Head coach Shaka Smart won’t be on the sidelines when the No. 5 Texas Longhorns take on the No. 24 Oklahoma Sooners at an empty Erwin Center on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Central on ESPN2.
Off for 10 days following two postponed games due to COVID-19 issues in other Big 12 programs, Texas revealed on Monday that head coach Shaka Smart tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating from the team and his family as he recovers.
In Smart’s absence, first-year associate head coach KT Turner will take over for the rivalry game — and almost certainly for Saturday’s game in Lexington against Kentucky in the Big 12-SEC Challenge — as questions loom about player availability for the Longhorns.
If any Texas plays had recent contact with Smart before he tested positive, they’ll have to quarantine for seven to 10 days. Now at the end of that quarantine period after redshirt sophomore guard Brock Cunningham tested positive before the Kansas State game on Jan. 16, sophomore forward Kai Jones and freshman forward Greg Brown III should be able to make their respective returns.
Not only are Horns dealing with the program’s most significant COVID-19 issues of the season, the Sooners come to Austin with a 9-4 record and a three-game conference winning streak.
Victories over Big 12 bottom-dwellers TCU and Kansas State aren’t particularly impressive, but in Oklahoma’s previous game, the Sooners beat the slumping Jayhawks in Norman, one of the team’s best wins this season along a defeat of the Mountaineers.
Senior guard Austin Reaves, the Wichita State transfer now in his second season on the court for head coach Lon Kruger, leads the team in scoring (15.2 ppg), assists (5.2 apg), and rebounds (5.1 rpg). However, Reaves has struggled with turnovers (2.8 tpg) and his three-point shooting (23.1 percent), so the Texas guards need to strike the balance between pressuring Reaves with the ball while focusing on keeping him out of the lane to limit plays for himself and his teammates.
Overall, though, Oklahoma protects the basketball extremely well, ranking in the top-10 nationally in turnover percentage and taking advantage of free-throw opportunities with high-level efficiency. The Sooners don’t get to the line often and struggle to defend the three-point line on defense, but defend without fouling and create transition opportunities through turnovers.
Brady Manek, De’Vion Harmon, and Umoja Gibson all convert efficiently from beyond the arc, too, which will challenge a strength of the Texas defense — the Longhorns are only allowing opponents to shoot 28.3 percent from three-point range.
In Big 12 play, Texas is also shooting well, hitting 37.7 percent from three in six conference games and 44.6 percent from deep in the last two games. With the return of senior guard Jase Febres from microfracture surgery, the Horns have a chance to continue that hot streak.
KenPom.com gives Texas a 70-percent win probability with a projected margin of 74-69.