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Friday, February 10, 2017

Tom Keegan: Texas Tech experienced and tough at home

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) fights inside for a shot against Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) fights inside for a shot against Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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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.

Comments

Kent Richardson 2 years, 6 months ago

TTU has one freshman and two sophomores. Shoot about as well as KU from inside and out. The four point spread is what Vegas uses to garner action. Tech plays 8 deep and if they hang around and being at home is enough of a factor then who knows. It seems that outside of Frank and JJ we have very few instances of anyone stepping up on a game by game basis. We get what we expect from Landen, DeVonte, Svi and Carlton but not much more or less.. Is this a team that is playing to it's ceiling and is truly a couple of baskets better every game then everyone else? We have been clutch enough over and over. I would also not be surprised if we lose today, at Baylor, at OSU and even at Texas if we allow Allen to look like a lottery pick. Or we win by 3 to 6 every game. It makes for exciting anticipation every time out. Will we get a sustained elevated lift over the next 10 games from someone besides JJ and Frank? I think the four guard and our roster means it has to come from Landen and Carlton. Hmmm.....

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