Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #209
The Longhorns return to action tonight at the Erwin Center, having finally completed a brutal six-game stretch that was among the toughest in the country. Unfortunately, Texas had ample opportunity to steal a win or two against top-tier competition, but came up short almost every time. Only a home victory over Iowa State kept the Longhorns from an ugly six-game losing streak, and provided them with one more W against the RPI Top 50.
Now, the schedule get easier for Texas. The team’s nine remaining games come against squads with a combined record of 32-49 in Big 12 play. While the Longhorns won’t be able to just walk into Lloyd Noble Center, Reed Arena, or Gallagher-Iba Arena and expect to be handed wins, they are certainly capable of logging those road victories. Add in a pair of chances for revenge at home against Kansas State and Baylor — two teams who beat the Horns by just nine combined points — and it’s easy to see that all is not lost quite yet for Texas.
If you think of these final nine games as a new season for the Horns, Texas Tech provides the perfect opening opponent. The Red Raiders are winless in league play, and have a 45.4% chance to finish the year with an 0-18 mark, according to Ken Pomeroy. For a Texas team that may have had its confidence shaken by a handful of last-second losses over the last three weeks, Texas Tech provides an excellent chance to get their mojo back.
By the numbers
The Red Raiders are the league’s most inexperienced team, with eight freshmen and three sophomores on the roster. Just three players return from last year’s team, which finished 5-11 in Big 12 play and lost in the first round of the league’s tournament.
The Red Raiders aren’t a terrible shooting team, but they are incredibly inconsistent. The only thing they have been able to do consistently this season is turn it over, something they do on almost 26% of their possessions. Of the 345 teams in Division I, there are only five that waste possessions more frequently than Texas Tech.
When the Red Raiders do hang on to the basketball, they oftentimes have only one opportunity to score. Texas Tech reclaims just 26.8% of its missed shots, a mark that ranks the team 314th in D-I hoops. Unless the Red Raiders come out on absolute fire from the field, the stats don’t give them much of a chance for an upset this evening.
Another statistic that could make the upset difficult for the Red Raiders is their tendency to shoot from inside the arc. Although they make a respectable 36.6% of their three-point attempts, they take only 26.6% of their shots from long range. For a Texas team that has been torched by the threes of Iowa State and Mizzou, that is a great sign.
The Longhorns will also benefit from Tech’s bad habit of sending opponents to the line. Although Texas has left some valuable points at the charity stripe over its last three games, the team still has a success rate of nearly 72% from the line. Combine that with the fact that the Red Raiders give opponents one free throw for every two shots, and you have a recipe for tons of easy Longhorn points this evening.
Meet the Red Raiders
With a young, inexperienced team and a first-year coach in Billy Gillispie, minutes are up for grabs on the High Plains. Coach Gillispie has used 12 different starting lineups this season, and 10 Red Raiders average at least 11 minutes per game in conference play. He is still searching for a winning formula, and it’s clear that no player is above spending some time on the bench in order to learn a valuable message.
The team’s lone senior is big man Robert Lewandowski (No. 15), whose own inconsistent play mirrors the team as a whole. The 6’10″ Kansas native has a good stable of post moves and can easily knock down mid-range jumpers. Unfortunately, he rarely puts it together for more than a game at a time, and often takes himself out of games with early foul trouble. The big man has also had some issues making quality entry passes when he’s in the high post, which is problematic on a team that loves to run the high-low game like Tech does.
With Lewandowski oftentimes ineffective, sophomore forward Jaye Crockett (No. 30) is having to pick up the slack. He loves to use the spin move for turnaround jumpers against bigger defenders, but also knows when to isolate on the block against smaller opponents. Crockett also can knock down the long baseline shot or elbow J, which some teams have dared him to take. In conference play, he’s leading the team with seven boards and more than 11 points per game.
The only other player consistently getting rebounds for the Red Raiders is freshman Jordan Tolbert (No. 32). Although he’s only 19 years old, Tolbert already has the chiseled body of a senior forward, and he’s used it to make an immediate impact at the college level. Tolbert is strong enough to score and rebound against the big men in a tough Big 12, and as a result he’s snagging almost six boards per game against league opponents.
Beyond those three, the Red Raiders have no real depth in the frontcourt. Freshman Terran Petteway (No. 2) fits best as a small forward, and although he’s strong enough to bang inside, he’s struggled against Big 12 frontcourts. He let his frustrations get out of hand in a blowout loss to Kansas, when he punched Connor Teahan in the head to earn an ejection and one-game suspension. Petteway has a pretty good jump shot and adequate handles, so when he puts it all together he should be a reliable slashing threat who can finish through contact.
Jaron Nash (No. 44) is another option at small forward, but he sees very little playing time. A transfer from Tyler Junior College, he’s long and athletic, but has yet to find his niche with this squad.
In the backcourt, Canadian product and Midland College transfer Ty Nurse (No. 4) is the team’s most dangerous long-range threat. He’s knocked down more than 38% of his three-point attempts, including an impressive 6-of-9 performance in the season opener against Troy. Nurse is also practically automatic at the line, having made 92.5% of his freebies this year.
Guard Javarez “Bean” Willis (No. 5) is quick and shifty with the ball, and is one of the team’s only quality penetrating threats. When Willis is aggressive with the ball, he’s able to find good looks for himself and his teammates, but it seems like he fails to flip that switch most of the time.
Freshman Kevin Wagner (No. 10) is another quick, talented guard who has worked his way into the starting lineup for the last three games. A hometown kid, the former Lubbock Estacado star is generously listed at 5’8″, and would likely lead the team in assists if he were playing more. His assist rate of 21.9% is best on the team, so despite averaging just about 15 minutes per game, he’s still near the top of the team leaderboard in that category.
Another freshman making an impact is DeShon “Biggie” Minnis (No. 3), who is one of the best rebounders in the backcourt for Tech. At 6’3″, the Philadelphia native is snagging nearly three boards in each Big 12 game and has parlayed that tenacity into four starts against conference opponents.
The Red Raiders are also getting about 11 minutes each from freshmen Luke Adams (No. 13) and Clark Lammert (No. 35). Adams is one of only two deaf players at the Division I level, and he wears cochlear implants along with a headband to help hold them steady. Although he’s listed at just 5’9″, Adams is a solid back-up at the point and has a quality jumper, even if he sometimes is a bit too eager to take the shot. Lammert is the older brother of future Longhorn Connor Lammert, and his height combined with a good long-range shot helps stretch the defense.
Keys to the game
1) Neutralize Lewandowski – There are a multitude of ways that the Longhorns can take the Tech big man out of the game, but the key is to get him uncomfortable early. Whether they achieve that by attacking him and drawing fouls or by forcing him off the block on offense, it doesn’t really matter. Texas just needs to make sure that Big Lew doesn’t get clicking early, because without him, the Red Raider offense usually grinds to a halt.
2) Keep Nurse off the perimeter – One of the easiest ways to get knocked off by an inferior opponent is to give up a ton of three-point shots. Ty Nurse is Tech’s best option from long range, and he’s coming in with the hot hand. In the team’s last two games, Nurse was 5-of-11 from beyond the arc, so the Longhorns have to make sure he doesn’t continue his success tonight.
3) Be aggressive – Tech’s defense constantly rewards opponents with trips to the charity stripe, so the Longhorns need to take full advantage by getting a piece of the paint. J’Covan Brown, Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis, and Sheldon McClellan need to put the ball on the floor and drive to the bucket consistently. Not only will it lead to a ton of free points, but it can put the thin and already-undersized Tech frontcourt in foul trouble.