Scouting Report: Oklahoma

The Red Raiders will square off against the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday at 12:30 pm at the United Spirit Arena. The showdown with the Sooners will mark the beginning of Big 12 play for Texas Tech. RaiderPower.com is your pre-game headquarters, providing you with the most in-depth scouting report you will find anywhere.

Gone is Kelvin Sampson, the guy Texas Tech fans loved to hate, off to Indiana under the cloud of an NCAA investigation.  Who can forget that day of infamy, Clockgate in 2003, when the Oklahoma timekeeper in the eyes of Tech partisans deliberately added seconds at the end of regulation.  That heinous act enabled #7 Oklahoma to snatch an overtime victory when  seemingly time would have otherwise expired in a defeat.  The only Sampson left is Junior sub Kellen Sampson. Now the Sooners have 31 year old Coach Jeff Capel III who enjoyed some success at Virginia  Commonwealth.

In the Knight vs. Sampson years, it appeared the team wanted to beat Sampson as badly as the fans wanted the same. Even in the down year last season, Tech barely lost  a heartbreaker, 71-70, at the end on a putback.  In 2004-2005, Tech won two of three, including a 69-63 win in the Big 12 Tourney to get to the finals. In 2001-2002 and 2003-2004, the teams split, including a win over #6 Oklahoma in 2002. In 2002-2003, two narrow defeats against a highly ranked Oklahoma, including Clockgate, may have cost the Raiders a trip to the NCAA Tourney.

The point, of course, is that Tech plays Oklahoma tough and vice versa.  More of the same can be expected this time around. The picture as usual is not clear, but at least on paper Tech is favored. Too bad for Techsters that's not where the game is played. But as we shall see, where the game is played could be very important.



By The Numbers

In determining relative strength, I use my own Composite Power Rating.  This indicates that while Oklahoma has a higher CPR, because of the home advantage, Tech should be about a narrow two  favorite. I now have Tech at its highest RPI of the season, hovering in the mid to high twenties.  Also for the first time, Tech's RPI is higher than all but Oklahoma State in the Big 12,  having narrowly passed Missouri.  I was actually surprised by the amount Tech advanced by beating New Mexico. Remember RPI is not a power indicator, but rather a formula very closely watched and considered by the NCAA. Once again, even losing to a good team would do some damage to the RPI due to the heavy home loss penalty in the NCAA RPI formula.
 

Per Game Statistical Comparison (Rounded Off)
  GM PPG R A TO A/TO STL BLK F FG% FT% 3PT%
TECH 15 76 32 15 12 1.2/1 9 2 18 .483 .696 .454
OKLA 12 70 38 15 16 1/1.1 7 5 17 .466 .670 .322


There are a few differentials that may bear closer examination, starting with PPG.  Unlike the New Mexico game, this differential is meaningful for a reason other than offense and the fact that difference in opponent strength always makes this number suspect.  The reason is that Oklahoma has won by comfortable margins.  Which brings us to the idea that the reason for the winning margins is not as much due to offense but to a seemingly good defense.  While sprinkled with cupcakes and the fact that Oklahoma has only played one true road game, the Sooners have stymied some decent offenses impressively. Even though in a losing cause, they held 11-3 Villanova to 67 points, their lowest point output in a win other than 64 against La Salle on the road.
They embarrassed 8-4 TCU by 63-35. Tech fans might believe, Tech having played TCU, that the Horned Frogs are not that bad even on the road.  Another indication was holding Tulsa to only 48 points in losing to Okla. 58-48, on neutral ground in Oklahoma City.  The Hurricanes' lowest previous point total, 59, was also in a losing cause( but on the road) to Arkansas.

This brings us to rebounding which is one facet which has helped Oklahoma keep opponents' scoring down.  They have out-rebounded all opponents but one and stayed virtually even with Purdue and Villanova.  Even against Memphis, the shortfall was 32 to 38.  This could be an area of concern to Texas Tech. Langor Langor, their 6' 11" Sophomore Center, is Oklahoma's best rebounder and his best is a good 8/game. Forward Sophomore 6' 7" Taylor Griffin contributes 7/game and Junior Guard David Godbold follows up with 6/game. However, in this regard Tech has been aided by a fortuitous unfortunate circumstance.  One of the best Sooner subs, 6' 8" Freshman Keith Clark, was injured two games ago against SMU and is out for the season. Clark was a star forward who led his team last year to a state championship in Oklahoma's highest high school division.  Praising Clark's play in the last two games against Tulsa and SMU, in what seemed more than a pro forma statement, Coach Capel said , "This is a huge blow to our team.   First of all, it's a big blow to Keith. He was just starting to play really well."  While his numbers were not big, he was becoming a significant contributor.

Now the analysis gets tricky, because it appears the Sooners' strengths and weaknesses are a combination of Bucknell/ UNLV and New Mexico.  That is, I believe that while they are good defensively (like Bucknell and UNLV) most of the time,  they are also quite inconsistent( like New Mexico)  at others.  Like New Mexico, in part this is a problem due to trying to integrate new faces into a cohesive starting unit as well as backups.  Freshman 6' 5" Forward/Guard Tony Crocker has started every game.  Sophomore Griffin has started all but one game. Bobby Maze, another freshman guard, is just now starting to get his bearings and is shooting very well after having suffered early in the season from a broken bone in his foot. Of course another freshman, Clark, is now out,  but another young player, Sophomore Point Guard Austin Johnso, has started all but one game.

Other areas of inconsistency are found in TO's, individual performance and FT shooting.  In FT shooting, the differences have been extreme, shooting a superlative 95%, 19/20, against Memphis and 18/21 against Purdue, in early games.  For some reason their performance has tailed off.  Against Villanova, they were 2/8; against Tulsa 11/19, SMU 11/17 and against Alabama, an unimpressive 4/9.

As to TO's, Oklahoma is generally creating more TO's than they make. However even though against a good Villanova team,  the Sooners generated 18 TO's but had 24.  Against lowly 2-11 Coppin State, 16 for their opponents, Oklahoma had 18 themselves.  Even in the win over Tulsa, they managed to match their opponent's TO total of 19.  Perhaps an area for Tech's
opportunistic 9 steals/game team to exploit.

In terms of individuals, there have been several who have been erratic in their scoring performances.  Senior Guard Michael Neal, the highest returning scorer from last season, is a prime example.  He scored 18 against tough Memphis, then 6 in the very next game against Purdue, and 6 against TCU,  and a paltry 3 against Villanova. Then he had a resurgence  against éclairs Coppin State and Texas Arlington, scored an OK 11 against Tulsa and then swooned to 5 against SMU and zip against Alabama on 0/7 shooting, including 0/6 on 3's.  Another player whose numbers are harder to assess is Griffin.  Against tough Memphis, he scored 18 points. Then the next game at home against Purdue he scored 6, then only 3 against TCU, and again 3 against Villanova.  He has never scored more than eight since.  However this may be explainable in part by the surge in performance by starting companion Longar.

As to 3 point shooting, I will make it short and sweet.  From all aspects, shooting percentage, number of shooters, consistency of performance, and even throwing in the kitchen sink, Tech should have an advantage, perhaps a decided advantage against Oklahoma in this department.I do not believe it is the mirage that first glance made it also seem that way against New Mexico. Austin Johnson and David Godbold are the best Sooners left in this aspect.  Their second best, even though on small numbers,  was injured Clark.




Schedule Analysis

With a heavy sprinkling of the usual cupcakes at home, Oklahoma's schedule is not nearly as challenging as Tech's.  However the Sooners, 7-4 in Division One, have faced some good teams, losing to all four.  They lost on neutral ground in the Maui Classic early to then #11 Memphis, 65-77, at home in a nail biter to Purdue, 74-71, again at home to Villanova, 51-67,and on the road to #8 Alabama, 70-55. As indicated by the score, while the other games were hard fought, the only really close one was the Purdue game. There is not much that can be gleaned from this except that they have played good teams, so they are not particularly intimidated at the prospect of playing Tech.  Of course, the fact that it is a conference game against a foe with
whom they traditionally play a close game, adds to the uncertainty.  The only thing that stands out in this schedule is that of the twelve games that they have played, only one has been a true road game, that one against Alabama.  That game was not really even as close as the 15 point deficit implies, although against a good team. Alabama a good road win against Notre Dame,  road wins against S. Mississippi. And NC St, and beat Iowa and Xavier at home.  So perhaps Oklahoma not being road tested could serve to the Raiders benefit.




Player Update

There are two things to especially note.  At odds with the preseason assessment, Capel for better or for worse has been pretty fixed in who he starts from the start of the season.  His regular starters at this point should be two guards; Neal and  Point Guard Johnson,  G/F Crocker, Forward Griffin, and Center Longar.  First off the bench is usually Godbold who has started 6 games and whose scoring high is 15 against TCU mainly on 3 of 4 treys. Others getting meaningful PT are Seniors 6' 6" Forward Nate Carter and Guard Chris Walker,  The player coming off the bench who conceivably could be most dangerous is the freshman Maze.  As mentioned, he is shooting well after being highly thought of as a recruit.

The player that can pose the biggest problem for Tech is Longar, who contrary to the pessimistic outlook preseason is finally living up to expectations after two years of under performing.  He is leading the team in scoring with about  13 points/game and as mentioned 8 rebounds/game.

Otherwise the scoring is balanced, with Crocker at 11/game, Johnson and Neal with 10/game, Godbold scoring 8/game, and three other scoring between 4 ½  to 7/game.




Bottom Line

The crux of the matter is that in what seems to be potentially a very close game, three aspects determine that Tech can win.  The first is of course the home court advantage, which advantage should be compounded by the fact that the Sooners are not at all that road tested, though three neutral site games help.  The second aspect is that in my  opinion, Tech has yet once again shown a resilience and toughness in the New Mexico game that should serve them in good stead.  If one can say a team has aa personality, this one's is an indomitable one that will not give up and will not let itself be beaten when teams make strong determined runs at
them.

Another circumstance that helps substantially is that at least as to any lingering effects of injuries, that xfactor seems greatly diminished.  Burgess' performance was much better against New Mexico, either by being sufficiently healed  or else a better ability to cope with his injury, or both.  Jackson also seems to be healing, although the injuries of both are most amenable to healing through rest, which unfortunately they cannot do.

Related to the second circumstance is that given the depth and quality that Tech has at guard, they should prevail over what has been said in the preseason analysis: "the guards are a terrific group of defenders".  The pitfalls in the forecourt have already been treated.



From College Hoops Net preseason  rankings:

Oklahoma Sooners
Overall Rank: #48
Conference Rank: #6 Big 12
2005-06: 20-9, 11-5, 3rd
2005-06 postseason: NCAA

How many shooting guards and small forwards can Oklahoma have on the floor at the same time? The answer very easily could be four or five if new Coach Jeff Capel wants to put his most talented players on the court. There are options at the point and post positions, but every one of those spots that gets filled, knocks another talented wing to the bench. Considering the fact
that it should take Coach Capel himself until January to figure out the starting lineup, it is probably not worth the effort for anybody else to try and take a stab at it.

Who's Out: One thing we do know is that the Sooners' starting five will be without Kevin Bookout, Taj Gray and Terrell Everett. Bookout and Gray were fabulous players up front and combined to average 25.3 points and 14.6 rebounds. The next highest on the board department was 3.7 per game and that was from fellow departing guard Everett. In addition to the rebounds, Everett tacked on 12.7 points and 6.9 assists per contest. Seldom used Michael Ott has left the program. With all those departures, it is easy to see why the proven talent is only left on the wings.

Who's In: Combo guard Bobby Maze will get a shot at running the point. He has quickness and the ability to run with the new uptempo style of play. Tony Crocker has the folks in Norman the most excited. The 6-5 shooting guard needs to become stronger during the offseason, but he has a nice stroke and is a pest on the defensive end. Crocker could very well be starting right away, if there is a spot for him. Keith Clark can play many positions, but the 6-8, 245 pounder will see most of his minutes at the four this year, or maybe even the five. Clark can get on the glass and do the dirty work under the basket or step out and hit the mid-range jumper. Walk-on Beau Gerber will provide some emergency depth in the paint.

Who to Watch: Austin Johnson started 13 games last year and is one of the options to start at the point. Chris Walker started seven games before falling out of favor with Coach Sampson and with the regime change comes a new opportunity for Walker to earn minutes. Michael Neal, David Godbold and Nate Carter anchor the plethora of talented wings. Sharpshooting Neal averaged 12.4 points per game last year. Godbold averaged 5.7 points per game in 24 starts and his defense will be tough to keep off the floor. Carter provided a spark off the bench last year, but is expected to play a bigger role this year. At 6-6, Carter has the size and strength to play at the four, but would preferably be on the wing.

Final Projection: The only problem with playing Carter at the four is then Coach Capel would need a true five to at least provide a post presence. The only choice is the disappointing Longar Longar. After heading to Oklahoma as a much heralded recruit, Longar averaged just 7.2 minutes per game as a sophomore last season. Sophomore Taylor Griffin showed promise as a freshman and doesn't lack in the strength department, but at 6-7, he's undersized to play the five. Unfortunately for the Sooners, Griffin will be forced to play the five quite a bit. Despite all the frontcourt concerns, the Sooners have talent. On the offensive end they will run and size isn't needed for that, although better shot selection than last year would be helpful. On the other end of the floor, the guards are a terrific group of defenders. If they can use that defense to stop the opposition from dumping the ball inside
continuously, they'll be on the bubble come March. With apologies to Crocker, the projected starting five.


Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT

Projected Starting Five:
Austin Johnson, Sophomore, Guard, 3.0 points per game
Michael Neil, Senior, Guard, 12.4 points per game
David Godbold, Junior, Guard, 5.7 points per game
Nate Carter, Senior, Forward, 6.0 points per game
Longar Longar, Junior, Center, 2.1 points per game
 


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