The Texas Longhorns take their enigmatic selves on the road tonight to face possibly the toughest opponent on the schedule in one of the most hostile places on the planet if you're a Longhorn. The 8 central tip would be the stiffest of tests for any Longhorn team, but the challenge is even tougher considering the Longhorns still haven't found a true identity offensively nearly halfway through the season.
Don't get me wrong, Texas is just as talented 1-5 as Oklahoma, and has a much deeper bench than that of the Sooners, but this Oklahoma Sooner squad knows where its bread is buttered and I'm not sure you can say the same for the Longhorns at this point. Still, there are some matchups that benefit the Horns and there are some answers defensively for the Sooner's dynamic inside/outside tandem of Warren and Griffin. The wildcard, as always, is guard play. Will we get any? We'll see. On to the personnel...
The Sooners predominantly run a 3 guard attack under Capel, and they do a good job of spreading the floor which allows Blake Griffin to go to work down low. Their stud in the backcourt is 6-4 combo-guard Willie Warren. Warren struggled finding his role early in the year, specifically with how that role relates to Griffin, but those struggles have fallen by the wayside in the last month or so evidenced by two 30+ point explosions vs. Arkasas and Rice. Against Arkansas, Warren almost single handedly shot the Sooners back into the game after trailing by as much as 22 points, going a ridiculous 7-11 from deep. His ability to shoot the ball from behind the arc is just one facet of his game, but even more impressive is his knack for getting to the rim and finishing. Warren is shooting over 50% from the field on the year, which is outstanding for someone who's had nearly 80 3-point attempts. Warren is super quick and has a very strong upper body that allows him to absorb contact and still finish. Texas has to keep him from going nuts.
In the backcourt, Warren is flanked by assist man Arthur Johnson and the streaky shooting wing 6-6 junior Tony Crocker. Crocker shoots 33% from deep but he can be deadly when he's in a groove. Austin Johnson, the third guard, shares the ball handling duties with Warren. Austin's strength is getting other people involved and when those other people include Warren and Griffin, that's not a bad strategy. Johnson still struggles to shoot the ball consistently especially from deep as he's averaging just 28% on the year. This tandem's mediocre ability to shoot the basketball provides a window of opportunity for enterprising defensive teams and a source of help to the offensive threats Griffin and Warren.
Blake Griffin is the Sooner's uber-talented stud. He's a surefire lottery pick and may be the best player in the college game today. His talents literally allow him to be a sort of a "point forward" on the court because he handles the ball and can pass it like a guard can. Put a smaller player on him, and he'll annihilate you on the block and on the glass. Double him with anything predictable, and he'll find his brother Taylor Griffin for a dunk because he's a terrific interior passer. Double him with a guard and he'll either split it with his strength, or he'll find an open shooter. His one weakness offensively is that he sometimes dominates the basketball which gets the other players out of sync. Namely Warren. Defensively, Griffin takes possessions off and can be out of position at times.
The other frontcourt player is the aforementioned twin Taylor Griffin. He's a high basketball guy that is not nearly as talented as his brother but still pretty athletically gifted nonetheless. Taylor Griffin does a great job working with Blake and always seems to know where to be on the floor when Blake is attacking. Go figure. With little depth backing these two up, the Griffin brothers tend to rest on the defensive end and this can be exploited.
Cade Davis comes in to give them perimeter shooting punch and Omar Leary is a backup point guard that can be pressured into turnovers. Neither guard particularly well.
Frontcourt depth is virtually non-existent. And this will go hand in hand with one of our keys. Ryan Wright gives the Sooner five 6-9 fouls off the bench, and really nothing more.
Texas Keys to the Game
Let's just ink this key in to the previews for every game, the rest of the season. It's a code word for guard play. But in this game tempo will be especially important. The Sooners biggest strength is their competitive advantage over the Horns generating offense in a half court setting. They have Griffin and Warren to manufacture points if this becomes a half court street fight. Texas has sets and shit. The Sooner's weakness is depth. Their depth is actually embarrassing. Texas has depth in spades. We go 5 deep in the frontcourt and 5 deep in the backcourt with interchangeable parts. Texas must play fast when the opportunity presents and try to get as many possessions as possible to either tire out the Sooners or get them in foul trouble.
Offensively we can accomplish this by getting out and running on the primary break, and then running quick sets to find open shots in our secondary break. Defensively, I would pressure and trap fullcourt, and then game Griffin with some quick trapping and slow trapping in halfcourt. But Texas must play fast for good portions of this game to have the best chance at a win.
Play two different games.
Texas can put pressure on Oklahoma and at the same time play to its own strengths by playing two personnel groupings. What I mean by that is when Texas wants to pound with Dexter in the 4 out, they would be well served to play a personnel group of Atchley, Mason, Abrams, and James. Offensively, Texas would be able to spread the floor with 4 legitimate shooters and pound Dexter who would probably be guarded by Taylor Griffin so as not to expose Blake to foul trouble. This group would also force Blake out to the perimeter where he can be prone to pick up cheap fouls heding ball screens and defending dribble penetration. On defense, Texas could stay in its base M2M. Texas would have to play slower, but Dex has to be a part of this ball game, and the change in tempo and style might be a source of confusion for OU.
The second group would be my athlete, pressure, and get out and run group. I'd go with Johnson, Abrams, Mason, Ward/Balbay, and James. This would consist of full court pressure M2M, some token trapping, and then some quick trapping as a change up. In the halfcourt, Texas would have to switch and rotate like their hair was on fire to make up for the mismatch inside presented by Griffin. A press and drop back into an active zone would not be out of the question, and would serve to hide the glaring mismatch in the paint for stretches at a time. It's also one more thing for the freshman Warren to think about.
Ring the Bell.
I had a coach that used to tell us at some point in every game to, "Do the things that it takes to win basketball games." Yeah. Well. Of course. But looking back, I understand what he meant. You sometimes get caught up in the minutiae of bumping the flex cut, switch the scissor screen, hedge the two guard but trap the one, etc. and so forth. The fact of the matter is, when you shoot the basketball or ring the bell, you can cover up a lot of ills. If Texas can simply hit shots they're capable of hitting, a lot of everything else takes care of itself. And the Sooners aren't nearly the world beaters on defense that they were under Sampson. Capel's group will make shots available, layups and open 3's alike, and Texas has to hit them or it will be a long night.
Guarding Griffin and Warren.
First off, these two are going to score. It's how they score that's key. What we don't want from Griffin are easy drop step dunks and put backs off misses. If he want's to take a big off the dribble from 15 ft fine. Turn around jumper from 10 fine. Texas must do a good job taking Blake out of his comfort zone with a variety of doubles quick and slow. From a variety of angles, guards and forwards. If he catches is on the block, coordinate a double team from the other block that has you small forward anticipate the interior pass to Taylor, your guard staying on Warren, leaving Crocker and Johnson to catch and generate offense.
On Warren, you can't give up open catch and shoots or drives to the goal that get your bigs in foul trouble. Close out aggressively to his shot and then breakdown and sell out on his penetration forcing a midrange game. Warren doesn't look to drop dimes, so if bigs shouldn't be afraid to step in to cut off drives as long as the other forwards mind the weakside glass.
Just don't let these guys sleep walk to their season averages. Make them show you they're lottery picks by making NBA caliber moves.
For more thoughts on this rivalry game check out The General's tremendous quick preview.
Either way it'll be a tremendous test. We failed the one in Fayetteville, here's our opportunity for redemption.