The improbable surge of the Texas Longhorns firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble can receive another boost on Saturday afternoon when the Oklahoma State Cowboys visit the Erwin Center for the final regular season game for both teams.
With 16-14 record and sitting at No. 71 in the NET rankings, the Cowboys haven’t had a good season by any stretch of the imagination, but head coach Mike Boynton’s team is dangerous enough to pull out home wins against Texas Tech and Oklahoma in conference play and Houston back in December. However, the issues have been on the road, where the Pokes are 1-7 in the Big 12, with the lone win coming in Manhattan against the Wildcats, the conference’s last-place team with only two wins.
After Texas opted to move Saturday’s baseball game against Cal State Fullerton up to noon in order to provide fans a chance to make their way across I-35 for the final regular season game, the hope is that the Horns will receive enough support to make it difficult for Oklahoma State to pull out a second Big 12 road win.
In the first meeting this season, the Longhorns pulled out a 76-64 win in Stillwater thanks to five players in double figures, led by sophomore forward Kamaka Hepa with 15 points in his best performance of the season. With junior forward Jericho Sims saddled with foul trouble and held to six points, Texas got a preview of what the lineup will look like on Saturday in the frontcourt.
The Horns shot the ball extremely well in Stillwater, hitting 48.2 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from the three-point line. Now that the defense has surged to No. 3 nationally in defensive efficiency over the last 10 games, Texas has more margin for error on that end despite all the injuries and should be able to beat Oklahoma State at home without shooting that well.
Against Oklahoma in Norman on Tuesday, the Longhorns held the Sooners to a season-low 51 points on 28-percent shooting. In January, the Cowboys were able to keep the game within 12 points by hitting 40.3 percent of their field-goal attempts.
The new addition to the Texas rotation since then is redshirt freshman guard Brock Cunningham, who may draw the assignment of 6’7, 230-pound Oklahoma State forward Cam McGriff. In the first game, McGriff didn’t play particularly well, but he is a matchup problem for most teams.
During the five-game winning streak, Cunningham has hit 7-of-13 field goals and 4-of-8 three-pointers while leading the team in rebounding at 5.0 per game.
The game tips off at 3 p.m. Central on ESPN2. Texas has a 66-percent win probability, according to KenPom.com, with a projected margin of 66-61. In Austin, the Horns have won 13 of the last 15 games against the Pokes.