John E. Hoover: Sooners better not overlook Texas
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
2/27/13 at 8:22 AM
Related Story: OU meets key NCAA Tournament criteria
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Original Print Headline: Sooners better not overlook Texas
This is where we find out exactly what Oklahoma is made of.
The Sooners visit Texas on Wednesday night, and there are signs throughout the universe that would suggest an OU victory is imminent.
Lon Kruger has restored basketball order in the Lloyd Noble Center with elemental defense and uncompromising discipline and unpretentious chemistry.
A magical blend of freshmen and seniors comprises the best Sooner roster in four years.
Texas is so bad this year, that ubiquitous Longhorn logo is like a Rorschach ink blotch that sends UT fans into fits of rage or despair.
By the numbers, OU - 18-8 overall, 9-5 and in fourth place in the Big 12 Conference - should win.
Texas is down, just 12-15 this season, just 4-10 in Big 12 play. Coach Rick Barnes is suffering by far the worst of his 15 seasons in Austin.
But it's still OU-Texas. Good rivalries have a way of evening out what should be an otherwise uneven matchup. Nothing invokes football's rancor, but clemency is abandoned when athletes in any sport cross the Red River.
UT is 10-4 at the Erwin Center this season, with losses to West Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. In that group, only the Mountaineers don't belong. The others sit first, second and third in the Big 12 standings.
OU's single greatest challenge will be to make baskets. In their victories in Austin, the Mountaineers, Jayhawks and Cowboys combined to shoot just 35.5 percent from the floor and 21.3 percent from 3-point range. Only Kansas State - 48 percent from the floor, 50 percent from outside the arc - sustained any shooting success at Texas, and the Wildcats scored an 81-69 triumph.
The Sooners might need that kind of shooting performance, the kind they had in the second half of their 73-67 victory over the Longhorns in Norman, when they made 54.2 percent of their shots.
But even though Oklahoma has won four of its last five and its offensive output improves seemingly every game, the Sooners shouldn't count on that kind of efficiency at Texas.
UT ranks fifth in the nation in shooting defense (37.2 percent) and fourth nationally in 3-point defense (27.7 percent). That's no accident.
When Texas players commit to playing fierce defense, it's not pleasant for the opponent. The Sooners will need to convert fast-break chances and connect what few open perimeter and mid-range shots they'll get. If they don't, they'll have to play the kind of in-your-face defense that UT usually does.
Then again, that part shouldn't be too hard.
Texas' offense has been abysmal, ranking ninth in the league in scoring (64.1 points per game, only ahead of the hoops calamity that is TCU). The 'Horns rank eighth in the Big 12 in field goal shooting (41.1 percent), ninth in free throw shooting (63.9 percent) and 10th in 3-point shooting (27.8 percent). That kind of offensive incompetence doesn't even seem possible for a program like Texas.
Maybe all those early departures (T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin, et al) finally drove Barnes to a place he doesn't want to be: lacking big-time scorers. Texas will miss the NCAA Tournament this season for the first time under Barnes. Three of UT's losses this season came in overtime. Two others were decided by just two points. They've been tested by some of the nation's best, losing to Georgetown (No. 13 RPI), UCLA (No. 41) and Michigan State (No. 9) and beating North Carolina (No. 22).
Maybe things are looking up. The return of sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo (15.5 points, 4.0 assists in his four games) from NCAA suspension has given Texas something of a boost. He hasn't exactly turned the Longhorns around - they're only 2-2, and scoring is up four points per game - but the more he plays, the better they'll be.
OU (No. 20 RPI) certainly has reached the most manageable part of its league schedule, with home games against Iowa State and West Virginia and what should be undemanding road contests at Texas and TCU going into the Big 12 Tournament.
As the postseason draws nigh, Kruger has cultivated another NCAA Tournament team, remaking a proud but troubled program in his Spartan image.
But while winning in Austin likely wouldn't move the needle on Oklahoma's seeding, losing at The Drum would do exactly that - downward.
OU needs to win this game.