1) Defensive Struggles Popping Up
Texas allowed a poor 1.14 points per possession against Oklahoma State, marking the third horrible performance in that category in the Longhorns' last four games. The 'Horns were at 1.19 points per possession against Oklahoma and 1.21 allowed against Michigan State. To put those numbers into perspective, Texas's worst defensive performance prior to those games was a 1.07 mark allowed against South Alabama.
Against Oklahoma State, it was easy to trace where the inefficiencies came from. Texas was swamped in transition, allowing 19 fast-break points. And the Cowboys went to the free throw line 51 times, making 35 of those shots. That means 54 points, or 62 percent of Oklahoma State's scoring, came on highly advantageous opportunities either on the break, against a non-set defense, or at the free throw line, taking advantage of un-defended chances.
2) Texas Was Too Sloppy on Offense
It's hard to keep a lead — Texas led by eight points in the first half — or come back from a deficit when you're sloppy with the ball. And despite the Longhorns showing plenty of scrap and heart, they just couldn't put things together offensively.
Below, I'll talk about one of the main issues. But here, I wanted to be a bit more general. Texas committed 16 turnovers (which led to 17 Oklahoma State points) and shot just 3-for-18 from behind the three-point line. While everybody's prone to a bad shot or two, and nobody has great shooting nights every night, those numbers actually speak to a larger, more fundamental problem: Texas needs to move the ball better.
So many of Texas's turnovers came on sloppy passes like half-hearted entries or hurried attempts to swing the ball without looking at their target. It's not something that's unique to Texas … many young teams struggle to master being sound with the ball.
But it's something that begs for more emphasis as the year goes on. The best way to break up a defense is to reverse the ball, switch sides of the court. This allows players to establish better post position, and creates more opportunities for the defense to mess up in rotation. Doing things like reversing the ball creates more entry and driving opportunities, and getting the ball into the middle of the defense allows for easier kick-outs for more open three-pointers.
Instead, Texas turned the ball over, and when frustrated with the offense, would at times settle for a 25-foot three-point shot early in the shot clock. That shot can be had at any time. The wide-open three in the short corner, right on the line? That's a better, more efficient shot.
3) Recognizing Situations
On a night when Texas had two players slap up double-doubles, Texas big-man Cameron Ridley had one of the more active 7-and-7 performances you'll see. Ridley routinely grabbed excellent position and battled on the boards, grabbing four offensive rebounds and keeping rebounds alive that he wasn't able to get. And he did that despite playing much of the game with a giant bandage on his head, courtesy of a nasty elbow that opened a gash and stopped play.
There was just one problem: Ridley didn't get the kind of touches that his effort and play dictated. Why didn't he score more than seven points? Because Texas rarely entered the ball into him. None of Ridley's seven points were assisted, with five of his seven points coming directly from his own offensive rebounds. He took all of four shots from the field, though he did draw six free throw opportunities.
And that's what I wanted to get into here: recognizing situations. Oklahoma State is without Michael Cobbins for the rest of the year, making the Cowboys' already thin post group even more slender. Certainly, the Cowboys didn't have anybody to match up with the 6-foot-10, 285-pound Ridley in the post, who, at times, was posting up players like Le'Bryan Nash, who gave up at least two inches, more than 50 pounds and even more wingspan. In fact, two of Ridley's free throws came on one of the rare occasions Texas did enter the ball into Ridley against Nash, with Ridley drawing the immediate foul.
NBA players are known for their ability to exploit specific matchups. They run sets and systems designed to get a slow guy defending the dribble of a fast guy, or a big guy posting up a little guy. While that's largely overcomplicated for the college game, players should still be able to recognize when they have a major mismatch that they can take advantage of.
With his sheer size and length, Ridley is a mismatch against most teams Texas faces. That's part of the reason Barnes wants to work inside-out as much as he does. But it's especially vital that the players realize when he's in an even more advantageous situation than normal, and get him the ball in those situations.