Oklahoma State (16-5, 6-3) at Texas (10-12, 2-7)
Saturday, February 9th || 12:45 pm CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate List)
Texas will play its 23rd and final game without sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo on Saturday, whose ridiculous suspension finally draws to an end after the match up with Oklahoma State. Not that anyone thinks it's going to happen, but if there's to be a miracle Kabongo-fueled turnaround for this Longhorns squad, it really needs to start today, with an elusive win over a top tier opponent to avoid falling to 2-8 in Big 12 play.
The Horns will have their work cut out for them. Although Oklahoma State isn't a great offensive team, they're just as good if not better on the defensive end of the floor, where their exceptional length and athleticism allow them to be devastatingly disruptive. The Cowboys are one of the nation's best defenses at forcing turnovers and blocking shots, and they typically manage it without getting themselves into foul trouble. That spells trouble for an already subpar Texas offense.
One thing Oklahoma State does not possess this year is depth. The Cowboys really only go seven deep if you discount Kirby Gardner (who averages less than 10 minutes per game and really doesn't do anything well except play solid perimeter defense), but all seven of them consistently contribute quality value on the floor. The Pokes are led by the dynamic triumverate of freshman guard Marcus Smart, sophomore forward Le'Bryan Nash, and junior guard Markel Brown, all of whom average 30+ minutes per game, are exceptionally athletic, and can create their own shot.
Marcus Smart has a shot to beat out fellow frosh Kansas' Ben McClemore for Big 12 Player of the Year honors, and if he does it will be because of his outstanding defense and playmaking ability. The scariest thing is that Smart still has plenty of game still to develop, and he's improving as an offensive player in the halfcourt. I'll be surprised if he doesn't lead the conference in free throws attempted when its all said and done, and when you watch him play tomorrow you'll understad why. The kid's long, strong, and explosive as hell.
Smart is joined in the backcourt by the perpetually underrated Markel Brown, who has quietly been Oklahoma State's best offensive player for three straight seasons now. He can stroke it from deep (36% on the year), he's got the ability to finish around the rim, and he's savvy about getting to the line. He's like a more athletic but not quite as crafty J'Covan Brown -- he has great feel as an offensive basketball player.
As for Le'Bryan Nash, the expected one-and-done didn't materialize because, well, he kind of sucked for most of last year. Nash is still a long way from being an efficient offensive player and appears to be hampered a bit by being a bit of a tweener -- not a true low block player but lacking the consistency to extend his jumper to 19+ feet. No one can say that it's not for a lack of trying, as Nash has fired up 39 three-balls this year, only 9 of which have gone in (23%), but where he has improved is in using his size, strength, quickness and skill to beat forwards defending him to the rim, where he can score it or -- increasingly -- get to the line. Nash is at 103 free throw attempts on the year, and has upped his shooting from the stripe to a very solid 79%. He can be a nightmare to deal with when he's in a groove, but when he really can and should contribute more secondary value on the glass and defensive end than he actually does.
Rounding out the starters are sophomore forward Michael Cobbins, a rebounding machine who had a ridiculous game against Texas in Stillwater last year, and senior Philip Jurick, a quietly effective 6-11 center who does a great job protecting the rim and has really become effective clearing the glass. The name to know off the bench is freshman point Phil Forte, who no one talks about because of his high school teammate Smart, but has turned out to be some kind of impressive in his ability to rain threes and never, ever turn the damn ball over. So pretty much the opposite of Javan Felix.
Keys to the Game & Prediction
Let's be honest: there is no empirically based reason to expect Texas to be able to score the ball efficiently today. There just isn't. The law of large numbers produces unexpected results all the time (See, e.g., TCU > Kansas), but assuming that the Longhorns offense and Cowboys defense perform at or around the season levels, points will be at a premium for UT this afternoon. Realistically, the team's chances of a win come on the other end of the court, where the Cowboys have had their struggles scoring in the halfcourt at times.
This one's very simple, really. Texas needs to do two things to be competitive for a win today. First, they need to better Oklahoma State in getting to the free throw line, which the Pokes rely heavily on for scoring. And second, Texas must limit turnovers, which is the other element Oklahoma State relies heavily on for generating offense. If the Longhorns can be successful in both of those areas, they can pick up a win in the home half of this series.
This team is overdue to catch a break but we've learned better than to expect any this season. Turnovers cause Texas to fall short once again: OSU wins it, 66-60.