Coaches Corner: Oklahoma Preview

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By Matt Cumro, Special to Inside Texas
Posted Feb 28, 2010
Copyright © 2018

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Tony Crocker (Credit: Will Gallagher/Inside Texas

Coach Matt Cumro, former Longhorn grad assistant and moderator of the Inside Texas Basketball Coaches Corner Forum, gives his in-depth preview of Monday's Texas-Oklahoma game in Austin, including opposing player tendencies, strengths, weaknesses and keys to the game.

•    Player tendencies
◦    #11 Tommy Mason-Griffin – Mason-Griffin is an undersized point guard who is just learning how to play the point at the Big 12 level.  In the previous meeting against Texas this season, he killed the Longhorns, scoring 24 points and dishing out four assists.  On the season Mason-Griffin is averaging 13.9 points per game and 4.8 assists.  He is very aggressive on the offensive end of the floor and has proven to be a good shooter, averaging 5.5 3pt attempts per game and shooting a very solid 42.2% from deep, where he will pull the trigger in transition, off the dribble, and off the catch.  The young point guard really does a nice job changing speeds, which helps get him into the paint, where he will look to finish shots in the mid-range and around the rim.  Off the catch Mason-Griffin will look to use a shot fake and penetrate to the left to get himself into the lane and in position to make a play.  Mason-Griffin has a 1.8:1 assist to turnover ratio, which is excellent for such a young player, but sometimes will get too deep off his penetration.  He really does a nice job off the screen and roll but he has a tendency to over-dribble on the perimeter and can get out of control going to the basket and looking for his own shot.  Mason-Griffin can be beaten off the dribble as he does not possess elite quickness.  His defensive positioning off the ball also needs some work.  However, the Sooners have played a lot of zone this season, which covers up some of his deficiencies.  Texas must find Mason-Griffin in transition, keep him from penetrating to the basket, and not let him have catch and shoot opportunities from 3pt range. The Horns cannot let him get off to a good start as they did in the last meeting.
◦    #34 Cade Davis  –  Davis brings a lot to the table for the Sooners and is a tremendous leader for this OU team.  In the previous meeting this year he had a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds and really provided the Sooners with a spark as he scored 16 1st half points.  Davis really moves well without the basketball and is adept at using screens.  Jeff Capel doesn't run many things specifically for Davis but will run him off of baseline screens to get open perimeter looks.  When coming off those screens he is a threat both as a shooter and a driver to the right or left, but really prefers to go to the middle depending upon what side of the floor he is on.  He utilizes a solid shot fake to get his defender off balance when he wants to drive.  Although he can hit the occasional pull-up jumper going left when he puts the ball on the floor he is looking to score at the rim.  He really likes to utilize a spin move once he gets into the lane after penetrating with either his right or left hand.   Davis has been an average shooter during his Sooner career and has been off this season hitting 39.1% from the floor and 33.8% from 3pt range on the season (51-151).  Because of his aggressive style he is also capable of getting to the free throw line, where he converts at a 76.3% rate.  On the other end of the court Davis is a very solid position defender and bluecollar worker.  Even though he is a solid athlete he can be beaten off the dribble, which is where I expect the Longhorn guards to test him.  Texas must not let Davis get open looks from the perimeter and can't let him provide the Sooners with another scoring threat.
◦    #5 Tony Crocker -  Crocker is a solid athlete and has become a good 3pt shooter during his time in Norman, increasing his shooting percentage from last season.  He hasn't done much off of the dribble in the past but has improved in that area as often times he is matched up with a bigger defender due to the Sooners’ lack of height.  He still doesn't drive much going to his left and he doesn't possess much of a mid-range game.  He also utilizes a left to right crossover that he uses to get to the rim off the dribble.  Crocker is not much of a threat to shoot coming off of screens but he does like to make a curl cut around screens and he is a good catch and shoot threat on the perimeter.  Crocker is good in transition, which could really help his performance in a game against a high possession team like the Longhorns.  What Crocker does well is rebound the ball for a man of his size.  Despite only being 6'5 Crocker has averaged 6.3 rebounds per game this season.  With the smaller lineup that the Sooner have put on the floor this season Crocker has had to defend much bigger players on the defensive end of the floor.  He can be posted up by strong, physical power forward (Damion James or Gary Johnson) but is very effective when defending them off the dribble on the perimeter.  Texas must make sure to limit Crocker’s open looks from the perimeter and take him down to the low post in hopes of getting him into foul trouble.  They must also effectively defend him off the dribble and keep him off the free throw line.
◦    #24 Tiny Gallon – Gallon is a highly talented young post player with a big body, terrific athleticism, and with an increased work ethic has an opportunity to be an outstanding collegiate player.  The 2009 McDonalds All-American has soft hands and terrific footwork in the post.  He utilizes a jump hook over his left shoulder but is also capable of using an up and under move and a dribble drop step to score in the post. Despite his large frame he has terrific explosion for a big athlete and can really get off the floor.  In only 24 minutes of playing time per game Gallon has shown an ability to rebound the basketball, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game, including 3.0 per game on the offensive end.  Gallon also has excellent range for a big man and has hit four 3pt shots on the season.  Unfortunately for Gallon and the Sooners the young big man has to work a great deal on his physical and mental toughness.  He wants to float to the perimeter and is easily pushed off the block where he is unable to use his 6'9 290lb frame.  Because of this he doesn't post up very hard and fight for his position down low, which takes him out of the area of the court where he is the most effective.  He is a poor defender and really has no idea how to position himself when defending the post or showing weakside help.  Most importantly Gallon gets fatigued easily and when fatigued his performance and his effort goes way down.  If he ever realizes how hard he must work on and off the court to reach his enormous potential then the sky is the limit for this youngster. 
◦    #4 Andrew Fitzgerald – Fitzgerald is a young player who has a big body and range out to about 18ft on his jump shot.  He possesses a good shooting touch and combines with Gallon for a good offensive pairing down in the post.  In the post he relies on a jump hook or turnaround jump shot over his left shoulder.  Fitzgerald will battle for positioning on the offensive end of the floor and is a natural scorer.  On the defensive end of the floor it's been a challenge to pair Gallon and Fitzgerald up because of their shortcomings, which has led to more zone defense this year for the Sooners. Fitzgerald doesn't possess the lateral quickness to play at the power forward position and defend off the dribble in a man or a zone.  His lack of rebounding has also been somewhat of a disappointment for the Oklahoma coaches who expected that he may be able to come in and make an impact on the glass.  Texas must contain Fitzgerald on the offensive end and attack him off the dribble defensively in the zone.  If Dexter Pittman is aggressive in the post he could really exploit Fitzgerald.
•    Bench
◦    #2 Steven Pledger – Pledger is an excellent spot up shooter with range out to 23ft and is capable of putting up a great shooting night from 3pt range.  Even though he hasn't shot the ball well this season, hitting only 36.5% from the floor and 30.9% from 3pt range he is a very aggressive player on the offensive end of the floor.  The majority of the shots Pledger takes are from 3pt range (110 of his 137 shots on the season) and they will try to free him by running some staggered double screens for him to get open at the top of the key, by dishing out to him in transition, or by getting him the ball spotted up off penetration of some sort.  Pledger is not strong off the dribble in creating for himself and others and he has only attempted 26 free throws during the entire season and only averages 0.6 assists per game.  He is a very average defensive player who really has issues staying in front of the basketball.  Look for the Longhorns to take him off the dribble when the Sooners play man defense.  Texas must make sure to run him off of the 3pt line on their closeouts and really apply tremendous ball pressure whenever he catches on the perimeter forcing Pledger to put the basketball on the floor. 
◦    #15 Ryan Wright –  Wright, a transfer from UCLA, brings a physical presence down low and will be expected to help control Dexter Pittman during his action on the court.  He really killed the Longhorns earlier this season in Norman, collecting a season high 14 rebounds (4 offensive) to go along with 11 points (only his second double figure scoring game of the year).  On the season he averages 4.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in only 19 minutes per game.  Wright is a solid rebounder and a decent post athlete.  He is able to use this athletic ability on the offensive boards as he averages one offensive rebound per contest for the Sooners.  On the block he looks to use the dribble drop step to the baseline side and a jump hook over his left shoulder.  Wright doesn't possess any ball skills and is not a threat on the dribble as he has only six assists on the season.  Wright is a solid position defender but isn't very adept at defending an athletic power forward who can take players off the dribble such as Damion James.  With the zone defense Oklahoma will employ I expect Texas to drive on him as much as possible.  Texas must keep Wright off the boards and not let him establish deep low post positioning. 
◦    #13 Willie Warren – A source very close to Warren told me that he is still recovering from mono and is definitely out for this game.

•    Strengths
◦    Individual Talent
▪    This is a Sooner team that has tremendous individual talent in Warren, Mason-Griffin, and Gallon.  Each of these players was highly recruited and was a McDonalds All-American player coming out of high school.  When you put a team together you need a terrific talent at the point guard, wing, and post positions and the Sooners have it.  Even without Warren, Mason-Griffin has a good feel for the game as a young player, can shoot the ball well, and can create for others.  Gallon has terrific hands, feet, and a soft shooting touch.  If these two players can get it going and get another teammate to help, such as Cade Davis did in the first meeting earlier this season, then Sooner opponents will be in really big trouble. 
◦    Free throw Shooting
▪    As a team Oklahoma gets to the free throw line and converts at a 73.8% rate, which ranks 2nd in the Big 12 Conference.  Each of the Oklahoma starters, with the exception of Fitzgerald, shoots higher than 70% from the line and by comparison only one of the Texas starters shoots above 68%.  The Sooners are also 6th in the conference in free throw differential at +2.8 per contest but their ability to get to the line has been greatly hampered without Willie Warren in the lineup.  Oklahoma ranks 2nd in the Big 12 Conference with the fewest free throw attempts allowed per game, which is an important stat because of the Sooners’ lack of depth. 
•   Weaknesses
◦    Shot Selection
▪    While this team may have some elite talents they often times don't play together, which is why they are currently sitting at 13-15 (4-10).  On the season the Sooners are shooting 42.9% from the floor, which is easily the worst percentage in the Big 12 Conference.  There are a lot of possessions with this group where they over-dribble the basketball and I believe they are hesitant to give up the ball in fear that they won't get it back anytime soon.  Due to the fact that this team has too many “ball stoppers” (people who over-dribble or hold onto the ball for too long) they don't have good ball movement or player movement.  The Sooners’ best two perimeter players, Warren and Mason-Griffin, both needed to have the basketball in their hands to be effective and without Warren they have become more smooth on the offensive end of the floor.  While they miss his ability to make plays their ball movement and player movement have both improved as a result.  While Cade Davis works well off of screens he is not a talented enough player to make plays off of the screens he receives.  In addition, their most talented post player doesn't work hard enough to catch the ball where he can maximize his effectiveness, preferring instead to float to the perimeter.  Again, if they can get all of that talent to play together they could pose problems for many teams in the conference.
◦    Rebounding
▪    On the season Oklahoma has really struggled to rebound the basketball, ranking 8th in the Big 12 Conference with a rebounding margin of -0.5.  Due to their lack of size the Sooners rebound only 33.4% of their missed shots on the season, which limits their ability to score 2nd chance points.  On the other hand the Longhorns rank 3rd in the conference in rebounding margin at +4.6 which could pose issues for this Sooner team.  However, the Longhorns have not been as dominant on the boards as they were earlier in the season and they only out-rebounded the Sooners by one in their previous meeting this year.  Texas needs a group effort on the boards in the next two games if they hope to have a chance at winning a couple of games this week.

•   Texas Keys
◦    Shot Selection
▪    While Texas needs to play at a fast pace to be at its best the Horns still need to emphasize shot selection because the more they move the ball against the Sooners defense, the easier shots they will get.  On the season the Oklahoma defense is allowing the opposition to hit 45% of its shots which ranks 11th in the Big 12 Conference, and 263rd nationally.  However, early in possessions the Sooners have been solid defensively, but have a tendency to tire out and lose focus when an opposition shows good ball movement, good player movement, and patience.  When Oklahoma is playing man defense expect the Longhorns to go inside early and attack Gallon on the block with Dexter Pittman.  On the year Gallon is averaging three fouls per game and has fouled out of four contests.  Gallon has been playing soft defensively in order to stay out of foul trouble and as a result the Sooners have really struggled with their post defense.  When the Sooners go zone they have really struggled to defend the 3pt shot, as opponents are hitting 38.9% of their shots from beyond the arc, a number that places them last in the conference and 319th nationally.  Texas must be aggressive, yet show good discipline in shot selection against this Sooner team.  If the Horns do so they will have the opportunity to get any shot they want.   
◦    Zone Offense
▪    I would be very surprised if Oklahoma played more man than zone against the Longhorns, considering how the Horns have struggled to hit the perimeter shot.  On the season, Texas is hitting 35.2% of its shots from 3pt range, which ranks 10th in the conference.  Texas has run far too much “Corner” against zone defense this season, with very limited effectiveness after some success early on hitting the picker popping out to the wing.  While this is a very successful play against man or zone, defenses have been able to make adjustments and limit the effectiveness of this play.  As a result, the Horns’ ball movement slowed to a halt making them easy to defend.  Texas must get more ball movement against the zone and really focus on substitution patterns to make sure that the Horns have enough capable perimeter threats on the floor at all times.  Expect to see Texas flash some people toward the high post, set some baseline screens, and establish more ball and player movement in its zone offense than last week.
◦    Free throws
▪    Texas needs to be more aggressive in attacking the paint so the Horns can get to the line in this game.  In Saturday's game at Texas A&M, the Longhorns only attempted 15 free throws (making 12) while giving the Aggies 31 attempts from the line.  They finished the game -9 from the free throw line, making it very difficult to win.  In Norman earlier this year Texas did manage to attempt 27 free throws.  Unfortunately, the Horns only made 10 (37%) and were really hurt by Damion James's 4-13 performance from the stripe.  In that same game Oklahoma made 20 of 28 attempts to outscore the Longhorns by ten points, which made up the nine point difference in the final score.  Texas must aggressively attack the paint and convert free throws to win this contest.  The Horns are shooting only 61.9% from the line on the season and must convert their shots in this contest.

Also see: Coaches Corner post-game coverage (Thoughts, Player Reports, Defensive Breakdown Chart after every game)

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