Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Part two of the basketball version of the “Red River Rivalry” goes primetime when #2 Oklahoma (25-1, 11-0 Big 12) visits Texas (17-8, 6-5) in a game far more important for the home team. The Longhorns have struggled in recent games at both ends of the floor, and their 2-4 stretch has them headed in the wrong direction when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament. Offensively, the departure of point guard D.J. Augustin has been a sore spot all season long. Dogus Balbay took the keys from Justin Mason a few games ago and played well in wins over Oklahoma State and Colorado.
But the redshirt freshman from Turkey had a terrible night in College Station on Monday, fouling out in just twenty-five minutes of action. The inconsistency at the point has at times short-circuited the offense of sharpshooter A.J. Abrams, who has to work that much harder to get good looks at the basket. If the Longhorns don’t get a good night from Abrams they’re done. With Augustin last season, or even Mason or Balbay when they play well, it isn’t that cut and dry so that should be a solid clue as to what’s necessary in order for Texas to have a realistic chance at beating the Sooners.
But for the issues that Rick Barnes’ team has had offensively, it’s been the defense of late that has added to their worries. And given the options that Oklahoma has offensively, beginning with likely National Player of the Year Blake Griffin, that is not a good problem to have. Griffin (22.8 ppg, 14.2 rpg) has been the best player in the nation from the start and has the look of a man among boys when he gets it rolling. The task of slowing him down will go to Dexter Pittman, the only Longhorn who has the size and strength to deal with Griffin. Expect plenty of double-teams from Texas as well, with a variety of looks (big-big doubles, guards doubling down, weak-side doubles, etc.) designed with the sole purpose of shutting him down.
But the problem with that strategy is that Jeff Capel has so many other guys who can hurt you. Four guards (Austin Johnson, Willie Warren, Tony Crocker and Cade Davis) with the ability to knock down open perimeter looks, two of whom (Johnson and Warren) can also make their way to the basket off the dribble. Johnson, once thought by many to be the “weak link” of this team, has been steady throughout for the Sooners. Warren is second on the team in scoring, becoming more comfortable with his role on this team after struggling some with shot selection in the early going. But to talk solely about those perimeter threats would be a disservice to two players who have made the difference between a contender and a potential national champion.
Starting alongside Blake is older brother Taylor (8.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg), a versatile forward who can hurt teams shading towards Blake in a variety of ways. He can score on the block himself, hit the mid-range jumper or dive to the basket when teams use the big-big double-team on Blake. But he’s been there since Day One; junior college transfer Juan Patillo shed his redshirt to contribute and boy has he made a difference. In the four games that he has played at least twenty minutes, Patillo has averages of 11.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. He’s active on the boards and isn’t afraid to skin his knees and/or elbows, becoming the perfect compliment to the Griffin brothers inside. Since Patillo has joined the rotation, the Sooners have been virtually unstoppable.
Make no mistake about it: this game is far more important for the Longhorns than it is the Sooners. A win for Oklahoma would most likely result in their first number one ranking since 1990; even if they lost this one they’d have a chance to recover with a win over Kansas on Monday. Texas, on the other hand, needs one more signature win to truly punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. They’ll need the home crowd to give its best effort as well, but it still won’t be enough to knock off the Sooners. They’re just that good.
Winner: Oklahoma Margin: 5-9 pts.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
At the begining of the season, these two squads looked like the class of the Big 12. But only Oklahoma is playing like a Final Four squad, while Texas looks destined for a 2nd round exit. Still, under the primetime cameras of ESPN, the Longhorns might have a special effort in store.
Early Prediction: Texas