Getting to know: Texas Tech basketball
After all of the ups and downs throughout the Big 12 schedule, the only obstacle standing in front of Kansas and its 14th-straight conference title is Saturday’s showdown (3:15 p.m., TV: ESPN) in Lubbock.
With star point guard Keenan Evans hobbled by a toe injury, Texas Tech (22-6, 10-5 Big 12) has lost its last two games and dropped to second place in the conference standings. But the Red Raiders are still undefeated at home this season and to add to the atmosphere, ESPN’s College GameDay is in town for the first time in program history.
“To me, it's not like the boat is sinking,” TTU coach Chris Beard said. “We have to figure out how to get the boat back in the right direction. This is the Big 12, you can't get too high or too low. You have to continue to give yourselves a chance."
The Red Raiders own a 17-game home winning streak, the second-longest streak in the nation behind South Dakota State (20 games). They’ve played without senior forward Zach Smith in their last 13 games because of a foot injury.
Despite losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State, Tech ranks 10th in the latest KenPom rankings, one spot ahead of KU. In ESPN’s BPI, KU is No. 8 and Tech is No. 12.
“They’re the hardest to get easy baskets on and they’re probably the most difficult to finish defensive possessions on because of their patience and also the way they go to the offensive glass,” KU coach Bill Self said.
Fun fact: Tech has won nine of its last 10 home games at United Supermarkets Arena against Top 25 opponents with five of the nine victories coming by three points or less. The one exception is KU’s 80-79 victory in Lubbock last year.
Series history: Kansas leads 33-5. The Jayhawks have a 9-3 record inside of United Supermarkets Arena.
BREAKING DOWN TEXAS TECH
No. 12 — G Keenan Evans | 6-3, 190, sr.
Selected third-team All-Big 12 last season, Evans has transformed himself into a conference player of the year candidate. He’s averaging a team-best 17.6 points on 26.5 percent shooting from the 3-point line in Big 12 play. An 84.3 percent free throw shooter, Evans leads Tech with 17 steals in conference games.
Prior to his toe injury against Baylor, Evans scored at least 15 points in seven straight games. He’s combined for six points in his last two games. His dad, Kenny, was a high jumper at Arkansas and advanced to the finals of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Against KU this season: Scored a team-high 15 points on 4-for-16 shooting with six rebounds, three assists and two turnovers in 29 minutes.
- “I think what we’re seeing now is a veteran player starting to get to a level where he’s playing with a great consistency,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “No one has ever questioned Keenan’s talent. He’s had huge games all the way back to his freshman year playing for coach (Tubby) Smith. Now, he’s getting himself into a different neighborhood of greatness, and it’s call consistency.”
No. 2— G Zhaire Smith | 6-5, 195, fr.
After coming off the bench earlier this season, the high-flying Smith worked his way into the starting lineup by averaging 11.7 points and 5.0 rebounds in Big 12 play. Not much of a 3-point shooter (8 of 16), Smith is shooting 54.2 percent from the floor against conference opponents. He leads Tech with 35 offensive rebounds and 18 blocks.
Against KU this season: In 30 minutes off the bench, he had 11 points (4 of 9 shooting) with five rebounds and two assists.
No. 23 — G Jarrett Culver | 6-5, 190, fr.
Another freshman who eventually worked his way into a starting role, Culver ranks second on the team with 11.9 points per game against Big 12 teams while shooting 36.1 percent from the 3-point arc. Culver, a Lubbock native, is averaging 4.6 rebounds in conference games, leading the Red Raiders with 54 defensive boards.
Against KU this season: Off of the bench, he recorded 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes.
No. 5 — G Justin Gray | 6-6, 210, sr.
Averaging 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds on 51.7 percent shooting in conference play. He’s scored at least 10 points in five games this season, including his last two outings. Gray is the only Tech player to start all 28 games this year.
Against KU this season: Shot 5 of 7 from the floor on his way to 12 points, six rebounds and a team-high three steals in 24 minutes.
No. 10 — G Niem Stevenson | 6-5, 205, sr.
Capable of stepping up offensively, Stevenson has scored in double figures in two of the last three games. During Big 12 play, he’s averaging 5.9 points and 3.3 rebounds off of the bench, shooting 32.1 percent from the 3-point line. He ranks second on the team with 30 assists.
Against KU this season: Scored four points on 1-of-8 shooting with six rebounds, four assists and two turnovers in 21 minutes.
ONE THING TEXAS TECH DOES WELL
One of the top defenses in the country, the Red Raiders are holding opponents to 66.7 points per game in conference play because of their ability to force turnovers and rebound. (Yes, I know this is actually two things Tech does well.) On the defensive glass, Tech grabs 71.3 percent of missed shots, which leads the Big 12. Plus, the Red Raiders lead the league in forcing 14.7 turnovers per game.
ONE AREA TEXAS TECH STRUGGLES
The Red Raiders play at a slower pace on offense than the majority of Big 12 teams and they are inconsistent at the 3-point line. In eight of their 15 conference games, they’ve shot worse than 30 percent from deep. Against Big 12 opponents, they’ve made 33.9 percent of their shots from deep, which ranks eighth.
MEET THE NEW RECRUITING CLASS
Texas Tech signed a pair of wings during the early signing period, receiving national letters of intent from Deshawn Corprew and Kyler Edwards.
Corprew, a 6-foot-6 small forward, was a Top 100 recruit out of high school before playing this season at South Plains Junior College. Edwards, a 6-foot-4 guard, is playing at Findlay Prep in Nevada. Edwards averaged 22.4 points and 6.0 rebounds last year at Arlington (Texas) Bowie.
Texas Tech by 2. With the way Keenan Evans is limited by his toe injury, I’m surprised by the spread. If Evans was healthy, I think I’d lean toward picking Tech at home. But it’s just not the same offense when he’s not at his best. It would be the same for Kansas if Devonte’ Graham had a hobbling injury. I still expect a low-scoring game, but I think Malik Newman and Graham are the difference.
My prediction: Kansas 68, Texas Tech 63. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 14-13.