Rick Barnes’ Texas Longhorns are now losers of three straight and five of their last seven, yet somehow, the Horns are still ranked at No. 25 in the country with more than enough time to turn their season around. Texas is entering a stretch of their season where a four-game winning streak is both possible and probable, but it will have to begin against an opponent that the Longhorns have already fallen to by double-digits when the 14-7 (4-5) Oklahoma State Cowboys come to the 40 Acres Wednesday.
In the first matchup between the two, the veteran leadership for Oklahoma State proved to be the difference in their 69-58 victory in Stillwater, as Le’Bryan Nash, Phil Forte III and Anthony Hickey Jr. contributed a combined 50 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. That alone was enough to outshine the efforts of the Longhorns’ entire starting lineup and Myles Turner’s 18 points off the bench, as the six only contributed 48 points.
Wednesday’s meeting with the Cowboys is one that should seemingly be to the Longhorns advantage, as Oklahoma State has dropped each of their four conference road games. But there’s a reason the game isn’t played on paper and determined by previous road records, and as far as on-court performances go, things haven’t been tipping in Texas’ favor as of late. If that is to change Wednesday night, there’s a few things on the Longhorns to-do list that must be executed.
Oklahoma State is comprised of their offensive three-headed monster of Nash, Forte and Hickey. Forte and Nash are second and third in the Big 12 in scoring with 17.3 and 16.9 points per game respectively. Hickey is the primary guy who gets this trio running on all cylinders and his efforts are reflective on both sides of the ball, as he’s a tremendous defender averaging two steals to compliment his 8.6 points, five rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Michael Cobbins and Jeff Newberry have to potential to have an impact on this game also, but if Texas is to begin this four-game stretch of their schedule where every game is very winnable, they have to do exactly what they failed to do in the first meeting with the Cowboys and stop their version of a big three.
The way to do this would be for Texas to shy away from the zone defense and keep things in man-to-man for this one. The best way to beat a zone defense is to have the ball handler attack, and then attack some more, hit your shots from the perimeter and knock down the interior jumpers that will come your way with good ball movement – which Oklahoma State has. The three things I just mentioned are the exact strengths on Hickey, Forte and Nash, and they all carved the Texas’ defense up in their first meeting.
It’s a near given that Forte and Nash are going to put some points on the board, but face guarding Forte and keeping someone right in front of Nash any time he gets within 17 feet of the rim should be enough for Texas to come out on top, assuming they can find points themselves, which brings me to the Longhorns’ keys to victory on the offensive end.
I’ll keep this short and sweet, simply because the keys to the game on the offensive end for Texas is far from rocket science.
1) Get the ball down low early and often. Texas, like usual, has a tremendous size advantage on their opponents, but that advantage is completely useless if the ball stays out on the perimeter in the hands of guys who aren’t the best scorers in the world. Javan Felix was also ruled out of this one after suffering a concussion against Baylor, so now there will be even more pressure for Isaiah Taylor and the rest of the backcourt to feed the ball into Cameron Ridley and Turner early and often.
2) Isaiah Taylor needs to play like Isaiah Taylor. It’s been a long road back for the Longhorns’ sophomore floor general, but Taylor is finally starting to resemble his old self and he’s filling up the stat sheet as a result, averaging 18.6 points, 6.3 assists and 4.6 boards over Texas’ last three games. With Felix out, it will be even more necessary for Taylor to penetrate and create for himself and those around him, especially the big guys in the paint. A bad game from Taylor will transform into the Longhorns’ fourth-straight loss.
3) Keep Connor Lammert and Turner off the perimeter. We know both, Lammert and Turner can hit a shot from deep on occasion, but the two have combined to go 11-41 from the perimeter in conference play, and with Texas struggling to find points consistently, these are empty possessions that the Horns can afford to lose by way of their post players out there heaving up threes.
The odds certainly haven’t been in Texas favor lately, and another wrench has been thrown into the mix with their only real reliable threat from the perimeter being out with a concussion, the Longhorns will have to break routine and actually play to their strengths if they want to win this one.