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Preview: #4 Texas Hosts Oral Roberts

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The #4/#5 Texas Longhorns (10-0) look to remain undefeated as they hit the hardwood just three days after their least impressive win of the season. Head coach Scott Sutton and the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (6-3) travel to Austin for the 5:30 p.m. tip. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest and on ESPN Full Court.

ORU has won their last two games and five of their last six but will be playing for the first time since December 8th. Coach Scott Sutton is the son of legendary coach Eddie Sutton and brother of current Oklahoma State head coach Sean Sutton. ORU and Scott will actually take on OSU and brother Sean in Oklahoma City on Thursday night.

Scott is currently in his ninth season at ORU and has guided his team to three straight conference championships and back to back Mid-Continent tournament championships, which automatically resulted in NCAA tournament bids. The biggest win in Scott’s stint at ORU came last year as he guided the Golden Eagles to an early season upset win over then #3 Kansas in Lawrence. Even with the loss of their top two players from a year ago, ORU is poised for another NCAA bid and should be able to keep Tuesday afternoon’s contest close.

ORU This Season
The Golden Eagles enter the game at 6-3 with all three losses coming away from home. After opening the year with a home victory over SW Oklahoma State, ORU traveled to College Station for two games in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Their trip to Aggieland was a disappointing one. After falling to Texas A&M by 14 points, the Golden Eagles lost again the following afternoon in overtime to A&M-Corpus Christi. They finished off play in November with home wins over Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulsa and a win at Lamar. After falling by 11 points at Arkansas, ORU has rebounded to win their first two conference games in the newly named Summit League over North Dakota State and South Dakota State. Oral Roberts is currently #178 in Ken Pomeroy’s RPI rankings and #111 in Pomeroy’s ratings. While Pomeroy’s computers predict an easy 75-56 victory for the Horns, I will not be surprised with a closer outcome.

Golden Eagle Starters
Oral Roberts returns three starters from last year’s tournament team and starts four seniors and one junior this season. Running the show at the point is 6-2 senior Adam Liberty, who is the leader in minutes and assists. Liberty has a solid 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and shoots an impressive 85% from the free throw line.

At shooting guard will be 5-11 junior Robert Jarvis, the team’s leading scorer at 16.8 ppg. Jarvis is a very good three-point shooter (44%). Don’t be surprised if AJ Abrams is challenged with shutting down Jarvis. AJ responded last year by blanketing JamesOn Curry of Oklahoma State in a key conference game.

Senior Moses Ehambe (6-6, 215) will likely start at the wing and be guarded by Justin Mason. Thankfully, Ehambe is mostly a three-point shooter and not a very strong rebounder who probably won’t exploit his four inch height advantage over Mason.

Yemi Ogunoye (6-9, 215), another senior, should start at power forward but be spelled by the more-productive Marcus Lewis (6-8, 245) off the bench. Lewis is shooting 65% from the floor and averaging 11.2 ppg in 24 minutes off the bench. 6-10 senior Shawn King is ORU’s starting center and top rebounder at 6.7 rpg. King shoots 57% from the floor and is also leading the team in blocks at just over two per game.

Ken Pomeroy
Oral Roberts is decent in just about every category but exceptional in none according to Pomeroy’s stats. Of 341 total teams, ORU ranks 138th in offensive efficiency and 109th in defensive efficiency. On offense, the Golden Eagles shoot the ball extremely well from three but don’t rely on the three-ball for a large portion of their scoring. ORU is merely average in all other offensive categories.

The Golden Eagles are great at defending shots inside the arc and respectable in blocking shots, creating turnovers, and keeping opponents off the free throw line. Again, ORU isn’t exceptional in any one area on offense or defense but effectively solid in all aspects of the game.

Keys to the Game:
(1) Keep DJ Involved: As mentioned in the Texas State recap, I expect teams to start defending the Horns by trying desperately to keep the ball out of Augustin’s hands. So much of the offense is built around DJ’s ability to create his own shot or open looks for teammates that shutting him down could be fatal for the Longhorns in this one or in tough contests down the road.

(2) Get James and Mason Back on Track: While no one other than Connor played exceptionally against Texas State, the offensive games of Damion James and Justin Mason were significantly off. I’d like to see both guys attack the rim and either score in the paint or get to the line. In the last game, both players relied too heavily on their stand still jump shots, which weren’t falling. Texas needs the scoring and rebounding of James and defense and occasional scoring of Mason to defeat top teams like Michigan State. Building some lost confidence against Oral Roberts will go a long was toward a victory in Detroit.

(3) Defend: There is no other way to put it. Texas must defend better in man-to-man. The Longhorns need to shut down the dribble drive by moving their feet quicker laterally, staying lower on defense, and rotating better when one of their teammates is beaten off the dribble. Teams should not be able to score in the paint as easily as Texas State did on Saturday.

The Golden Eagles are an experienced team that has good size, the ability to score inside and out, and a solid coach. Oral Roberts won’t be intimidated by the highly ranked Longhorns and should provide good test before the Horns next two games with Michigan State and Wisconsin. I’d expect ORU to hang close to Texas before the Horns ability to score in bunches proves to be too much.