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Texas looks for conference win against Oklahoma

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The young Longhorns will meet the young Sooners tonight in Austin. The game tips off at 8 p.m. CT, and airs on ESPN.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Shaka Smart isn’t the only Big 12 coach struggling to make things work with an inexperienced roster. Coming off of a trip to the Final Four, Oklahoma Sooners coach Lon Kruger said goodbye to his talented senior class and said hello to the struggle. The Sooners are 8-10, going 2-5 through the early part of the Big 12 season, and just like the Texas Longhorns could use another win.

It hasn’t been all bad for OU, lately. Last week, the Sooners won on the road in Morgantown in what may end up being the most perplexing result of the Big 12 season. That win came in part because of a 20-point performance by senior point guard Jordan Woodard, and in part because Kruger’s squad managed to limit mistakes and take care of the ball against the West Virginia pressure.

Woodard is the most familiar name to Big 12 fans, as he has been a fixture in the OU lineup since his freshman season. He is fast and aggressive with the ball and an outstanding shooter. But as always has been the case, he can struggle to finish around the basket against bigger players.

Also returning from last season’s lineup is junior center Khadeem Lattin. Lattin played big minutes on last year’s Final Four team, anchoring the defense, and he is getting heavy use again. Lattin is springy around the basket and quite capable, but his biggest impact remains on the defensive end of the floor where he is one of the better shot blockers in the Big 12.

Beyond Woodard and Lattin, Oklahoma is breaking in a bunch of guys Texas fans won’t be familiar with, but will come to know over the next few years. Much like the young Longhorns, the young Sooners are very talented, and just need a bit of time before they are going to be a big problem for everyone.

Freshman Kameron McGusty and sophomore Rashard Odomes have both taken starting roles on the wings, displacing struggling sophomore Christian James from the lineup. I believe in all three of these guys as solid long-term prospects, and I find the struggles of James this season somewhat perplexing, although I do note that James has hit pretty well from the perimeter. McGusty is also shooting the ball well, while Odomes doesn’t look to fire from the perimeter very often, but is rather adept going to the hoop.

In the front court, 6’7 freshman Kristian Doolittle, 6’10 freshman Matt Freeman (who has been banged up lately), and 6’7 sophomore Dante Buford can all step out on the floor and hit a shot from the perimeter, and one or more of these guys is going to develop into the sort of floor-spacing big man that recent OU teams have always had. 6’10 sophomore Jamuni McNeace isn’t much of a scoring threat, but ably backs up Lattin at center.

Texas and Oklahoma are pretty evenly matched. OU has an experienced point guard and a bunch of talented young players who haven’t quite put it all together yet, which sounds sort of like if you took the Texas Longhorns and swapped out Jarrett Allen with a somewhat undersized senior lead guard.

I think chances are good that two seasons from now these will be two of the best teams in the league. The game tips off at 8 p.m. CT, and airs on ESPN.