The hatred for our neighbors to the north runs deep, but let's face it: the Sooner basketball program doesn't quite make the blood boil like Stoops and his henchmen manage each October. That being said, Saturday's hardwood match up presents a terrific opportunity to crank up the hate and over-invest yourself emotionally in a Texas victory over OU.
The Longhorns enter Saturday's contest holding a 10-5 record in conference play, placing them in a tie for 2nd place in the standings with 10-5 Iowa State, and one game ahead of OU and K-State, both of whom are 9-6. Here's how their remaining schedules shake out:
It's easy to see why this is such a big game. If the Sooners were to win, they would move into a tie with Texas and would own the tiebreaker for beating us twice, with their final two games the most manageable of any of the four teams. Meanwhile, a win for the good guys today would put the Horns in the driver's seat, opening up a two-game lead over OU, with a friendlier remaining schedule than that of either ISU or K-State.
Why should we care whether Texas winds up placing 2nd or 5th in the regular season conference standings? The Big 12 Tournament, where each of the top six teams receives a 'bye', but the path to the Championship Game will then differ greatly depending on seed. Finishing as the #2 seed means being placed in the bottom half of the bracket (thus avoiding Kansas until the Championship Game), with a quarterfinal game against the winner of the opening round game between the #7 and #10 seeds. By contrast, finishing as the #4 or #5 seed means being placed in the top half of the bracket, with a quarterfinal match up against one another, followed by a date in the semis with the Jayhawks.
So yeah, whether Texas finishes 2nd or 5th matters, particularly to the extent the Longhorns remain a team in the mix to receive a #4 or better seed in the NCAA Tournament, would which include a protected first round match up. Finish second in the Big 12 and win two games in the Big 12 Tournament and we'll have a great shot at it.
It all starts with a win over OU on Saturday.
Keys to the Game
The Sooners handed us our only home loss of the season back in January, shooting lights out in a high scoring game at the Erwin Center. The Sooners aren't a physically overwhelming team, but there's some real skill on this team, and I have to give Joe Castiglone credit for following the disastrous Jeff Capel era with the hiring of Lon Kruger, who I thought was a terrific choice for that job. And Kruger's done for OU what he's always done well, and if there's any doubt that the man is a good offensive teacher, even Cam Freaking Clarke is balling on the offensive end now.
In the first match up, OU caught us during Isaiah Taylor's brief slump at the opening of Big 12 play, when he struggled to assert himself and withdrew from the relentless attacking that fuels his effectiveness. The Sooners' freshman point guard, Jordan Woodard, got the better of Taylor in Austin, but it will be an interesting match up to watch if Taylor plays to form this time around. I actually like Woodard a lot -- he's not lightning quick or explosive -- but he plays above his physical grade by being decisive and aggressive, and from possessing a keen understanding of how to use both his body and floor space advantageously. Woodard may not be quick enough to stay in front of Taylor, but Taylor may not be strong enough to keep Woodard out of the paint and/or off the line. It's an interesting match up, and the formula for winning in Norman on Saturday almost assuredly includes Taylor getting the better of that battle.
On the defensive end, we have to do a better job of using contextual understanding to keep track of OU's shooters. The Sooners aren't likely to shoot as blistering hot as they did in Austin (a ridiculous 13 of 28 on their three pointers), but their strong offensive numbers are not a fluke. They've got guys who can stroke it, and they do a terrific job of finding offensive opportunities in the transition game.
We do have a size advantage over the Sooners, and our offense is fueled by offensive rebounding, but Woodard and the Sooners flip the court so quickly and effectively that I'll be interested to see whether we're able to hit the offensive glass as hard or as well as we normally do. I'm sure we'll try, and I know we'll want to work over OU in the paint, but it will be important for us to be looking for offense in transition as well.
I don't know what to expect to see from Texas today. We've really struggled to find our bearings over the last three road games, but Lloyd Noble isn't exactly the house of pain that are Bramlage, Hilton, and the Phog, either. Presumably Sooner fans will be fired up for Texas, though, so it should be a pretty strong home environment for the Sooners. As always, we'll go as far as Holmes, Ridley and Taylor take us, and it's when those three are all playing well that a guy like Felix is likely to be his most effective self. We could use some catch-and-shoot threes in transition from Javan on Saturday afternoon.
After wishcasting a Texas victory in Lawrence last week, I'm taking a few in the penalty box and foregoing a projection for this one. KenPom has us as a 5-point underdog in this one, and that feels about right. I'm not confident about our ability to pick up a win today, but neither do I think it unwinnable. I'll feel great about our chances if we win the battle of the point guards, win on perimeter close outs, and win the battle to find offense in transition.
We'll see. Should be a fun one.
For more on the game with the Sooners, check out jc25's game preview over at Barking Carnival, as well.