Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:50AM

#11/10 Texas Longhorns (11-2 overall, 0-0 Big 12) at Texas Tech Red Raiders (10-3, 0-0)
United Supermarkets Arena | Lubbock, TX | Tip: 1 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Texas -8 | KenPom: Texas, 64-57 (80%)

The most anticipated Big 12 season in years is just hours away, and the Texas Longhorns open things up in Lubbock this afternoon. From top to bottom, the Big 12 is the deepest league in the country, currently boasting the nation’s top RPI, while also earning the top conference rating from Ken Pomeroy, by a wide margin.

Pomeroy’s conference ranking takes into account the offensive and defensive efficiencies of every team in the leauge. To put the first seven weeks of the Big 12’s dominance into perspective, the ACC — which currently is ranked second — is closer to the fifth-ranked SEC than they are to first, and are nearly as close to the Pac-12 in sixth. There’s the Big 12, a big gulf, and then everyone else.

With such a deep league, the names of numerous Big 12 contenders have littered the pages and websites of the college basketball media. While a few pundits have dared to pick Texas, most have stuck with Kansas. And why not? Over the last ten years, the Jayhawks have taken advantage of a nearly automatic home-court advantage, great coaching, and great talent to win at least a share of the league crown every single year.

To take the title this year, Texas, Kansas, and the laundry list of contenders will have to survive a meat-grinder schedule. Eight of the league’s ten teams are in the Top 50 of Pomeroy’s rankings, while K-State sits just outside the Top 100, and even Texas Tech is ranked 141st. The usual formula for a conference title — defend your home court, sweep the bottom of the league, and pick off a tough road win or two — might not even be possible this season. The “bottom of the league” consists of just two teams, which both have great home courts and a roster of talented parts that haven’t yet put it together.

For the Longhorns, their difficult task became a little easier when they received some much anticipated good news yesterday morning. After breaking a bone in his wrist in the third game of the year, point guard Isaiah Taylor is back for Texas, just in time to lead his team into the melee of the Big 12 conference race.

For a Longhorn team that has posted abysmal turnover numbers the last few weeks, his return comes as a huge relief. While Taylor can’t make every pass and eliminate all of the team’s miscues, it’s hard to imagine that things won’t get at least a little better with him at the helm, and other players back in their natural roles.

Texas may also get a bit of a boost this afternoon from Mother Nature. Even though it’s been nearly a decade since United Supermarket Arena was consistently full for conference games, numerous Big 12 teams have fallen victim to upsets on the High Plains over the years. With winter storms blanketing the Texas Panhandle last night and this morning, the USA will likely be very empty. As long as Texas doesn’t fall into the lull that sometimes accompanies early-afternoon games and sparsely-attended contests, they should find it a little easier to survive the annual Lubbock trip.

By the Numbers

In Year Two of the Tubby Smith era at Texas Tech, you can see that the pieces are beginning to fall into place. Smith landed the best recruiting class that the Red Raiders had seen in 11 years, which gives them the kind of athletes that can compete in a major power conference.

Those athletes are still learning to compete at this level, as evidenced by their poor offensive efficiency and struggles against zone defenses. The Red Raiders are scoring jut 97.6 adjusted points per 100 possessions, which currently ranks 227th out of 351 Division I teams. Thanks to an ugly 30.5% mark from beyond the arc, opponents are able to play sagging zone defenses and dare Tech to beat them with long jumpers.

Another part of the problem is that when the Red Raiders do manage to get it inside, they aren’t able to turn that into points. Tech currently has the nation’s fourth-highest field goal rate, earning a free throw for every 1.86 field goals they try. However, they are leaving a ton of points at the line, converting on just 66.9% of their attempts. Add in a sub-optimal turnover percentage of 20.5%, and it becomes clear that the Red Raiders are still often shooting themselves in the foot on offense.

On the other side of the ball, Coach Smith has his team playing much better defense. The year prior to his arrival, the Red Raiders had an adjusted defensive efficiency that was ranked 254th out of the 347 teams in D-I at the time. Last year, they improved to 110th, and are currently sitting at 81st with 95.9 adjusted points allowed per 100 possessions.

That number will certainly rise against a Big 12 loaded with efficient offenses, but it’s another sign of the improvement Tubby has brought to Tech. The Red Raiders do a good job pinching from help positions to discourage penetration, and they close out nearly three-quarters of their defensive stops by securing the rebound. For a team that often played matador defense in recent years — an appropriate style, considering their mascot — any progress is worthy of note.

Meet the Red Raiders

Although Tech lost star Jordan Tolbert and sharpshooter Dusty Hannahs to offseason transfers, a seven-man recruiting class has lessened the impact of those departures. It’s also given Coach Smith a blend of experience and youth, skewing towards the latter, which will set the building blocks for his rebuilding project.

Tubby has a very deep bench, and he uses it to the fullest. The Red Raiders have a core rotation of seven players who all average between 20 and 25 minutes, along with three other role players who typically see some action in each game. Tech doesn’t use this depth to play an up-tempo, trapping style, but it does offer Tubby a chance to immediately pull players when he sees a teaching opportunity.

The player who sees the most minutes is senior guard Robert Turner (No. 14), who was Tubby’s first recruit as a JUCO transfer two summers ago. Although he runs the point and has the ability to slash to the lane, Tech’s struggles against zone defenses often result in him dribbling the air out of the ball before putting up a challenged or off-balance shot before the 35-second buzzer.

Turner has the team’s second-highest percentage of shots taken, as he’s responsible for 26.6% of the attempts when he’s on the court. Unfortunately, he has an effective field-goal percentage of just 43.7%. He does somewhat make up for that lack of production by jumping passing lanes on defense and stripping it from unsuspecting guards to start the break.

The highest percentage of shots taken belongs to newcomer Devaugntah Williams (No. 0), a JUCO transfer from Missouri-West Plains. Williams plays about 24 minutes per game and takes more than 30% of the shots when he’s on the court, but is much more effective than Turner. That is a result of good speed with the ball and the ability to quickly change direction while penetrating. Although it was a little more wild than his usual drives, his spin and drive to the rack with two seconds left against Auburn provided the game winner.

Williams is also a very streaky shooter from behind the arc, and the team’s struggles in two recent losses in Las Vegas underscore the importance of his long-range game to their success. On the season, Williams has made 37.5% of his three-point attempts, despite going 0-for-14 from long range during that two-game losing streak. Williams also had a stretch earlier in the year where he made 14-of-23 in a five-game stretch, so his accuracy tonight could be the biggest factor in Tech’s output.

On the wing, freshman Justin Gray (No. 5) has started 12 of the team’s 13 games. He’s a very long 6’5″ and has great hops that aid him in quickly springing up to block shots. His individual block rate of 4.2% ranks third on the team and 299th in Division I. That bounce also helps to make him a good rebounder from the wing, something that is important for a Tech team which will be a bit undersized against Texas today.

Down low, two newcomers anchor the frontcourt for Coach Smith. Zach Smith (No. 11) is a really exciting 6’8″ forward, who was one of the top 20 seniors to come out of the state of Texas last season. He is very quick and slippery with the ball for a guy his size, and he passes very well from all over the court. Smith injured his back on December 19th, played just 14 minutes in a loss to Loyola Chicago three days later, and sat out of the loss to Houston. However, he returned to action on Monday night against North Texas and showed no ill effects of the injury, logging 34 minutes and stuffing the stat sheet.

Norense Odiase (No. 32) is the man in the middle, and man is the operative word for this 6’9″, 270-pound freshman. He moves remarkably well for a guy his size, although he does clearly struggle when opponents push the pace for extended stretches. Odiase is very strong with the ball down low, and is a solid rebounder and shot blocker. He’s also the team’s biggest offender when it comes to leaving points at the line, as he draws 5.5 fouls per game, but has made less than 59% of his free throws.

Off the bench, Randy Onwuasor (No. 3) is another guard that plays solid perimeter defense and can jump-start Tech with a take-and-make. He’s joined by Toddrick Gotcher (No. 20), a junior guard that can easily create for himself and teammates with the bounce, thanks in large part to a knack for mixing speeds.

Rounding out the bench options in the backcourt is freshman Keenan Evans (No. 12), a lightning-quick guard who can easily burst to the rim or drain a three from well beyond the arc. Evans has connected on 41.2% of his threes in his limited minutes, and will likely be an impact player for Tech in future seasons.

Down low, most of the minutes are eaten up by the two starters, but Tubby does rotate in a quartet of forwards. Senior Clark Lammert (No. 35) averages less than eight minutes per game, and is best known for taking charges and being the brother of Connor Lammert. Sophomore Alex Foster (No. 34) is used even more sparingly, likely due to his hideous 35.7% turnover rate. Fellow sophomore Aaron Ross (No. 15) should prove to be a solid option down low, but he’s still getting into game shape after seriously injuring his knee in April. He returned to action on December 14th and has averaged less than seven minutes in six appearances.

The bulk of the frontcourt reserve minutes go to freshman Isaiah Manderson (No. 1), but he is still only seeing the court for about 11 minutes per game. He’s a long and lean 6’10”, with probably an additional two inches of height coming from his hair. Manderson has a quick release on a midrange jumper that is smooth, albeit inconsistent. At this point, his biggest problem is really poor defense, and that will likely limit his minutes under Coach Smith.

Keys to the Game

1. Pack it in – The Longhorns have the size to make things very tough inside for most opponents, and Tech’s inability to shoot from outside means that the Longhorn guards can make things even tougher by sagging off enough to limit penetration. As long as Texas doesn’t let Williams or Evans go off from long range, they should not have much to worry about in terms of threes and long jumpers.

2. Control the basketball – With Taylor finally returning for Texas, this will be the first chance to see if the Longhorns can make a drastic cut in their turnover rate. The Red Raiders have forced mistakes on 22.3% of their defensive possessions, albeit against a relatively weak schedule. Even though Tech’s defense is pretty good, the Longhorns will face much tougher in the coming weeks. Improving ball control is not only important to avoid an embarrassing upset today, but also to contend in the league this season.

3. Clean the glass – Tech has posted solid rebounding numbers on both ends of the court, but they have not faced many teams with the size of Texas. The Red Raiders currently boast rebounding marks of 36.8% and 72.1% on the offensive and defensive ends, respectively, despite playing most of their minutes with forwards that are 6’8″ and 6’9″.

Against LSU, a team with an effective height that’s 28th in the nation according to Pomeroy, the Red Raiders managed an offensive rebounding rate of just 25% in an overtime loss. The Longhorns should present a similar challenge for Tech tonight, and they must exploit that advantage to prevent Tech from hanging around and being in position to steal an upset in the final minutes.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:49AM

Texas Longhorns (22-8 overall, 11-6 Big 12) at Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-17, 5-12)
United Spirit Arena | Lubbock, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNEWS
Vegas: Texas -1.5 | Pomeroy: Texas, 69-68 (51%)

There’s only one day left in the Big 12 regular season, and there’s still quite a bit left to sort out. While Kansas clinched an outright title last Saturday despite losing at Oklahoma State, there are massive logjams in the middle of the standings that will likely come down to numerous tiebreakers after today’s action.

What we do know is that Kansas will be the No. 1 seed in Kansas City next weekend, while Texas Tech will be No. 9 and TCU is assured No. 10. Teams second through fifth are separated by just one game, while there’s currently a three-way tie for sixth. With the league’s top six teams getting a bye to the quarterfinals, that means there’s even drama in the middle of the table on the final day of the season.

For Texas, seeds two through five are still possibilities as the day tips off. Since Iowa State and Kansas State play earlier in the day, by the time the Horns square off with the Red Raiders in Lubbock, the picture will be a little more clear. At the moment, though, here are the possibilities for Texas’ seeding in Kansas City:

2 Texas wins, OU loses
3 Texas wins, OU wins
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU loses, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU wins, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU loses, KSU loses
4 Texas loses, OU wins, ISU wins, KSU wins
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU loses, KSU wins
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU wins, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU loses, KSU wins
5 Texas loses, OU loses, ISU wins, KSU wins

The key tiebreakers in play are the fact that Oklahoma swept Texas and that Kansas State and Texas both beat Kansas. In multi-team ties, record against the entire group is used as a tiebreaker, so the Horns end up at the bottom of any multi-team tie involving OU, since all other matchups between these four teams ended up in splits.

When group record is tied, then the records are compared against the first-place team, second-place team, etc. That means that Kansas State and Texas both hold the edge over Iowa State thanks to their KU wins, but Kansas State holds the edge over Texas by virtue of a win against Oklahoma.

Of course, the easiest way to clear this up is for Texas to win at Tech today. That won’t be an easy task, as nearly every Big 12 team has discovered in their visit to Lubbock this season. The Red Raiders picked off Baylor and Oklahoma State at home, and would have knocked off Kansas if not for the heroics of Andrew Wiggins. Tech also played Kansas State down to the wire in Lubbock and even surprised Oklahoma in Norman.

The Longhorns barely escaped with wins in their last two visits to Lubbock, and this year’s Texas Tech team is considerably better. Securing a season-ending win on the road this afternoon will certainly be a challenge.

Keys to the game

1) Take care of the basketball – The Longhorns have apparently packed grease in their travel bags the last few weeks, as their turnover rates in losses at Kansas State and Oklahoma were both over 23%, while the Horns coughed it up on 18.9% of possessions in a road thrashing at Kansas. Even in the loss at Iowa State, where Texas had a turnover rate of just 14%, it was early turnovers that put the Horns behind the eight-ball.

Texas Tech plays a very low-tempo game, making every possession even more valuable. In Tech’s last four home games, the team has forced turnovers on no less than 20.4% of their opponents’ possessions. Add in the fact that the Longhorns had a turnover rate north of 20% when the teams first met in Austin, and there’s cause for concern this afternoon. If Texas wastes possessions on the road in Lubbock, the team will likely be heading to Kansas City with one more loss.

2) Force jump shots – Tech’s offense is very patient, often running the shot clock down very low before an excellent cut and timely passing leads to an open look in the paint. The other primary source of Red Raider points are simply iso plays for point guard Robert Turner (No. 14). The Red Raiders are not a great shooting team, so if the Longhorns can pack the defense in, take away Turner’s driving ability, and be aware of movement off the ball, Tech will be forced to beat the Horns with jumpers. Although that’s not a guarantee for a W, it’s certainly a formula that increases UT’s odds today.

3) Don’t lose Hannahs – While most of the Red Raiders aren’t great shooters, that description doesn’t extend to sophomore Dusty Hannahs (No. 2). The sharpshooter has drilled 38% of his three-point attempts on the year, and has taken 30 more long-range attempts than any other Tech player. If the Longhorns lose track of Hannahs on the perimeter, he can quickly make them pay, as West Virginia learned when he drilled 7-of-7 against them earlier this year. If Texas can limit his damage while also turning the rest of the Red Raiders into jump shooters, they should be able to end the season on a winning note.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:33PM

Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-7 overall, 0-2 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (11-4, 0-2)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network

During last year’s rough 16-18 campaign, the Texas Longhorns could at least count on one thing — if they needed a win, Texas Tech or TCU was great to see next on the schedule. It’s been that way with the Red Raiders for quite some time, as the Longhorns have swept the season series in each of the last five years, and have never lost at home to Tech in Rick Barnes’ 15 years on the Forty Acres.

Tubby Smith already has Tech playing better basketball
(Photo credit: Zach Long/Associated Press)

It hasn’t taken too long for Tubby Smith to get things turned around in Lubbock, however. Tech has had some good pieces on the roster over the last few years, but has never been able to put it together for more than an upset here or there. This season, Smith’s Red Raiders have held their own against some tough competition and look primed to surprise some unsuspecting foes in Big 12 play.

For a Texas team that is sitting at 0-2 in league play, becoming Tech’s first conference victim would be disastrous. The Longhorns were one of Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four Byes” in the January 2nd version of his bracket, meaning that Texas was just ahead of the group slotted to play in the First Four in Dayton. After a frustrating loss to Oklahoma and a road defeat to Oklahoma State, UT has slid into the “First Four Out” category. To even stay in the conversation, the Horns must take care of business at home against the teams at the bottom of the Big 12 table.

By the numbers

Through 15 games, the Red Raider offense is scoring an adjusted 1.099 points per game, ranking them 65th in the country. That number is a marked improvement over the last two seasons for Tech, as they were ranked 205th last season and 307th two years ago. What’s most impressive about the quick and massive turnaround is that there are five Red Raiders on this year’s squad who were here for both of those awful seasons, and two contributing sophomores who part of last year’s offensively-challenged team.

Granted, the season is only halfway through, but to date, the Red Raiders have increased their adjusted offense efficiency numbers by more than 11%. So how did Tech’s core rotation suddenly learn how to score? First and foremost, the team is making a concerted effort to get the ball into the lane for easier looks. Tech is averaging 38.5 points per game in the paint, which equates to nearly 52% of their scoring.

In addition, they crash the glass with a purpose. This season, the Red Raiders are ranked 25th in the nation when it comes to reclaiming their own misses, snagging 38% of their offensive rebounding opportunities. Part of that success is already baked into those points-in-the-paint numbers, as tip-ins and putbacks obviously count as both an offensive board and points in the paint. However, the commitment to getting the ball inside and attacking the glass has given the Red Raiders an identity as a tougher team and it’s resulted in a much better offense.

Defensively, Tech’s stats are nothing to write home about. Although they’ve improved their adjusted defensive efficiency numbers by 0.4 points per possession over last year, their stats still only hover around the national median. You can hear and see Tech’s improvement on the court, as they now communicate clearly and play better team defense, but they still need more work to achieve consistent results.

Jaye Crockett draws a crowd when he has the ball
(Photo credit: Stephen Spillman/Associated Press)

Meet the Red Raiders

Tech’s leading scorer is senior Jaye Crockett (No. 30), who is enjoying more freedom as a wing player this year. In the past, he was mostly used as an undersized forward, and that experience makes him even more dangerous in his new role. Crockett is great attacking the basket from the perimeter, has a great midrange game, and can still post up to get his points inside. Although he’s 31% from beyond the arc this season, he’s hit 3-of-6 in his two Big 12 games, which keeps defenses honest when he’s hanging out around the arc.

Crockett’s fellow senior in the starting five is seven-footer Dejan Kravic (No. 11). Although the big man has a nice midrange jumper and a pretty good hook shot, he’s not a huge part of the offensive gameplan. Unsurprisingly, he’s a solid offensive rebounder, having grabbed more than 10% of his offensive rebounding chances so far this year.

Joining Crockett and Kravic in the frontcourt is junior Jordan Tolbert (No. 32), who has posted three double-doubles through 15 games. His offensive and defensive rebounding rates of 11.8% and 20.1% are both tops on the team. Like Crockett, Tolbert does have the ability to drive from the perimeter, but he is not nearly as smooth in that regard and prefers to hang out around the rim. He has a great set of post moves, especially a very quick spin move that leaves defenders flat-footed. In addition, Tolbert is a quality shot blocker and runs the floor well on the rare occasions when Tech gets out in transition.

Shooting guard Toddrick Gotcher (No. 20) has a nice jumper, although he tends to be a very streaky shooter and doesn’t use many possessions. He’s hit nearly 42% of his three-point attempts on the season, but is barely averaging two attempts per game. Instead, like most of the Red Raiders, Gotcher prefers to put the ball on the floor and attack with the bounce. Most importantly, the sophomore is a strong perimeter defender, a skill that is huge on a team which has struggled to slow down opposing guards this year.

Rounding out the starting five is new point guard Robert Turner (No. 14). A juco transfer from New Mexico JC, Turner was the first signee of the Tubby Smith era, and his ability to slash to the rim has opened things up for his teammates. Turner averages more than nine points per game, but his 20.4% assist rate is key to Tech’s success inside. He repeatedly draws defensive attention with his quick drives, and is able to hang in the air long enough to get opponents off the ground before he whips passes around them to his waiting teammates on the blocks. In two Big 12 games, Turner has posted a 5.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Sharpshooter Dusty Hannahs (No. 2) is currently coming off the bench, but his recent play has certainly earned him some extra playing time. Although Hannahs’ 35.7% three-point mark is second-best on the team, he is the only frequent long-range scorer on a Tech team that gets less than 20% of its points from beyond the arc. In Big 12 play, Hannahs has improved his game by showing a scrappiness inside that has led to boards and second-chance points. As a result, he’s averaged 15 points in the team’s two conference games.

Keys to the game

1) Pack in the defense – With Tech struggling to score from long range, there’s no reason why the Longhorns shouldn’t clog the lane against the Red Raiders tonight. Texas Tech’s game plan is always to feed the bigs on the block and generate opportunities with their slashing guards and wings. As long as the Longhorns have someone closely shadowing Hannahs during his time on the court, there’s little danger in sagging off with their other four defenders and turning Tech into a jump-shooting team.

2) Clean up the glass – Of course, if the Horns are forcing the Red Raiders into taking contested jumpers, they will need to actually follow up those defensive stops with timely boards. Tech has been fantastic all season on the offensive glass, but the Longhorns have been equally good on the defensive boards.

Texas Tech has had trouble containing quick guards
(Photo credit: Stephen Spillman/Associated Press)

Texas found out firsthand how important it is to box out on the defensive boards in last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma. On that night, the Horns allowed the Sooners to reclaim 46% of their missed shots and score 19 second-chance points. If Texas has a similarly poor performance against a good offensive rebounding Red Raider unit tonight, the Longhorns will be flirting with disaster.

3) Aggressive guard play – One weakness for Tech has been perimeter defense by the guards, as Big 12 opponents have repeatedly attacked the rim with little resistance from the Red Raiders. The Longhorns need to exploit this not only for the easy points, but also to take advantage of Tech’s lack of depth in the backcourt.

Beyond Turner, Hannahs, and Gotcher, Texas Tech’s best option is inexperienced freshman Randy Onwuasor (No. 1), who has a hideous turnover rate of more than 30%. Luke Adams (No. 13) has also been used sparingly at the point when Turner is in foul trouble, but he is averaging just four minutes per game in 10 appearances. If the Texas guards make it a point to slash to the rim tonight, they’ll be rewarded with some easy hoops and trips to the line, and will also force Tubby to get creative with his lineups.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:31AM

Texas Longhorns (14-16 overall, 6-11 Big 12) at Texas Tech Red Raiders (10-18, 3-14)
United Spirit Arena | Lubbock, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate List)/ESPN3.com
LRT Consecutive Game #251

The worst regular season for the Texas basketball program in nearly two decades comes to its quiet end on the South Plains this afternoon as the Longhorns take on Texas Tech. This year, Texas suffered its worst start in conference play since the 1970’s, posted its first losing record in conference since Tom Penders’ final season in 1997-98, and will need a miracle run at the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City to avoid missing out on the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years.

With no hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, Texas is playing only for seeding in the Big 12 Championship. If West Virginia loses at home to Iowa State this afternoon, the Longhorns can lock up a No. 7 seed in the conference tournament with a win over Texas Tech. That would set up a game against TCU on Wednesday in Kansas City, with the winner advancing to face the No. 2 seed, which will be Kansas or Kansas State. If the Mountaineers defeat Iowa State this afternoon, the Longhorns will be playing for nothing but pride when they tip off in Lubbock.

It has been a long year for Josh Gray and Chris Walker
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Meet the Red Raiders

For an in-depth look at the Texas Tech roster and the team’s tendencies, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

The first match-up

The Longhorns entered their first game against Texas Tech with an 0-5 Big 12 record and in desperate need of a win. The opening minutes of the game did little to calm the fears of Longhorn fans, as the team scored just 10 points in the first eight minutes, while point guard Javan Felix picked up two fouls.

With Felix on the bench, Ioannis Papapetrou took over primary ballhandling duties and Demarcus Holland stepped up. Texas closed out the half with a 25-14 push, building a lead as large as 13 late in the first half. Holland played 17 of the first 20 minutes, scoring nine points with aggressive drives and a triple. His three steals also flustered Josh Gray (No. 5) and the Tech offense, which coughed it up nine other times in the first half.

In the second, Texas extended its lead to as many as 16 points in the first few minutes. Tech refused to fold, however, slicing the lead to only eight points with just under eight minutes to play. After wasting late leads against USC, UCLA, Kansas, and West Virginia, it looked like the Horns might once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead, Papapetrou fueled a late-game surge, hitting a trey before assisting on three straight buckets. The Longhorns outscored Tech 17-6 over the next five minutes and cruised to a 73-57 win, their first victory in Big 12 play.

Sophomore guard Julien Lewis led Texas with 18 points, despite having a rough 2-for-7 performance behind the arc. The Longhorns also received a strong effort from freshman Cameron Ridley, who chipped in six points and ripped down ten rebounds. Texas made it a point to get their big man the ball, and it led not only to points in the paint, but opportunities for other Horns.

Since then…

The loss to Texas was the first in a nine-game skid for the Red Raiders, who finally broke out of the funk last Saturday with a home victory over TCU. Porous defense was the culprit in all of the losses, with the Red Raiders allowing 1.18 points per possession during the losing streak. Their best defensive effort came in a narrow road loss to West Virginia, where they still allowed the anemic Mountaineer offense to put in 1.015 points per possession.

Dejan Kravic was stifled by Kansas on Monday
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Big man Dejan Kravic (No. 11) has continued to be inconsistent for Coach Walker, performing admirably in early February losses to West Virginia and Kansas State before going into a terrible slump. In Monday’s loss at Kansas, Kravic hit his absolute low, posting an offensive rating of five.

To put that performance into perspective, we can compare it to the day that Northern Illinois tied an NCAA record with four points in one half and went on to score 25 total. The Huskies had only one player who posted a single-digit offensive rating, and that was bench man Akeem Springs, who somehow managed an ORtg of just one.

It’s clear that Texas Tech is much better when Kravic is able to use his throwback game to earn points in the paint. Unfortunately, he has had little success doing that in conference play. If he continues to struggle this afternoon, the Red Raiders will likely find it tough to close out their season on a positive note.

At the point, freshman Gray has put up some solid performances down the stretch, but he is still struggling with decision making. His speed is very tough to defend and he can get to the rim with ease, but his lack of a consistent outside shot allows opponents to sag off. When opponents hunker down and take away his driving ability, Gray will often make a questionable pass inside that results in a turnover.

Even with those weaknesses, Gray scored 46 total points in back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State. He also dished out six dimes against TCU, with many of those coming after he had sliced up the Horn Frogs off the bounce. The freshman clearly has a bright future in the Big 12, but needs to make better passing decisions from the perimeter and he will have to work on finishing at the rim and developing an outside shot over the summer.

Keys to the game

1) Come out with intensity – United Spirit Arena was once a dangerous road trip in the Big 12, as Kansas repeatedly found out in the late 2000’s. Unfortunately, numerous coaching changes and abysmal seasons have killed the crowd support and turned the arena into an empty cavern. That provides little energy for games, and it can make it difficult for visiting teams to show up to play. Kansas and Kansas State both struggled to put Tech away until late in their visits to Lubbock this season, while Iowa State actually fell victim to the Red Raiders in mid-January.

With the Longhorns having very little to play for, they will have to manufacture their own energy this afternoon. Although the team could be playing for a No. 7 seed in the Big 12 Championship, that doesn’t provide too much motivation. If they come out flat like they have on numerous occasions this season, the Horns will certainly let Tech hang around and be in a position to pull off an upset.

2) Force mistakes – In the first meeting, Texas forced Tech into 19 turnovers and converted that into 22 points. That was no anomaly, as the Red Raiders have struggled controlling the ball all year. Their turnover rate of 21.3% is one of the 100 worst marks in D-I hoops, and they actually have coughed it up slightly more against Big 12 opponents, with 21.5% of their possessions ending in a miscue.

With Holland now in the starting five, the Longhorns will get even more minutes out of a guy who gave the Red Raiders fits in the first game. If they can get a repeat performance from him and force Tech to waste their possessions, the Horns should be able to finish the regular season with a win.

3) Clean up defensive glass – Even though Texas won the first game comfortably, their effort on the defensive glass left a lot to be desired. The Horns allowed Tech to reclaim 48.6% of their missed shots, and the Red Raiders turned all of those second chances into 17 extra points. The Longhorns had particular trouble with Jordan Tolbert (No. 32), who grabbed 13 boards on the night, with eight of those coming on the offensive end. If the Longhorns allow that many offensive rebounds in this game, a Tech offense that typically struggles to score will suddenly become much more dangerous.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:43PM

Texas Tech Red Raiders (9-8 overall, 2-4 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (8-10, 0-5)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #239

It has been a rough season for the Texas Longhorns, who are sitting at 0-5 in conference play for the first time in nearly 40 years. They will need a miraculous finish to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in Rick Barnes’ 15 seasons on the 40 Acres, and they just lost sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes for at least three weeks with a broken bone in his hand.

If there were ever an opponent the Longhorns would be happy to see in their current funk, it would be the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Barnes is a perfect 14-0 against Texas Tech at the Erwin Center, and the Red Raiders are in the midst of their own disappointing season. Interim head coach Chris Walker is trying to put the pieces together in Lubbock after the program lost coach Billy Gillispie less than two weeks before the start of practice.

The Longhorns still have five games to play without sophomore guard Myck Kabongo, who will miss 23 contests this season due to an NCAA suspension. With Texas Tech and TCU both coming to the Erwin Center during that five-game stretch, the Longhorns have the chance to build a little bit of confidence and momentum before Kabongo’s return. Texas’ schedule is favorable for the final eight games, so there is still time to right the ship and battle for a post-season bid, even if the NCAAs are ultimately out of reach.

Interim coach Chris Walker faces an uphill battle
(Photo credit: Stephen Spillman/Associated Press)

By the numbers

The Red Raiders struggle even more than the Longhorns when it comes to scoring, although the margin is razor-thin. Texas Tech has posted an adjusted offensive efficiency mark of 0.948 points per possession, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Longhorns, meanwhile, average an adjusted 0.951 points each time down the court.

Tech’s inability to score is the result of very poor shooting, especially from outside. The team has made only 26.5% of its three-point attempts this season, the ninth-worst mark in all of Division I hoops. Tech has just two players who have made more than 30% of their three pointers, and that pair has combined to average just over two makes per game. That long-range futility means that opponents can sag way off of the perimeter on defense, making it harder for the Red Raiders to get the ball into the paint.

Knowing that Tech faces packed-in defenses, it might come as a surprise that the team has a two-point field goal percentage that is currently ranked 68th in the country. The Red Raiders make just over 50% of their shots from inside the arc, thanks to easy looks on putbacks and dribble penetration from guards and wings. The team’s 35.3% offensive rebounding mark is 70th in the country, while their assist percentage of 44.3 ranks in the bottom 20 nationally.

Early in the year, the Red Raiders were getting out and pushing the tempo. However, in conference play, Coach Walker has taken the air out of the ball in an attempt to shorten the game and increase his overmatched team’s odds to pull off the upset. Although Tech is averaging 69.1 possessions per game, that number has plummeted to just 64 possessions per game in Big 12 contests.

While the strategy has only led to one upset, it is keeping the Red Raiders competitive for longer against much better opponents. Tech trailed Kansas by just two and Oklahoma by five at halftime in each of those games, but went on to lose by 14 and 16 points, respectively. The Red Raiders also hung with Oklahoma State for about 14 minutes in their game, staying within three points. The Pokes blew Tech out of the water over the final 26 minutes, outscoring their opponents by 31 over that stretch.

Meet the Red Raiders

The key player for Texas Tech is actually their sixth man, 6’7″ junior forward Jaye Crockett (No. 30). Crockett can knock down midrange jumpers and threes, but has suffered from the same shooting inconsistencies that have plagued the entire team. Fortunately, he has a nice repertoire of post moves that he can use against defenders of all sizes and is usually able to get to the rack, even through contact. Crockett has also shown a very nice turnaround jumper throughout his career at Tech, so he’s still able to score near the paint even when opponents play sound defense.

Crockett also leads the team with eight rebounds per game, and has a defensive rebounding rate that is just outside the Top 50 nationally. Crockett reclaims 24.1% of opponents’ missed shots when he is on the court, and also snags 11.3% of his offensive rebounding opportunities.

Fellow 6’7″ forward Jordan Tolbert (No. 32) is also a big part of Tech’s success on the glass, but he does his work as a member of the starting five. The sophomore is also ranked nationally in both rebounding categories, grabbing 11.6% of his offensive opportunities and 19.9% of his chances on the defensive end. Although he averages only 8.5 points per game, his rebounding contributions and interior presence on D are key for a team that is relatively undersized.

Dejan Kravic has made an immediate impact inside
(Photo credit: Stephen Spillman/Associated Press)

The other big man in Tech’s starting five is 6’11” junior Dejan Kravic (No. 11), who transferred to Lubbock from York University in Ontario. Kravic has been very impressive in his short stint on the High Plains, showing off an old-school kind of game. He can use either hand in the post and has an incredibly soft touch on his numerous hook shots and floaters. Although his shot is unorthodox, it’s effective. At times, it can look like Kravic is almost pushing the ball over the rim and down into the basket.

At the point, Josh Gray (No. 5) has been very impressive at times, but has also had his share of freshman mistakes. Gray is lightning quick with the ball and can make passes when it looks like there is no opening, but he also tends to over-penetrate and sometimes forces shots against good defense or early in the shot clock. While it looks like Gray will be a very good point guard in the near future, at this point the results are still mixed.

Freshman Dusty Hannahs (No. 2) has worked his way into the starting lineup, earning the nod in all six Big 12 games so far. He was Player of the Year in Arkansas as a high school senior, and is Tech’s only real three-point threat this season. Hannahs has knocked down 39.4% of his long-range attempts, but is averaging just 6.5 points in his 19 minutes per game. Although he has shown the ability to drive and sink a floater in the lane, more than 68% of his buckets have come from behind the arc.

Junior Jamal Williams, Jr. (No. 23) is the final member of the starting five, hailing from Brooklyn. He arrived at Tech via the juco route, playing his first two seasons at Lake Land College in Illinois. Williams plays excellent perimeter defense, frustrating opposing guards who like to use dribble penetration. At 6’4″, he also provides some quality defensive rebounding from the wings, reclaiming more than 10% of opponents’ misses.

Off the bench, Tech relies on a trio of options in the backcourt. Daylen Robinson (No. 10) is another juco transfer who can give backup minutes at the point, but often plays out of control. His even assist-to-turnover ratio of 1:1 underscores that inconsistent level of play.

Toddrick Gotcher (No. 20) is still considered a freshman after playing just nine games last year and using his medical redshirt. He brings some length and strength to the perimeter in his 6’4″ frame.

Senior Ty Nurse (No. 4) is averaging just over 12 minutes per game and is having a very difficult final season. He averages less than a point each night and has made only 10.3% of his threes, a shocking drop from the 38.8% mark he posted as a junior. Nurse had made an immediate splash in Lubbock, scoring 29 points in his first game with Tech last year. He started 24 of the team’s 30 games and led the team in minutes played, so the drop-off in his senior year is surprising and disappointing.

Keys to the game

1) Deny second and third chances – The Longhorns still have the nation’s best defense, as measured by effective field-goal percentage. Unfortunately, their defensive efficiency has been killed by sending opponents to the line and allowing them too many offensive rebounds.

While Texas Tech is a very poor shooting team, they have shown a willingness to crash the glass and they extend possessions as a result. The Red Raiders have preferred to slow Big 12 games down, so the importance of each and every possession will be magnified tonight. Texas has to close out its defensive stops with rebounds, as a few second chance baskets here or there could be the difference in a low-scoring battle.

2) Protect the basketball – The first ten minutes of the Texas/Oklahoma game on Monday night looked like something out of Keystone Cops or a Buster Keaton film. The Longhorns coughed it up on eight of their first ten possessions, yet still remained in the game.

One thing the Tech defense actually does well is force turnovers, as the Red Raiders cause mistakes on 22.3% of their opponents possessions. As outlined above, this will be a low-possession game where every trip down the court will be crucial. Wasting possessions with miscues could keep the Longhorns winless in conference play.

3) Keep the bigs out of foul trouble – With Holmes out of commission, the Longhorn frontcourt will likely be a rotating cast of characters. Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh were caught biting on pump fakes against Romero Osby on Monday night, and the fouls piled up as a result.

Tech’s Kravic has proven to be a very crafty big man, so the Longhorn forwards cannot afford to make the same mistakes tonight. Ridley, Ibeh, Holmes, and Connor Lammert are going to have their hands full with Kravic, Tolbert, and Crockett, and having to play with foul trouble is only going to make things tougher. The youngsters need to play sound defense and stand tall in the hopes of avoiding dumb fouls underneath.

Next Page »