Red River Rising as Texas and Oklahoma Grab Early Resume Wins

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2019

Both Oklahoma and Texas have had their moments in the Big 12, but it would be fair to call them wildcards in recent seasons. Under Lon Kruger‘s leadership, the Sooners have finished as high as second in the conference (2015) and as low as ninth (2017). Under Shaka Smart‘s direction, the Longhorns have finished as high as fourth (2016) and as poorly as last place (2017). While the small sample caveat applies here, the early going this season has given both teams’ fanbases some reason to buy in to 2020.

Lon Kruger (USA Today Images)

Beating one of the worst teams in the Big Ten isn’t going to turn heads on a national level (nor should it), but the Sooners answered the bell over the weekend with a 71-62 semi-road win over Minnesota in Sioux Falls. Like most games around this time of year, a sloppy first half ceded to a 23-4 rager midway through the second half. Oklahoma is hardly a young team, but with the squad graduating five seniors last spring, cohesion was going to be an early question. To their credit, Brady Manek (16.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and Kristian Doolittle (10 points, 10 rebounds in his debut against the Gophers) have given Kruger a pair of leaders to which to turn, while Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves (17 PPG, 6 RPG) and sophomore guard Jamal Bienemy should be rotation stalwarts all season long. More tests are on the way, starting with tonight’s matchup against an Oregon State team fresh off a win over Iowa State, but more often than not Kruger can be trusted to get the most out of his players.

The same can’t be said for Smart, which is why this season is such a big one in Austin. Whether it was Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba or Jaxson Hayes in recent seasons, Smart just couldn’t find success with his frontcourt studs. In the early going of this season, however, the Longhorns are showing that a more balanced approach could be the key to keeping their head coach employed. The outcome of Texas’ opening night win over Northern Colorado was never in doubt as Courtney Ramey, Matt Coleman and Andrew Jones all shone brightly. Just four nights later, the Longhorns grabbed the most impressive win of the young season, coming back from a five-point deficit with three minutes left to hand a very good Purdue team its first home loss in nearly two years. Coleman once again starred, hitting his first seven shots from the floor, and Jones hit some clutch free throws down the stretch, but it was a breakout night for sophomore forward Gerald Liddell (14 points, eight rebounds, four assists), who found playing time tough to come by a season ago as he was buried behind Hayes, Dylan Osetkowski and Jericho Sims.

Most of the country still has its eyes on football, and the fight at the top of the Big 12 standings between Kansas, Texas Tech and Baylor will garner the majority of the attention, but Oklahoma and Texas have already started the work of assembling Selection Sunday-worthy resumes.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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