Texas Longhorns vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Basketball Preview

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys starting C was lost for the season last week. This could be either really good or really bad for Texas.

Hate to break up the all the Charlie Strong posts on the front page, because it is so nice to read about an actual football coach at this school, but there is a basketball season going on. While Rick Barnes had a good non-conference run this season, conference play will tell the tale. It always does.

After a tough home loss to OU on Saturday, Texas travels to Stillwater for one of the toughest games on the Big 12 schedule. Not many teams are going to get a W out of at OSU this year. However, we might have caught Travis Ford's boys at the right time.

OSU lost their starting C (Michael Cobbins) right before the start of Big 12 season and they are still trying to figure out their new identity. While he was only playing 20 minutes a night, he was their biggest player and best interior defender.

In a close loss at Kansas State on Saturday, Ford went small, adding another guard and shifting everyone on the lineup down a spot. I'm guessing that has to be the plan going forward, because they don't have too many other options off their bench.

Starters:

Markel Brown: Brown has better numbers than Smart across the board -- FG%, bounds, assists to turnover, steals. He's a super-athletic senior who can ball-hawk, shoot and make plays for teammates. Give him a lane to the rim and he will dunk on your head.

Marcus Smart: A future lottery pick with incredible size (6'4 225) for a PG, but he's also still a sophomore adding polish to his game. Playing Brown on the ball has allowed Smart to hunt his own shot more this year. At times, it's like he's going out of his way to prove he can shoot 3's.

Brian Williams: An athletic junior wing (6'5 210) with NBA-size and athleticism - another perimeter stopper who can get into his man and turn them over. His offensive game is mostly dunks, putbacks and run-outs. Keep him out of transition and off the glass and he won't hurt you.

LeBryan Nash -- At the college level, Nash probably makes more sense as a small-ball 4. He had 20/6 against Kansas State; he might finally start putting up numbers this season. The scouting report says to make him shoot, but it's hard for bigger guys to stay in front of him.

Kamari Murphy -- 6'8 220 combo forward shifted down to the 5 after Cobbins' injury. Of the two, he's the better player -- he rebounds and blocks as a similar level and he can play on the perimeter. The problem is there's no one behind him.

Bench:

Phil Forte -- The Keiton Paige scholarship recipient for the second straight year. 5'9 white guy who will hoist from anywhere -- deadly in transition. If Ford is feeling devious, he'll stick Forte on Javan Felix and goad him into taking pull-up jumpers.

** It just occurred to me that every team should do that. This is the kind of weakness that can really be exploited in conference play. The level of scouting and game-planning just goes through the roof. An ACC team playing you on a Tuesday ain't got time for all that.

Stevie Clark -- 5'11 backup PG. You know Clark has talent because of the BS the coaching staff has put up with. He took a pot charge on New Years Day, which means he's been suspended twice this season. You would think he'll be out, but this is OSU.

Marek Soucek -- A 7'0 junior from the Czech Republic whose been wheeled off the bench and pressed into duty as the backup 5. He had 3 fouls in 6 minutes against Kansas State.

After the injuries, Oklahoma State plays like an NCAA version of the Heat. They have one big man and four perimeter players and they can all get out and run. You better control the backboards against these guys and keep them in the half-court.

Pace will be the key for Texas. If Brown, Smart and Williams can speed them up and get the game going up-and-down, it's not going to be pretty, especially at Gallagher-Iba. Texas needs to take care of the ball and pound it inside to the big men.

Getting Murphy into foul trouble would be huge. If he's only playing 20-25 minutes and OSU has LeBryan at the 5, they aren't getting much rim protection or rebounding at the position, let's put it like that. Cameron Ridley needs to wear these little guys out.

If Texas can establish Ridley in the low-post, OSU will have to go into zone, which should open up things for shooters on the perimeter. Losing Cobbins definitely makes them more vulnerable. I'm just not sure if we can exploit those vulnerabilities enough.

In a rowdy road game, the key for any young team is to protect the basketball. Barnes might need to use all his timeouts by the middle of the second half. Don't save any for an ATO at the end of the game - keep the crowd out of it as much as possible.

OSU is a -13 point favorite for this game, which seems about right. The game is at 8 on ESPNU.

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