Lubbock, Texas — Lubbock’s Smith, first name Zach, doesn’t hit as hard as Lubbock Smith did during his days as a safety for the Kansas football team, but Zach Smith does hit shots for the Texas Tech basketball team that he didn’t even used to take.
And Smith still keeps the video crew busy compiling his wide array of dunks for entertaining highlights. He dunks lobs, baseline drives, put-backs. The flashiest come from dunk competitions, such as the time he soared over 6-foot-10 teammate Matthew Temple to throw one down.
Plus, Smith’s too used to playing Kansas to feel in any way intimidated by the challenge of facing the nation’s third-ranked basketball team.
Smith the player and the Red Raiders as a whole are perfect examples of what makes the Big 12 schedule such a tough one to negotiate this season.
Tech tore through the non-conference portion of the schedule with a confidence-building 12-1 record, plays five juniors and four seniors and boasts a 14-1 home record. Yet, the Red Raiders are no better than 4-7 in the Big 12.
Still, if Texas Tech “upsets” Kansas, a four-point favorite, many will want to send out a search party to find an explanation for the unthinkable. Were they flat, exhausted, distracted, robbed by the refs?
Better question: What if Texas Tech is just better for two hours in the game that tips off at 1 p.m.? A four-point underdog does win every now and then.
Smith, a 6-8, 220-pound junior, as with many teammates, gained early experience and steadily has improved. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. His field-goal (.472, .511, .544) and free-throw (.619, 658, .688) percentages, scoring (6.2, 10.0, 13.0) and rebounding (4.9, 7.3, 7.8) averages climb every season.
Smith even has stretched his game to make himself tougher to guard. He’s not the high-volume 3-point shooter that fellow 6-8, 220-pound starter Anthony Livingston is, but Smith has made 10 of 19 treys in the Red Raiders’ past 11 games.
Smith likely will be matched up against Josh Jackson to start the game, possibly Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg Jr. at other times.
Jackson’s rare talent level makes a minutes comparison beside the point here, but it is worth pointing out that Smith has played 1,982 more minutes than Bragg, 799 more than Lucas, who gained valuable experience practicing against future NBA players before working his way into the rotation.
A victory today for Kansas counts as a good one, not a ho-hum one.