OSU Hosts An Improving Texas Team
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - A home game against Texas likely registered as an easy win in most Cowboy fans' minds when looking at the remaining schedule a few weeks back.
Things have changed.
The Longhorns have proven to be a different team ever since point guard Myck Kabongo's Feb. 13 return to the lineup after serving a 23-game NCAA suspension. UT is only 3-2 since so the Horns are far from rejoining the big boys in the conference this year but this game hardly sets up as a pushover in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Make no mistake, this is a game Oklahoma State should win and likely will win, but Travis Ford's team needs to learn a lesson from its Bedlam rival before tipoff.
On Wednesday night the Longhorns rallied from a 22-point second-half deficit to force overtime and eventually earn a six-point victory against a shocked Oklahoma team in Austin.
The comeback was fueled almost entirely by Kabongo, who dropped 31 points against OU including a wild desperation jumper at the buzzer to send the game to OT.
As many OSU fans will remember, the Cowboys were the last team to face a Kabongo-less Longhorn roster when the Pokes beat UT 72-59 in Austin on Feb. 9.
OSU (21-6, 11-4 Big 12) ran roughshod over the Horns behind a 23-point, seven-rebound, five-steal and two-block tour de force from Marcus Smart, who was a complete mismatch for Texas' interim starter Javan Felix at the point guard position.
Now Smart must face Kabongo in a must-see matchup of elite Big 12 guards. Things won't go nearly as easily for Smart, but Kabongo has yet to face anyone like OSU's dynamo PG either.
UT (13-15, 5-10) is averaging 73 points per game with Kabongo back in the lineup, a considerable improvement from the 62.7 points the team averaged through 10 conference games without their star guard. Kabongo also averages a team-best 18.6 points per game along with 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.
Those numbers, albeit in a smaller sample size, are actually comparable to Smart's 15.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.9 steals per outing. And that's not something many other players in the Big 12 can boast.
This could arguably shape up as Smart's stiffest test yet as OSU's point guard. Smart and OSU will need for the other role players, namely Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown, to step up and offset the change that Kabongo will bring to this game's dynamic.
This is a game where Smart's defensive prowess might need to outweigh his offense, something he is more than capable of doing.
While UT has improved with his return as of late, one man does not a contender make.
Texas still came up empty against the other top dogs in the league, losing by 26 at Kansas and by 12 against K-State in Austin in the past two weeks with Kabongo in the lineup.
OSU is more talented across the board and should handle the Longhorns again and there will be an elite matchup for fans to watch between Smart and Kabongo. But the Cowboys need to be focused for 40 minutes on Saturday, just ask the Sooners.
The good news for Cowboys fans is that coach Ford shouldn't have much trouble getting his team's mind right with what awaits on the schedule.
This is the first in what sets up as a very difficult three-game stretch to wrap up the regular season. After Texas comes a Wednesday road trip to Iowa State in the always-tough Hilton Coliseum before senior night in GIA against Kansas State.
This is the first test in a stretch run that will play a major role in OSU's NCAA Tournament seeding and the test got a lot tougher.