We can haz number 1 basketball team now?
–@Recruitocosm tweet after Kansas was blasted by KSU.
Well you can if you can win out this week, Texas. But I’m not sure it will matter come seeding time. Win the Big 12 Conference regular season crown without dropping more than one game and Texas is a mortal lock to get a one seed. RPI, Wins against top 25 teams, strength of schedule ... Texas has all of these 1-seed-clinching ingredients in spades. If we take care of business, the road to Houston goes through San Antonio. Familiar territory for an El Paso boy.
As for the present, Oklahoma State comes to town needing a signature win in one of its next three ballgames against ranked opponents to keep their tournament hopes alive. A win against Texas, Kansas, or Texas A&M and they can get to .500 in conference and potentially sneak in. Lose all three and it’s academic, even for Dexter Manley.
The Cowboy Backcourt
For the Cowboys, it all starts in the backcourt. Don’t let his first name fool you, Keiton Page is a Travis Ford doppelganger, with in-the-gym range and carnival ride-excluding size. In the first meeting with Texas, Page struggled with Doge Balbay’s quickness/athletic ability combination as the Turkish Prison chased Keiton off of virtually every good look he got. You sit on Page’s shooting hand and force the sharpshooter to put the ball on the deck. Anytime Page is driving the basketball off of the catch it’s a win for the Horns as Keiton’s donut hole-for-7 from the field in the last meeting will attest.
The other guard is 6-3 freshman guard Markel Brown. I love this kid and think he’s going to be a really good player for the Pokes. Brown has really good quickness, great size, and, how should I say it, an evolving jump-shot? His range isn’t there but Markel can be streaky from behind the arc. For that reason I would cushion his dribble and make him hit one or two before aggressively contesting. If Brown can penetrate, he has the size to hurt Texas at the rim or find teammates who can. As Vasherized once told me, "penetration is key".
Ray Penn is the third guard and he comes in to run the show with water bug quickness. The problem is Penn has water bug size as well, so it’s tough to pair him with the carnie Page because it creates mismatches galore on the other end. Keep him in front and make him beat you over the top with the jumper or finding teammates. Penn should struggle with Texas’ backcourt size in this regard so don’t be surprised if he surpasses his 2 turnover per game average in this tilt.
The Cowboy Frontcourt
Inside, the Cowboys hang all ten gallons of their hat on 6-8 255 pound Marshall Moses. He’s a bruiser who can carve out space with his big body and find post-up buckets. He’s also terrific on the offensive glass grabbing 6 offensive boards in each of the last two OSU victories. Gary Johnson and Tristan Thompson better pack a lunch. Tristan specifically needs to do his defensive post work early because he has the length to bother Moses with half fronts and ¾ fronts. When Moses does catch the ball, Thompson needs to vary his defensive game between position defense and shotblocking. Moses knows he can’t get the ball to the rim over Thompson, so he’s going to try to get into Thompson’s chest to create space, which means if Tristan is savvy enough, there will be some player control fouls for the taking.
Jean-Paul Olukemi is the swing forward for the Cowboys and at 6-7 he provides a pretty solid matchup on both ends for Jordan Hamilton. Olukemi isn’t the jumpshooter Hamilton is, hitting just 30% from deep, but he has had 6 games of double digit foul shots which means he’s good at getting to the rim to create contact. This will be an interesting matchup for Hamilton because he’s rarely challenged by opposing team’s 3’s.
The other post is 6-8 230 pound Matt Pilgrim. He’s coming in to bang and board and isn't a real threat on the offensive end. Smart money says Tristan Thompson gets the nod to play Pilgrim which allows Texas’ flyswatter to patrol the paint without having to play much post defense.
Keys to the Game
Weakside Glass Work. If you’re looking for one of the biggest difference making aspects around the national college basketball landscape, the most often overlooked component is a 3 man that can rebound. Most teams play 3 guards and/or a pseudo 3 guard offense. Also, truly skilled swing men with size are playing professionally. Thankfully Texas has a true 3 that can board in Jordan Hamilton. It allows teams the freedom to vary their defensive looks in the post, because you know the weakside glass will be cleaned up by an elite rebounder. It also allows your shotblocker to help aggressively to drivers and cutters because Hamilton can compete on the backboards with the post player Tristan’s leaving. That’s huge, and one of the reasons Texas is playing defense at an historic level. It will also be key in this game given OSU’s space-eaters on the glass.
Recognize Shooters. I know I use this key a bunch, but it’s really important, especially against a club like OSU that has disparate skillsets. Close out aggressively on Paige knowing he’ll struggle to hurt you on the bounce. Give some cushion to Penn, Olukemi, and Brown because they want to drive the basketball. It’s not rocket surgery.
Keep the Foot On the Gas. I think Coach Barnes is going to want a little faster tempo for a variety of strategic reasons like having more talent and depth but I wouldn’t discount the psychological advantage of playing a little faster in this game. Texas has come out flat in three consecutive 2nd halves, so don’t be surprised to see a little pressure or manufactured pace to make sure the guys play 40 minutes. Also along these line, I would expect some quicker hooks if guys are dogging it on either end.
This one’s a trap game for Texas, especially with the kryptonite of a number 1 ranking looming in the foreground. The problem is the matchups and talent disparity are too glaring for anyone to expect a real close ballgame. Throw in the fact that the scare against Baylor gave Barnes some ammunition this week. In fact, that second half against Baylor was the worst thing that could have happened to the Pokes. They’ll have to get their signature win elsewhere.
Texas large, 74 to 56.