 200 nationally.

Sophomore guard Isaiah Cousins (No. 11) rounds out the starting five for Oklahoma, and he is yet another solid shooter for the Sooners. He doesn’t take many three-point attempts, but has made 41.4% of his tries this season. Understandably, Cousins fires up a few more from long range when he’s feeling it, so he usually knocks down two or three if he makes any.

Cousins is also an excellent defender, thanks to quick hands, good footwork, and length that can clog passing lanes and make it tough for smaller guards. He often comes up with a nice swipe or two in each game by knocking it away from an oblivious rebounder or by stripping opponents when providing help defense. Many teams have been flustered by Oklahoma’s active defense, and Cousins’ skills on that end of the court are a big reason why.

Keys to the game

Texas has to stop the drives of Hield and the OU guards
(Photo credit: Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman)

1) Limit penetration – Although they have good shooters, everything starts with dribble penetration for the Sooners. If Texas can limit the number of times Oklahoma beats them with the bounce, it forces the Sooners into taking challenged jumpers instead of allowing wide-open looks on kickouts. The Sooners still have the shooters to knock down some of those tough looks, but if the Longhorns want to keep Oklahoma from lighting up the scoreboard, they have to keep the OU guards in front of them.

2) Win transition battle – Both teams like to get the ball up the court in a hurry and score easy points before the defense is set, so tonight’s game could very well come down to which team is able to get more fast break buckets. The Longhorn defense can’t afford to give up transition hoops to an offense that is already going to be tough to stop, and their offense certainly needs to get as many points as it can without having to score in the half-court.

3) Exploit size advantage – The Longhorns are going to enjoy a definitive size advantage in this one, although they will likely have to use Cameron Ridley in short spurts thanks to the tempo of the game. Exploiting that size advantage is easier said than done, however. Oklahoma loves to trap and swarm everywhere on the court, but especially on the blocks. The Texas bigs have had issues this season with slow decision-making, something that will be deadly against a pressure defense.

Not only do the Longhorn bigs need to be quick and decisive with the ball on the block, but they will also need to contribute in the pick-and-roll game. Clark will likely be tasked with guarding Jonathan Holmes or Connor Lammert, which is already a size mismatch in favor of Texas. Add in OU’s preference for switching on ball screens, and Texas has a great opportunity to get Lammert and Holmes quite a few points as they crash to the hoop against smaller guards.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:26PM

Oklahoma Sooners (18-8 overall, 9-5 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (12-15, 4-10)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
LRT Consecutive Game #248

It has been eight years since the Oklahoma Sooners have come to Austin and knocked off the Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center. With Texas struggling to a 4-10 mark in league play and the Sooners looking downright dominant in recent weeks, tonight could be the night that Lon Kruger and Oklahoma finally break that streak.

For the Sooners, ending the road woes against their Red River rivals would only be a bonus. Current seniors Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald, and Casey Arent have never made it to the NCAA tournament during their four years in Norman, and that dream is now just weeks away from being realized. In Joe Lunardi’s latest S-curve update ($), the Sooners are now considered “safely in,” meaning they have odds of greater than 80% to make the field. Barring a complete meltdown over the last two weeks of the season, Oklahoma should make its long-awaited return to March Madness. Now, it’s all about seeding.

Lunardi currently has the Sooners slotted as a 9-seed, meaning that they would have the unenviable task of matching up with a 1-seed if they were to survive to the third round. Of Oklahoma’s four remaining regular season games, three are against the bottom four teams in the Big 12. The fourth is against Iowa State, a team which blew out Oklahoma in Ames earlier this year. Fortunately for OU, the Cyclones have struggled mightily on the road, meaning that Oklahoma could conceivably run the table and finish 13-5 in the conference. Ken Pomeroy has the Sooners favored in every game remaining, and his win probabilities give OU a cumulative WP of 30.5% to finish 4-0.

With other teams playing and losing down the stretch, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Oklahoma to climb a few seed lines and avoid that tough second-round matchup. Tonight is the biggest road test remaining for the Sooners, and it could easily be classified as a “trap game” with Iowa State waiting for OU on Saturday. It looks extremely unlikely that Oklahoma could miss the NCAAs at this point, but a loss tonight would certainly make it tougher to climb off of those 8 and 9-seed lines.

Meet the Sooners

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

Romero Osby dominated Texas in the first meeting
(Photo credit: Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)

The first match-up

Oklahoma and Texas got off to an ugly start when the teams first met on MLK Day. The Longhorns turned it over eight times before the first media timeout, while the Sooners were unable to convert that into a big lead thanks to two of their own turnovers and five missed shots. Texas settled down and managed to recover from that brutal start, pulling ahead by as many as four points midway through the first half.

With just under seven minutes to go, sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes broke a bone in his hand and had to leave the game. Although a triple from Sheldon McClellan would give Texas its largest lead at five points just a few minutes later, the loss of Holmes’ interior presence would quickly become the difference in the game.

With Holmes out of action, OU’s Romero Osby took over and had the breakout performance of what will likely be an all-conference season. The senior big man scored Oklahoma’s last eight points before the half, and he finished with a monster line of 29 points, eight boards, and two blocks. Fellow forward Amath M’Baye also had a great performance, although his numbers were overshadowed by the gargantuan effort by Osby. M’Baye added 15 points and five boards to help the Sooners to victory.

The Longhorns did manage to make things interesting in the final minutes, as McClellan single-handedly kept Texas in it and Ioannis Papapetrou sank some desperation threes in the waning seconds. The Longhorns trailed by as many as 11 points with less than two minutes to go, but Papapetrou’s pair of threes made the final score look a little more respectable. The Greek forward finished with 12 points, but it was McClellan’s 25 that kept Texas from getting blown out. On the night, Sheldon took nearly a third of the team’s shots and posted an excellent 50% mark from the field.

Since then…

Although that performance against Texas was by far the best of the year for Osby, he has not slowed down over the last five weeks. In the nine games since beating the Longhorns, he is averaging 14 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Making things even more difficult for opponents is the consistent play from OU’s other forward, M’Baye. The Wyoming transfer has been nearly as impressive in league play, averaging 10.5 and 5.9 in his last nine games.

Steven Pledger has been on fire in the last three games
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Most importantly, the Sooners are also reaping the benefits of a hot Steven Pledger. Coming into the season, expectations were high for the senior, who was the leading returning scorer in the league. Last year, he made more than 41% of his threes, so naturally there would be some amount of regression. Unfortunately, the drop-off was much steeper than Pledger and OU fans had hoped, as he made just 33.6% of his long-range looks through the first 23 games of the year.

However, it seems that Pledger has chosen the right time to peak. In the team’s last three games, he’s made 56.4% of his shots from the field, including 52.2% of his threes. The Sooners have been in the bottom half of D-I hoops when it comes to sinking their treys, and as a result they have taken only about a quarter of their shots from long range. Having Pledger re-emerge as a three-point threat gives opposing defenses another facet to game plan for, and makes it even tougher to focus on stopping that inside tandem of Osby and M’Baye.

Pledger is not the only senior to step up in recent weeks. Sam Grooms has taken charge at the point, even earning a start on Saturday against Baylor. With Buddy Hield still sidelined with a broken bone in his foot and Isaiah Cousins scuttling in conference play, Grooms’ steady leadership has kept OU clicking.

Although he’s not much of a long-range threat, Grooms has been more aggressive with the ball recently, finding the cracks created when Osby and M’Baye step out and stretch the defense. The senior guard has 13 assists in his last three games, and he shot 81.8% from the field in the team’s heartbreaking overtime loss at Oklahoma State. Grooms took a hard fall in Saturday’s win over Baylor and appeared to injure his hip, but did return to action. With a few days of rest, it’s unlikely that any lingering effects will slow him down tonight.

Keys to the game

1) Limit second chance points – The Sooners do not shoot the ball exceptionally well, with their 48% effective field goal mark actually checking in just a bit below the national average. OU makes up for that with fairly strong numbers on the offensive glass, while the Longhorns have had difficulty all season in keeping opponents from reclaiming missed shots.

In the first meeting between these two teams, Texas did manage to hold OU below its season average, allowing the Sooners to corral only 30% of their missed shots. If Texas hopes to pull off the upset at home tonight, the team will once again have to close out their defensive possessions with strong rebounding.

2) Attack offensively – The Longhorns have looked like a competent team on offense when they actually drive the basketball and move it with quick, smart passing. Unfortunately, that approach tends to be the exception rather than the rule this season, with the Horns instead settling for long jumpers at the end of possessions, often with a defender in their face.

While being aggressive will help a Texas team that has struggled to hit jump shots this year, it will also hopefully saddle Oklahoma with some fouls. While Fitzgerald is still a serviceable forward, the drop-off in talent after M’Baye and Osby is considerable. Getting either of those players to the bench will be a huge boost for Texas’ chances.

Aggression can also draw fouls on the Oklahoma guards, which can expose some depth issues there, as well. With Hield’s broken foot, Cousins becomes the primary back-up in the backcourt, and he is mired in a terrible slump. If Grooms finds himself battling foul trouble, as he did on Saturday, the Longhorns would be able to take advantage of Cousins and force mistakes by the frustrated freshman.

3) Limit mistakes – The Sooners are not a team that pressures defensively and forces many turnovers, but that didn’t stop Texas from coughing it up on nearly every possession in the first five minutes of the game in Norman. With Myck Kabongo now at the point, that hopefully will not be as much of an issue for the Horns tonight. Still, Demarcus Holland and Papapetrou have thrown their share of questionable passes this season, and both should see big minutes in this one. The Texas offense is too anemic to be able to waste possessions and still win games, especially against a team that doesn’t usually try to cause turnovers.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:54AM

Texas Longhorns (8-9 overall, 0-4 Big 12) at Oklahoma Sooners (12-4, 3-1)
Lloyd Noble Center | Norman, OK | Tip: 8:30 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #238

It has been 15 years since the Texas Longhorns opened conference play with four losses, a depth which the program had never reached under Coach Rick Barnes before Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Kansas. With little time to prepare for tonight’s road game against Oklahoma, the Horns will have to rebound quickly if they want to avoid making even more unfortunate history.

Texas has not opened conference play with five straight losses since Leon Black was at the helm in 1975-76. There were some close calls in between, with both the 1982-83 and 1983-84 squads dropping four before stopping the bleeding in their fifth game. Those reprieves were temporary, however, as the 1983-84 team ended up losing nine of its first 10 Southwest Conference games and the 1982-83 team finished 1-15 in the league.

The Longhorns showed a lot of promise in their upset bid against Kansas on Saturday, so there’s hope that they can avoid that 0-5 start tonight. Texas has now proven it has the talent to compete with anyone in the league, but these young Longhorns have to also prove that they have the moxie to actually close out their opponents.

Oklahoma’s stingy defense pesters opponents
(Photo credit: Charlie Reidel/Associated Press)

By the numbers

Like most Lon Kruger teams, these Sooners play tough defense and value the basketball. Oklahoma is allowing opponents an adjusted efficiency mark of just 0.918 points per possession, while coughing it up on only 18.9% of their own possessions. While that turnover percentage is not nearly as miserly as that of Kruger’s UNLV teams, the Sooners definitely limit their mistakes on the offensive end.

That ability to make possessions count is very important for a team that doesn’t actually shoot the ball very well. OU’s effective field goal percentage is only 47.2%, more than a full point below the national average. That number is dragged down by poor outside shooting, as the Sooners make only 32.2% of their three-point attempts.

The other aspect of Oklahoma’s offense that makes up for their poor shooting is an ability to extend possessions with offensive rebounds. The Sooners are ranked 63rd in the country in OR%, grabbing 35.8% of their missed shots. Add in that solid work on the glass with the low number of turnovers, and OU is currently ranked 60th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring 1.072 points per possession.

As for that tough defense, the Sooners lock down the perimeter and keep their opponents off the line. Oklahoma opponents have made only 30.4% of their three-point attempts this season, one of the fifty best defensive marks on the perimeter. OU also only gives away about three free throw attempts for every ten field goals, a defensive FTR that ranks in the Top 70. Although Texas has not proven it can take advantage at the line, it is unlikely that they will get many attempts at the charity stripe against this Sooner D.

Meet the Sooners

In the second year under Coach Kruger, the Oklahoma roster has quickly come together with a nice blend of youth and experience, giving the Sooners a very deep bench. Oklahoma returns all five starters from last year’s team, but the bench is so deep that three of them are now reserves.

Senior guard Steven Pledger (No. 2) is one of the two returning starters who has held on to his role in the starting five. He has a deadly three-point shot and is mostly a catch-and-shoot guy who does not attack the rim that often. After a scorching 5-for-9 start behind the arc in the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, Pledger has cooled off a bit, but is still sinking nearly 37% of his threes.

Romero Osby is Oklahoma’s leading scorer
(Photo credit: Charlie Reidel/Associated Press)

The other returning starter who is still in the starting five is forward Romero Osby (No. 24). The former Mississippi State Bulldog is tops on the team in both points and rebounds, scoring 13.6 per game to go with 6.4 boards. Osby is a very tough matchup because he has good handles, can move quickly, and has a nice midrange game. Although Oklahoma likes to isolate him on the block and use cross-screens to free him up for easy hoops, Osby loves to face up defenders near the free throw line and quickly drive to the rack.

Fellow transfer forward Amath M’Baye (No. 22) also presents the same matchup problems. Although M’Baye cannot hit the three like Osby can, he also has a good midrange game and the ability to take other forwards off the bounce. The pair of forwards are also tenacious on the glass, with their individual rebounding percentages ranking in the top 500 nationally on both ends of the court. M’Baye snags more than 10% of his offensive rebounding opportunities, a huge reason why the Sooners are still successful on offense despite poor shooting numbers.

In the backcourt, the Sooners are getting instant production from freshman Buddy Hield (No. 3), an exciting kid from the Bahamas. Although he’s not technically the team’s point guard, Hield leads the starters with two assists per game and rebounds incredibly well for a 6’3″ guard. He knows where the ball is likely to carom off a miss and manages to slip through the defense to steal boards from bigger players.

Although he’s a great facilitator and board man, Hield is truly a scorer at heart. He has a nice outside shot, smooth midrange jumper, and is great at slashing to the rack. That ability to penetrate is key on a team that doesn’t log many assists. Hield’s drives force defenses to help and rotate, which often opens up the bigs underneath or Pledger behind the arc.

At the point, freshman Je’lon Hornbeak (No. 5) is still adjusting to the college game. On a team that doesn’t turn it over often, Hornbeak is the one who makes the miscues that has coaches scratching their heads. He has a great ability to shift speeds and get into the heart of the defense, but his primary problem is that he frequently gets locked into his highest gear. Many of his turnovers are a result of playing too fast and out of control, so once he masters the art of slowing down and taking what the defense gives, his game will quickly elevate.

When Hornbeak is playing off the ball, he is also a threat from outside. The freshman has made nearly 38% of his threes, including a perfect 2-for-2 performance in the team’s win over in-state rival Oklahoma State.

With the freshman and Wyoming transfer M’Baye now in the starting lineup, Sam Grooms (No. 1) now comes off the bench, just a year after starting every single game. Even while dealing with a pair of bad ankles, Grooms is still the team’s best facilitator, which is why he’s averaging more than 21 minutes in conference play. The senior is truly a pass-first point guard, and he leads the team with 41 assists despite coming off the bench.

Junior swingman Cameron Clark (No. 21) is also a demoted starter, and that new role means he doesn’t have to score quite as many points this year. Clark broke out late in his sophomore campaign with 42 points in a three-game February stretch, but is averaging just 6.3 points per game this year. He is typically serving as an undersized four when he’s on the court this season, but he still manages to scrap for offensive rebounds and putbacks. Clark also enjoys a matchup advantage against slower forwards, as he spreads the court with his jump shot and can take those defenders off the bounce.

Senior forward Andrew Fitzgerald (No. 4) is the third displaced starter on Oklahoma’s roster, and his minutes have been cut drastically. After averaging 28 minutes and 12 points per game last year, Fitzgerald has played 16.1 minutes per game this year and is averaging less than six points. Although he’s 6’8″, Fitzgerald loves to hang out on the baseline and pop fifteen-foot jumpers. His affinity for the midrange game also hampers his ability to make a difference on the glass, a big reason why his role has been reduced this season.

Freshman Isaiah Cousins (No. 11) rounds out the core rotation. After starting the first 10 games of the year, Cousins was replaced by Hield in the starting five. The 6’3″ guard from New York has a nice driving game, but his inability to score from outside allows defenses to sag off and take away that penetration.

Keys to the game

1) Force mistakes – While the Sooners generally take good care of the basketball, they have had stretches of sloppy play this season. In the team’s loss to Kansas State on Saturday, the Sooners ended 25.7% of their possessions with a turnover. The Sooners have scored less than one point per possession in just six of their 16 games, and four of those performances came when Oklahoma posted a turnover percentage north of 21%. If the Longhorns want to slow down an efficient OU offense, they will have to force the Sooners to waste some possessions.

Unfortunately, Texas does not typically force many turnovers. Saturday’s game against Kansas showed that they have that ability, though, and it also showed just how quickly the Texas D can fuel a run. If the Longhorns can put some pressure on Hornbeak and force miscues, they can hopefully get a few easy buckets in transition and avoid having to face a stout Oklahoma defense in the halfcourt.

Texas needs Julien Lewis to knock down his open looks
(Photo credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez/Associated Press)

2) Clean up the defensive glass – Oklahoma is not a good shooting team, but they do a great job getting to their misses and scoring second-chance points. Texas started well on the defensive glass against Baylor, West Virginia, and Kansas, but gave up key boards in the final minutes of all of those close losses. The Longhorns have to close out possessions with defensive rebounds for the whole 40 minutes if they want to get a road win at Lloyd Noble tonight.

3) Get the shooters going – The Sooners had major issues keeping up with Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder in Manhattan on Saturday. Although there’s not nearly as much motion in the Texas offense as there is in K-State’s, the Longhorns still work hard setting screens for Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis. Those two are going to get their share of open looks as the Sooner defense tries switching on screens, so they have to be ready to shoot and need to knock down their looks from the opening whistle.

4) Control tempo – Oklahoma is not a team that is going to get out and run, but the Longhorns still need to make sure that this game is played at their pace. The Sooners have a much deeper roster, an advantage that is going to be even more important with these two teams playing on only about 48 hours of rest. If the game does happen to speed up, tired legs could cost Texas in the final minutes. For a team that is already struggling to close out games, that will only make things tougher.

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