Chris Beard’s No. 21 Texas Longhorns welcome the Oklahoma Sooners to the Erwin Center on Tuesday night for the first basketball edition of the Red River Shootout of the 2021-2022 season.
Oklahoma enters with a 2-1 Big 12 record with wins over Iowa State and Kansas State and a loss to Baylor. Texas enters 2-1 with wins over West Virginia and Kansas State but on the heels of a disappointing loss to Oklahoma State.
Here are five questions ahead of the first meeting between a Beard Texas team and a Porter Moser Oklahoma team.
No. 1: Will the Longhorns show more aggressiveness?
During a Monday media availability, Beard laughed at how many times forward Brock Cunningham mentioned the word “aggressiveness” and the need to bring it for all forty minutes of a game. But Cunningham wouldn’t have repeated it as often as he did if the message wasn’t coming from the top.
For Texas, one way Beard would like to manifest that aggressiveness is through making more free throws than the other team attempts. By that metric, Oklahoma State was the far more aggressive team during the Cowboys’ 64-51 win Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.
The Cowboys were 16-for-23 from the line while the Longhorns were only 5-of-7.
“We need to get into the paint and make the refs call fouls,” Cunningham said Monday.
Free throws aren’t the only way to show aggressiveness, but forcing the issue for both the Oklahoma defense and the three officials will go a long way toward helping Texas to another Big 12 win (not a Quadrant 1 win, however, considering Oklahoma’s current No. 31 ranking in the NET).
“Victory is going to favor the more aggressive team,” Beard said Monday.
Texas needs to play aggressive, but it also cannot play careless. The Longhorns turned it over 14 times Saturday leading to 18 Cowboy points.
“You get a great college game, and in those games victory is probably going to favor the team with the fewest mistakes,” Beard said.
No. 2: Will Tre Mitchell be back?
Forward Tre Mitchell was not available versus OSU because he was in health and safety protocols. Not only were his 10 points per game and five rebounds per game missed, but so too was his interior presence.
Beard could not definitively say on Monday whether Mitchell would be available on Tuesday. If Mitchell is cleared, he’ll be needed not just for his smooth scoring ability but also to help defensively on Oklahoma forward Tanner Groves.
Groves, a 6-foot-9 transfer from Eastern Washington, is averaging 14.3 points per game and is shooting 60 percent from the field. He also adds six rebounds per game, and will be another test for Dylan Disu and Christian Bishop.
“Last game against a team that really has four bigs… we’re without one of our best players in Tre,” Beard said. “There’s been some adversity, but it’s no different than anybody else. It’s not an excuse.”
No. 3: Can Marcus Carr get back in his groove?
Carr scored 20 points in the Big 12 opener versus West Virginia and followed it up with 19 points in Manhattan, Kan. versus Kansas State. In those games, he was 13-of-25 from the floor, including 5-of-14 from three-point land.
He regressed versus OSU, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting with three assists and three turnovers. For a team with stated Monday night intentions, that caliber of guard play from the lead ball-handler won’t help them achieve their goal.
Carr and the guards will also face tough matchups on the defensive end with Umoja Gibson offering 13 points per game and Elijah Harkless netting 10.4 points per game for the Sooners.
If Texas wants to get off to a 3-1 start versus the Big 12 and avoid a losing streak, it’ll need better play from Carr on both ends of the floor.
No. 4: Is there more to Devin Askew?
From December 14 to January 4, Askew scored five points. He matched that total in one game versus OSU.
His scoring opportunities were forced by necessity, as both were late shot clock situations. But he looked comfortable taking a semi-hurried three and sinking a crisp turnaround jumper in both scenarios.
Askew sees around 15 minutes per game because of his ability to contribute to Texas’ No. 1 scoring defense. He defends multiple position with effort and is able to handle the ball well enough for Beard to be comfortable with him running the offense.
“He’s a really good defensive player and offensively he can play,” Beard said January 1. “He’s just trying to be a ball mover right now, but Dev is in the gym all day, every day. I don’t know what car he drives but next time you guys are driving down IH-35, look in that parking lot. He’s here man. He makes over 300 threes a day. He can shoot the ball, it’s just the matter of being on a team.”
But when two of Texas’ main three guards in Carr, Courtney Ramey, or Andrew Jones are not on the floor with him (and especially when Brock Cunningham joins him in the lineup), there aren’t a lot of scoring options for the Longhorns.
If Askew can provide more than a goose egg for Texas while its regular guards are getting a breather, it will go a long way for the team during Big 12 play.
No. 5: Ready for a new era of the Red River Shootout?
Lon Kruger helped Oklahoma become a consistent presence in the NCAA Tournament from 2011 to 2021 before retiring. He was replaced by Porter Moser, who was previously at Loyola Chicago.
Moser led the Ramblers to the same number of Final Fours as Kruger in that time frame with their exciting 2017-18 run.
Of course, this is Beard’s first season in Austin after he replaced Shaka Smart. It’ll be each coach’s first time going against each other in a rivalry series with plenty of exciting contests.
“This rivalry is one of the biggest in college sports, and it’s always a lot of fun to play the Oklahoma Sooners,” Cunningham said. “They have a great program, great school, great head coach.”
Beard and Moser have a connection through Little Rock, where Beard was head coach for the 2015-16 season and Moser from 2000 to 2003. The Texas head coach is familiar with the way Moser’s teams operate and had respect for his coaching ability long before the Loyola-Chicago Final Four run.
“Porter’s teams always start with toughness,” Beard said. “It’s a real toughness, too, not a fake toughness. They’re tough. They’re disciplined. They’re hard to score against. On offense, they have a toughness, too. They don’t take bad shots. I think what the world saw recently with (Loyola Chicago), we’ve known for a long time.”
Tip for Tuesday’s game at the Erwin Center is at 7:30 p.m. It will be televised by Longhorn Network.