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Red River Rivalry on the Hardwood: Horns and Sooners Preview

The #25 Horns (12-3, 2-0) continue Big 12 play this afternoon against the hated Sooners (9-5, 1-1). The game will be televised by ABC regionally beginning at 2:30 PM. The Sooners and Horns split last season with each team winning on their home court. Oklahoma won by 10 points in Norman while Texas won by 24 points in Austin. Texas is an impressive 9-0 at home and currently riding a four game winning streak. Oklahoma is 0-2 on the road, just 2-2 on neutral sites, and has lost two of their last three.

An unfamiliar Oklahoma team will ride into Austin today. Gone are Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout after what seemed like just short of a decade in Norman. Also missing from the sidelines will be the ever fashionable denim shirt and red tie adorning Coach Kelvin Samson. Samson and his omnipresent foot stomping sideline show bolted under the cloud of an NCAA investigation for improper contact with recruits for the head job at Indiana.

The Sooners hired former Duke player, Jeff Capel, last April. Capel guided Virginia Commonwealth to the postseason twice, once to the NCAAs, in his four seasons as head coach. After Samson's departure, the already empty cupboard was stripped of even more talent as OU released three signees, including Damion James and McDonald's All American Scottie Reynolds, from their letters of intent. James, of course, ended up in Austin and Reynolds landed at Villanova.

Oklahoma's Schedule
The Sooners are currently #86 in the RPI rankings. They are 0-5 against teams in the top 100 and 8-0 against teams outside the top 100 (the W over Chaminade isn't factored). Basically the Sooners haven't beaten any good teams. Their losses are all to decent teams though: to Memphis and Purdue in Hawaii, to Villanova in Norman, and to Alabama and Texas Tech on the road. Oklahoma is just not that talented this year. Their current steak of nine straight seasons with at least 20 wins is in serious jeopardy.

Oklahoma's Roster
The Sooners will be without their leader in points, rebounds, and minutes this afternoon. Junior center Longar Longar (6'11" 228) has been suspended by the Big 12 Conference for two games for an elbowing incident against a Texas Tech player last weekend. Longar currently ranks seventh in the conference in rebounding (7.1 rpg) and fourth in field goal percentage (57%). Without Longar, the Sooners will be missing a post defender and their best rebounder. I expect to see 6'6" Nate Carter to start in his place.

Also starting at forward will be sophomore 6'7" Taylor Griffin (7 ppg, 6.8 rpg). The Sooners will likely start three guards as well. Michael Neal (9 ppg, 3 rpg) was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last year and is the Sooners best returning player. Freshman Tony Crocker (11 ppg, 4 rpg) has been one of the few bright spots on this year's team. The fifth starter will be 6'3" sophomore Austin Johnson (9 ppg, 2 rpg) who runs the point and leads the team with 3.5 assists per game, which is good for thirteenth in the conference. Johnson was also teammates with Justin Mason at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo. A second Sooner will also be very familiar to Kevin Durant. Freshman Bobby Maze and Durant teamed together for the last five years in AAU ball.

Oklahoma By the Numbers
Even though Coach Samson is gone, the Sooners still play a rugged, physical form of basketball. They win games with rebounding and defense not by outscoring their opponents. Oklahoma ranks sixth nationally in field goal percentage defense (37%), eleventh in scoring defense (55.9 ppg), and thirteenth in rebounding margin (+8 rpg). The overemphasis on defense often causes scoring to become secondary. The Sooners rank next to last in the conference in scoring at just 68 ppg.

Prediction / Horns' Objectives
The only shot OU has for an upset is if this game is in the 50s or low 60s. Oklahoma must also control the tempo, turnovers, and the glass. I really don't see any of that happening. Texas leads the Big 12 in scoring at 86.5 ppg. It won't matter how much tackling is done by Oklahoma players, Texas should score at least 70 points. OU simply doesn't have the offensive fire power to outscore the Horns in Austin. Also in our favor is the suspension of Longar. Without him, the Sooners are very small up front and will surely have difficulty outrebounding the Horns.

Last, we have Kevin Durant and they don't have an answer. There isn't a player in college basketball playing better than Durant is right now. Very few if any teams have a defender capable of shutting down Durant. The Sooners don't even have a player capable of slowing him down. Unless KD gets into foul trouble, I see another big game for him. Horns roll, 77-58 as Durant gets 24 points and 14 rebounds.