The Texas Longhorns are hosting the Oklahoma Sooners for the Big 12 home opener on Wednesday evening at the Erwin Center as head coach Shaka Smart’s program looks for its first win in conference play.
Smart hasn’t lost to Oklahoma at home since taking over in Austin (4-0) and the Longhorns are 18-5 overall in home openers since the formation of the Big 12 Conference.
The Sooners enter the game with a 10-3 record after beating Kansas State at home on Saturday and currently rank No. 51 in the KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric.
Head coach Lon Kruger boasts a team that executes well on both ends of the court, ranking No. 50 in adjusted efficiency on offense and No. 58 in adjusted efficiency on defense.
Three players average double-digit scoring for Oklahoma, led by senior forward Kristian Doolittle and junior transfer guard Austin Reaves, who both average over 16 points per game. It’s the first time Texas will face Reaves, who sat out last season after transferring from Wichita State and got hot late against Kansas State, scoring 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting over the final 10:30.
From long range, junior forward Brady Manek leads the way for Oklahoma at 37.8 percent, but the team overall only shoots 30.7 percent on three-point attempts.
In fact, Oklahoma and Miami are the only two major-conference teams that feature three players who average at least 14 points.
What the Sooners do at an elite level is protect the basketball, ranking No. 3 nationally in turnover rate. Kruger’s team also takes advantage of opportunities at the free-throw line, shooting 78.9 percent on the season, a top-10 percentage.
On defense, Oklahoma is able to play defense without fouling and doesn’t give up many offensive rebounds, but doesn’t stand out in any other categories. Nonetheless, Smart wants his team to remain aggressive and get the ball into the paint. There’s even a specific offensive call, “Gold,” that instructs the players not to shoot without first getting a paint touch.
On Tuesday, Smart also noted the need to finish better at the rim, hit more free throws, and get into rhythm shooting beyond the arc, all aspects of the game in which the Longhorns struggled against the Bears in Waco on Saturday.
“Really important for us on the defensive end to establish ourselves in this game early,” Smart said. “Obviously, coming off Baylor, for us we need to get into the paint. Our guys did a really good job of that, but then we gotta make shots. We got to make layups, we’ve got to make free throws, make more of our three-point shots, which I think our guys will.
“Our message to them going into this game, coming off of our last game, has been to have a mentality of continuing to fight together — staying together, staying united. So incredibly important when you make it into conference play, but definitely excited to be at home and put our best foot forward.”
One player who has been doing that in recent games is junior forward Jericho Sims, who has averaged 12.5 points and 13.0 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game while hitting 11-of-18 (.611) field goals in the last two games. He still needs to improve on his ability to seal opponents in post-up opportunities and demand the basketball, but he has been able to settle down the offense by scoring when he does get the ball down low and generally showing sustained aggressiveness.
Texas should also benefit from having a healthy Matt Coleman, as the junior point guard didn’t practice in the week leading up to the Baylor game due to illness. Coleman scored nine points against the Bears, but only recorded one assist and turned the ball over twice while suffering from foul trouble in the first half.
The game tips off at 8 p.m. Central on ESPN. Texas has a 57-percent win probability in this game with an expected score of 67-66, according to KenPom.com.