NORMAN, Okla. -- Texas is in prime position to earn its first Big 12 win of the season at 8:30 tonight at Lloyd Noble Center, and that’s bad news for Oklahoma. These lame steers are poised to show the Sooners their horns.
The Longhorns are salvaging what’s left of a season where they only recently found out on Dec. 20, they’d be without the services of sophomore Myck Kabongo until Feb. 13. Kabongo had been under investigation by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits with sports agent Rich Paul that came to light earlier last year.
SCOOPHD: OU-TEXAS BIG MONDAY PREVIEW
This season was supposed to be the season he showed NBA scouts he was a complete point guard. Not only a man who can drive to the basket and create contact, but a floor general, a man who could command Texas coach Rick Barnes’ half-court offense and become the next Longhorn, NBA-bound point guard.
OU coach Lon Kruger can't say for certain if Texas' poor play so far this season is due in large part to Kabongo's absence, but it's reasonable to think the Longhorns might be a better club with him in the lineup.
"Well, you'd have to ask Coach Barnes that," Kruger said. "But I would imagine he'd like to have Kabongo rather than not have him. Yeah, I'm sure that'd be a big difference in their game."
A good point guard is what Barnes’ Texas teams have needed to be successful, a leader with skill enough to carry the Longhorns through trying games and take over in games close enough for them to win. The Longhorns (8-9, 0-4 Big 12) have never had a chance to play with Kabongo this season. So they’ve turned to freshman Javan Felix.
Freshman guard Je'lon Hornbeak will likely draw Felix, and he knows how to guard a point guard like him.
"You try to disrupt what they want to do," he said. "If they want to look to pass, try to make them score. If they look to score, try to make them pass. Just kind of throw different things at him, and see how he adapts to what kind of defensive changes you throw at him."
Though Felix has performed well, averaging 6.2 assists per game this season, he wasn’t supposed to be thrust into the starting lineup so quickly. If anything, he was supposed to back up Kabongo and run sets that allowed Kabongo to play off the ball, but the NCAA had other plans.
The season hasn’t gone as planned for Texas, which was picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 by the coaches in the conference’s preseason poll. A loss to Division II Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. Another to USC in overtime. And yet another to UCLA at Reliant Stadium in Houston by just two points in a game that some still think set the game of basketball back a few years.
Since Dec. 8, the Longhorns have won just three of their last eight games, but their most recent loss came in a game they were winning for the first 35 minutes and 31 seconds of a 40-minute contest against a top 5 Kansas team.
Texas held the Jayhawks to just 28 percent shooting in the first half, and forced the Jayhawks to summon a late game heroics at Frank Erwin Center last Saturday -- the same Saturday Oklahoma was handled by a top 25 Kansas State team at Bramlage Coliseum. The Longhorns proved they aren’t as bad a club as the standings show, and, they might be ready to hit their stride.
Texas lost to a Jayhawks team that is a favorite to stage a sprint to the Final Four in Atlanta, and the Sooners lost a chance to put the nation on notice and a boon for a program that has been rebuilding since 2009.
Oklahoma (12-4, 3-1 Big 12) has lost just once at home this season. Now isn’t the time to start letting visitors walk out the front door with mother’s fine china.
With a visit to Allen Fieldhouse coming Saturday -- the only place more secure in Kansas is Leavenworth federal prison -- the Sooners had better return to the playing the kind of basketball that has many believing they’re a tournament team. And fast.
After all, this ain’t the state where losing to Texas in anything -- men’s basketball, football, checkers -- is taken lightly.
"Every game is a must-win in the Big 12, especially going against a rival in Texas," senior forward Romero Osby said. "We hate them. They hate us. Historically, we've always had a battle. So for us to get a chance to go against our rival after a tough loss, and it's only a day later, that's always great."