Longhorns on Big Monday in Stillwater

The #19 Texas Longhorns (14-3, 1-1) are back on the hardwood just two days after dispatching of Colorado to secure their first conference win. Texas must continue to play the kind of defense that they showed in the second half on Saturday to have any chance of getting out of Stillwater with a victory. Texas hooks up with Oklahoma State (10-7, 1-2) tonight at 8 p.m on ESPN as part of their ‘Big Monday’ package. This will be the first of three times that the Horns will be featured on ‘Big Monday.’

Unfortunately for Texas, this one is in Stillwater and not in Austin. Oklahoma State is an impressive 9-0 this season at home but has been horrible under Coach Sean Sutton on the road. In fact, the Cowboys have never won a true road game under Sean. OSU has lost 16 straight on the road, and their last road win came on 2/4/06 at Kansas State when father Eddie was still at the helm.

Fortunately for the Horns, Texas is the better team and if they execute will improve to 2-1 in conference play.

Cowboys this Season
Oklahoma State lost three crucial players from last year’s underachieving bunch that started the year 15-1 only to go 6-10 in conference play and miss the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. Mario Boggan and David Monds were out of eligibility and JamesOn Curry declared early for the NBA draft. Coach Sean Sutton did bring in an impressive recruiting class punctuated by McDonald’s All American, James Anderson. However, the freshman and the veterans have yet to gel effectively and look to be at least a year away. OSU has five newcomers among their top ten.

Will all the new faces, the Cowboys predictably started slowly this season. OSU lost at North Texas in their second game of the year and then traveled to Hawaii where they lost two of three at the Maui Invitational. Since then, they have improved some and beaten most of the teams they should have, while getting beat by the tougher competition. Pittsburgh easily handled the Cowboys in December and brother Scott’s solid Oral Roberts team also dispatched of OSU in Oklahoma City.

The Cowboys started conference play with a 19 point home victory over Texas Tech but have since dropped their next two, at Baylor and at Iowa State.

Oklahoma State likes to play up-tempo and score easy points off turnovers. While the Cowboys have been able to create turnovers, they have also had difficulty holding onto the ball themselves. Like Colorado, OSU plays mostly with four perimeter players and has consequently struggled on the glass on both ends. On the year, they are allowing more total rebounds than they are securing. Combine the rebounding deficiencies with a below average shooting team and it is easy to see how the Cowboys are just 10-7.

Oklahoma State’s Starters
Junior point guard, Byron Eaton, is the Cowboy that makes this team go. He has struggled some in the past with his weight, with turnovers, and with out of control play. While he is near the top of the conference in steals, he also leads the team in fouls. Eaton has done a better job with turnovers this season and has a healthy 1.74 assist-to-turnover ratio. For OSU to have a good shot this evening, Eaton will need to stay out of foul trouble and on the court.  

The best player on the Cowboys is freshman swingman, James Anderson. At 6-6, Anderson will be a tough match up for 6-2 Justin Mason. Mason did a nice job on Richard Roby on Saturday and will need to do an equally solid job defensively tonight. Anderson leads the team in points at 15.5 per game and also in made three-pointers. He takes a high percentage of the team’s shots and shoots a solid percentage from both inside and outside the arc. The Horns may catch a break here, though. Anderson injured his ankle in their game a week ago at Baylor and scored just five points in 26 minutes against Iowa State on Saturday. It is unclear if Anderson is fully healthy.

The two other perimeter players are 6-5 junior Terrel Harris and 6-5 sophomore Obi Muonelo. Harris is the second leading scorer at 11.8 ppg but has really been cold from behind the arc this season. He is hitting just 26% of his three-pointers. Hopefully, his height advantage over AJ Abrams won’t cause him to find his stroke. Muonelo is the final skilled perimeter player with an ability to score inside and out. He is second on the team in made three-pointers and shoots a respectable 36% from behind the arc. Muonelo was off to a fabulous start last season before an injury caused him to miss most of the conference season. He is totally healthy this season and probably the Cowboys second most talented player.

The two post players likely to see the most action are 6-9 senior Marcus Dove and 6-11 freshman Ibrahima Thomas. Dove was known primarily as a defensive specialist but has expanded his offensive game this season. Dove is third on the team in scoring at 10.9 ppg and leads the team in rebounding at 5.9 rpg. He is still a fantastic defender and leads the team in blocks and is just one behind Eaton for the team lead in steals. Thomas is originally from Senegal and, at this time, is a more of a project than a polished college player. He does provide good size inside and the ability to rebound.

Ken Pomeroy
Pomeroy’s stats on Oklahoma State reveal an average offensive team and a solid defensive one.
The Cowboys are the 75th best team according to Pomeroy’s overall rankings, the 115th best in adjusted offensive efficiency, and the 45th best in adjusted defensive efficiency.

As mentioned previously, the Cowboys thrive on creating turnovers with an up-tempo pace. Unfortunately for them, they turn the ball at a rate almost equal to that rate at which they create turnovers. Muonelo and Harris have really suffered with turnovers this season. Second, Oklahoma State is a terrible rebounding team on both ends. Last, the stats show a team in love with the three-pointer but also one struggling to knock down the long-ball.

Keys to the Game:
(1) Protect the Ball and Take High % Shots: As bad as Texas has been on defense, it is hard to see OSU scoring enough points to beat the Horns unless one of two things happen: one, Texas turns the ball over a lot; or two, the Horns allow the tempo to get out of control by taking quick shots. Luckily, the Horns have the lowest turnover percentage in the county. While I expect the length of OSU’s perimeter players to bother DJ and AJ some, it shouldn’t be enough to create a turnover fest. Texas must also work the ball in the half court, including into the post, and not just settle for outside jump shots after a pass or two.

(2) Limit Anderson’s scoring: If healthy, Anderson is the only Cowboy capable of really torching the Horns. Mason draws the start tonight after his best game in months on Saturday night. Anderson has the same length and probably an even better ability to punish defenses off the dribble than Roby does. A good performance by Mason would greatly increase the chances of stealing a win on the road.

(3) Defend the Three-pointer: OSU is in love with the three-pointer, and if they are hitting, it could be a long night. Texas did a horrible job in the first half against Colorado as they collapsed too much on dribble drives and left CU with wide-open looks, but they did a much better job of contesting shots and limiting open looks in transition in the second. We’ll see which Texas defense makes the trip to Stillwater.

This one should be close. Texas isn’t playing well enough on defense to blow anyone out and OSU has been very good at home. OSU also has a size and length advantage on the perimeter. DJ and AJ must play through physical contact and not expect every bump to draw a whistle. Last, Texas, especially Damon James and DJ, has to stay out of foul trouble. I have an ok feeling right now but weird things tend to happen at Gallagher-Iba Arena and who knows which Horns team will show up.  

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