Last Time Out
Texas and Oklahoma had the tough task of starting off conference season against each other in Austin. At the time, Texas hadn't quite hit its stride yet, and Oklahoma was still growing under freshman point guard Jordan Woodard.
The game was close throughout, though Texas led by seven with under eight minutes left and by six with under seven minutes left. But a quick three-pointer and an and-one on its next possession tied the score just over a minute later. And while Texas led by one with less than 2:30 remaining, the rest of the game belonged to the Sooners. Oklahoma broke open a game tied at 78 with six straight from Woodard, and he hit four more free throws to give OU an 88-82 lead heading down the stretch. Jonathan Holmes hit a three to pull Texas to within three, then Woodward, who had hit eight straight freebies, missed both shots. That left the Longhorns a shot at the tie, with Damarcus Croaker — who had 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting form three to that point — missing a three-point attempt.
The loss was a painful one for multiple reasons. For one, Texas overcame a 12-point Oklahoma first-half lead to take the second-half advantage. And while the 'Horns had been nails at closing down games late earlier in the year, Texas allowed a game to slip away that it almost had wrapped up … per KenPom's win probabilities, Oklahoma had just a 10.4 percent chance to win when Texas led 68-61 in the second half.
Oklahoma had the advantage in second-chance points as the Sooners out-rebounded the bigger Longhorns, and the Sooners hit 13-of-28 (46.4 percent) from three. Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins scored a combined 35 points and were 7-of-11 from behind the arc.
On The Sooners
Oklahoma has a top-10 offense (No. 10) per KenPom's Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, for two major reasons. First, the Sooners are a pretty good shooting team, with an Effective Field Goal percentage just outside of the top 75. Second, they don't turn the ball over much, with their turnover rate ranking No. 36.
Buddy Hield (6-4 208) is a tremendous offensive machine, scoring 16.7 points per game on the year. He's one of the best long-range threats in the Big 12, making more than three threes per game in conference play and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc vs. conference teams. Per Hoop-math.com, he also makes 63.3 percent of his shots at the rim, leaving him with one major hole in his game: the mid-range shot. Hield makes just 29.9 percent of his two-point jumpers, so if Texas can do a better job of running him off the three-point line, while also protecting the rim, the Longhorns can force him into some poor looks from an efficiency standpoint.
The same isn't true for Cameron Clark (6-7 211). Always a jumping jack with tremendous athleticism, Clark turned himself into one of the deadliest mid-range jump-shooters in the league, making 43.3 percent of his looks from that distance. A 15.3 PPG scorer on the year, Clark is also making an outstanding 46.8 percent of his threes, though he only makes about one per game. His all-round offensive game — and his 5.7 boards per contest — has allowed him to move from a wing spot to more of a stretch four this season.
While those two are Oklahoma's best scorers, Ryan Spangler (6-8 232) might be the Sooners' most important player. The Sooners don't play with a traditional center, meaning that Spangler is the team's big guy. In fact, of Oklahoma's 10 most frequent lineups over the last five games, Spangler is in eight of them. He is the Sooners' rebounding attack, a player who ranks among the top rebounders not just in the Big 12, but in the country. He leads the conference with 9.6 boards per game and his hustle and effort are two big reasons why Oklahoma doesn't get savaged on the boards despite playing with a small lineup. Most of his shots (two thirds) come from garbage attempts at or around the rim, though he's a respectable mid-range shooter.
Isaiah Cousins (6-4 186) is the Sooners' best wing rebounder, is the best wing in assist rate and is a similar two-stage shooter (at the rim and mid-range) to Clark. He's not quite as good from three, but at 36.1 percent, leave him open at your own peril.
Those four players have seen the court together for a whopping 36.2 percent of the minutes over the last five games, with the starting lineup, including point guard Woodard (6-0 185) playing together 28.7 percent of the time. That' s a huge amount (Texas's most frequent lineup of Taylor-Felix-Holland-Holmes-Ridley has played together for 18.7 percent of the minutes over that period). And the Sooners are not only 270th in bench minutes in the country, but they've started the same five in every game this season.
Woodard is the final piece of the puzzle, a steady-beyond-his-years presence who has a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and who gets to the free throw line at an unbelievable rate. His free throw rate of 87.1 ranks 17th in the country and is the second-best of any player in the Big 12 (behind Ridley). It's rare for any guard to make that list, as only three players sub-6-4 in the entire country are better at getting to the line than Woodard. He hasn't figured out how to score inside the arc when he isn't going to the line, making just 36.2 percent of his twos, though he does shoot 38.3 percent from three and 77.1 percent from the free throw line.
Je'lon Hornbeak (6-4 184) is the first guy off the bench, often as the team's backup point guard, though he has a higher turnover rate than assist rate, and takes nearly 50 percent of his shots from three, where he's making just 17 percent of his shots. He doesn't shoot a bunch in general, so it doesn't become a huge deal, though he does take about two threes per game.
Tyler Neal (6-7 234) adds another efficient scorer and rebounder off the bench. He's shooting 42.4 percent from three, and serves as Clark's backup. Frank Booker (6-4 198) is yet another 6-foot-4 guard that the Sooners can bring in (Oklahoma has four), though he's exclusively a wing. Recently, Oklahoma has been finding a few minutes more for D.J. Bennett (6-8 212), the team's best shot-blocker and Spangler's only real backup.
Oklahoma likes to get up-and-down — the Sooners rank 12th in Adjusted Tempo — and take quick shots (11th in average possession length). Defensively, they haven't had much to hang their hats on. OU has a top-100 defense (95th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency), but doesn't rank in the top 100 in any of the four factors that makes up efficientt defense. They're just OK at contesting shots, don't turn people over at all, aren't great at keeping people off the offensive boards and let people get to the free throw line too often.
In Big 12 play, they've been the worst at defending the three-point ac, allowing opposing teams to shoot 38.1 percent from three. But it should also be noted that in conference play, OU has done a much better job at preventing second-chance points and free throw attempts.
The bottom line is that when you play OU, you're going to have chances to run and score. The question is whether your scoring can keep pace with the Sooners.
How Can Texas Win?
It wouldn't hurt to have an approach like last time, with a couple tweaks.
* Texas has to do a better job of running Oklahoma off the three-point line. The Sooners have some excellent mid-range shooters, as listed above, but an 18-foot two is ALWAYS better than a 20-foot three. Oklahoma hit 13 threes last time. Most teams that hit 13 threes, especially out of 28 attempts, are going to win.
* Texas has to rebound better. The Longhorns have a severe size advantage, with two players in the lineup bigger than the Sooners' starting center. And while OU only has one 6-8 guy on its bench in Bennett, Texas can counter with Connor Lammert (6-9 235) and Prince Ibeh (6-10 250). The key is to take advantage of that. Allowing 17 offensive rebounds while only grabbing eight yourself is unacceptable.
Other than that, Texas did a lot right in their first meeting. Texas hit 40.9 percent of its own threes. The Longhorns averaged 1.15 points per possession. They swatted nine shots, kept OU off balance around the rim, and hit 56.4 percent of their twos, taking advantage of their size.
Texas nearly pulled the game out in Austin despite the Sooners going bonkers from three and out-rebounding the Longhorns by 11. Fix a few of those holes, and show up scrappy and ready to play, and the 'Horns could have a chance at a big road win.