Red River part II: Sooners five questions

AUSTIN — Longhorn Digest's Kevin Flaherty asks Sooners Illustrated's Joey Helmer five questions in preparation for tonight's rematch between Oklahoma and Texas.

1. Oklahoma went from the bottom part of the Big 12 to being one of the league's stronger teams in a year's time. What do you think has been the major difference?

Depth and improved guard play are the two biggest keys. The Sooners lacked an adequate bench to compete in the Big 12 a year ago, but that has changed with the addition of three talented freshmen guards in Buddy Hield, Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins. Forward Amath M'Baye is also active and has been a solid addition this year after transferring from Wyoming and sitting out a year ago. Sam Grooms has recently elevated his game to another level, but more talent at the guard position, including those three guys listed above, has taken a lot of the pressure off him and allowed him to do so.

2. How have the Sooners adjusted to the loss of starting guard Buddy Hield?

Better than expected. Many figured Hield's absence would be devastating to OU's guard play over the remainder of regular season Big 12 play. But Grooms has emerged and stepped up, averaging 17.7 points per game in the three games since Hield fractured his toe. That has allowed OU to put together a pair of double-digit victories against Texas Tech and Baylor and nearly knock off Oklahoma State in Stillwater. From a production standpoint, the rest of the team has picked up the slack and hasn't missed much of a step. The good news, too, is Hield shot the other day without a boot and is expected to return sometime soon, perhaps for the Big 12 Tourney.

3. If you were coaching against Oklahoma, what would you try to exploit?

The Sooners have shown they're susceptible to a couple different things. The first is ball pressure. OU's guards, as good as they've been, are prone to turnovers when pressured in the backcourt, so that's something Texas can go after. Another is their size in the post. Forward Romero Osby is one of the best posts in the league, and M'Baye can stretch the floor as a four, but teams with bigger posts have shown the ability to bang down low and cause some problems. Think Kansas' Jeff Withey the first meeting between the two in Lawrence.

4. Right now, the Sooners are projected as being in the NCAA Tournament field for the first time in a few years. Do they have what it takes to pull off a few upsets and make a run?

Yes, they have all the ingredients to steal a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. Keys to doing so include all the previous things that have been discussed: depth, talented guard play, posts that can bang while also stretching the floor and one other thing that hasn't been mentioned, coaching. Lon Kruger has taken four different teams to the NCAA Tournament and he'll do so with a fifth this year, a team that's dangerous with their combination of frontcourt and backcourt play.

5. The first game between these two teams was close down the stretch. What do the Sooners have to do to pull off the sweep?

First off, not turn the ball over. Second, make sure to limit Texas guards Sheldon McClellan and Myck Kabongo and not let either of those two go off. Third, just hit shots early in the contest. If the Sooners can get ahead in this one, it's going to be tough for Texas to overcome it.

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