Exactly one week ago at the Frank Erwin Center, the Longhorns upset then-No. 16 TCU in double overtime in what proved to be one of the more thrilling games in program history.
Three days later, the team fell to Oklahoma State on the road in disappointing fashion, surrendering a 12-point lead down the stretch with two of its starting guards, sophomore Andrew Jones and junior Kerwin Roach II, still sidelined.
The disparity in endings from the two contests just days apart highlights the narrow margin for error Texas finds itself playing with. Given the seven-man rotation, a poor performance by any Longhorn can mean the difference between a win and a loss in a fiercely competitive Big 12 conference.
“To win against really good teams in this league, with the guys we have out, you’re going to have to have the majority of our guys play well on a given night,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “And that’s what we had against TCU."
“Jericho (Sims) played well. Jase (Febres) played well and gave us eight early points. And of course Matt (Coleman) and Mo (Bamba) and Dylan (Osetkowski) — they all played well. And even then it took double overtime. So when you’re down a couple of guys, that’s what it’s got to be.”
Texas hopes to recapture the energy of the TCU win as it hosts No. 8 Texas Tech on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Red Raiders are coming off a home win over then-No. 2 West Virginia, where they erased a late deficit much like the lead Texas saw disappear against Oklahoma State.
With a deep roster of returning talent, including four seniors, the physicality of the Texas Tech matchup could be a problem for a Texas team that lately has been starting all freshmen except one.
“There is something to be said for having guys — whether they’ve played for another coach or not — guys that have been in college and have winning experience and experience in the Big 12,” Smart said. “(Texas Tech) last year had a really good group of juniors that you knew this year were going to be a special team.”
The Longhorns’ lack of depth has forced the coaching staff to experiment with more unconventional lineups. Smart has opened the past two games with the big-man trio of Sims, Osetkowski and Bamba all starting.
While Osetkowski has demonstrated an ability to create and distribute like a guard, Texas’ lack of shooting has largely negated one of its strongest advantages: the interior. Opposing teams have the luxury of leaving the forwards open on the perimeter as they collapse on any post-up opportunity the Longhorns may create.
“Depending on who else you have in the game, teams may or may not have to guard our guys,” Smart said. “So for instance, when we have the bigger lineup in, the defenders are going to be sitting in (Osetkowski’s) lap, if not double- or triple-teaming him with Mo and Jericho’s men.”
The smaller rotation has been beneficial to some degree. Heavy minutes for role players like Sims and junior guard Eric Davis Jr. have led to a surge in production across the board. Three Texas players recorded career highs in scoring in the past week.
When Roach eventually returns from a fractured left hand, Texas will be a better fit for the smaller lineup. For now, consistency is the name of the game if the Longhorns hope to take down a deeper, more experienced opponent like Texas Tech.
“In general, our young guys, with the increased experience that they’ve had … all of them are getting better,” Smart said. “And that’s what you want from freshmen. They are making strides. It never happens as fast as you want it to, particularly when you are depending on those guys. But I do think they are much further along than they were maybe five or eight days ago.”