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Texas basketball hosts Oklahoma State in critical conference match up

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The Longhorns must protect their home court to keep their season goals in reach.

Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma State at Texas
5:00 PM  |  Austin, TX  |  ESPN2

If this up-and-down Texas Longhorns season has a trend, it's been suffering a discouraging setback followed by an optimism-restoring victory.  Drop non-con contests against A&M and Michigan; rally at home to pick up a big win over UNC and a critical road win in Palo Alto. Lose back-to-back games to UConn and Tech, plus Cam Ridley; bounce back to grind out a win over K-State at home. Miss an opportunity for a road win in Fort Worth; return home to knock off Iowa State.

I suppose that trend could be sustained in a way that ended in an NCAA Tournament bid, but tonight's game against Oklahoma State feels to me like one we can't afford to file in the discouraging category.  With the Longhorns likely to be underdogs in every road contest remaining on the schedule, plus half their home games, the margin for error in home games like tonight's is effectively zero.  With a loss tonight, we could easily be on our way to a 6-12 Big 12 record.  A win gives us a fighting change to get to 8 or 9 conference wins, and a likely NCAA Tournament bid.

As demonstrated in this week's 2-point loss to OU in Stillwater and the double-digit losses they suffered at WVU and Baylor, the Pokes are a fringe Top 100 squad that can give anyone a game at Gallagher-Iba but have proven beatable when playing away from their home gym.

OSU's strength is their athleticism, which they put to productive use on the defensive end, but offense is more of a challenge, particularly without senior sharpshooter Phil Forte, who's out with an elbow injury and may not return at all this season. That's a welcome break for Texas fans who remember Forte single-handedly handing the Horns a loss in Austin a year ago.

The Pokes roster has some other strong pieces -- most notably freshman baller Jawun Evans -- but without Forte, points will come at a premium that makes road wins in this conference a tall order. This is a game Texas needs to win, should win, and -- I'll predict -- will win.  The Longhorns take care of business at home, 73-59.