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Getting to know: Texas Tech basketball

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) fouls Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) on the shot during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) fouls Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) on the shot during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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

TOP PLAYER

No. 12 — G Keenan Evans | 6-3, 190, sr.

Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) puts up a three over Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) puts up a three over Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.”

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 2— G Zhaire Smith | 6-5, 195, fr.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) come in to defend against a three from Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) come in to defend against a three from Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver (23) tries to lay up the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Abilene Christian, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver (23) tries to lay up the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Abilene Christian, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson) by Brad Tollefson (Associated Press)

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.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) is hounded by Texas Tech guard Justin Gray (5) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) is hounded by Texas Tech guard Justin Gray (5) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) can't block an inbound pass to Texas Tech guard Niem Stevenson (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) can't block an inbound pass to Texas Tech guard Niem Stevenson (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

VEGAS SAYS…

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.

Reply 3 comments from Bobby Nightengale Dirk Medema West_virginia_hawk

Getting to know: Texas Tech basketball

Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) hoists a near half-court shot as time expires, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) hoists a near half-court shot as time expires, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

For the first time this season, Texas Tech will play in a true road game when it travels to Kansas for a battle between ranked teams at 8 p.m. Tuesday (TV: ESPN).

The 18th-ranked Red Raiders opened Big 12 play with a 24-point victory over then-ranked Baylor. Returning a large group of seniors, Tech (12-1) is ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Tech’s formula for success this season is its dominant defense. In 13 games, only two teams have scored more than 65 points: No. 23 Seton Hall and previously-ranked Nevada. In its last five games, no team has surpassed 54 points. Of course, none of those teams had an offense like the Jayhawks.

“I don’t know if you can ever prepare for Kansas until you actually play them,” TTU coach Chris Beard told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “But I do think we’ve played teams with multiple shooters on the floor at one time. So maybe we can draw a little bit from those experiences. But when you play Kansas, especially in Allen Fieldhouse, it’s a whole ‘nother monster.”

Tech senior forward Zach Smith only played four minutes against Baylor last week because of a left ankle injury. He warmed up at halftime and rode a bicycle behind the bench afterward, so he likely will have a chance to suit up vs. KU.

Fun fact: Texas Tech has started its five seniors in seven games this season. The Red Raiders and Mercer are the only two schools to start five seniors in a game this season.

Series history: Kansas leads 33-4. The Jayhawks have a 17-0 record inside of Allen Fieldhouse against the Red Raiders and have won the last 16 contests, dating back to 2009.

BREAKING DOWN TEXAS TECH

TOP PLAYER

No. 12 — G Keenan Evans | 6-3, 190, sr.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) defends the bucket over Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) late in the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) defends the bucket over Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) late in the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Selected third-team All-Big 12 last season, Evans has only improved. He’s averaging a team-best 16.6 points on 37.9 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Evans has dished a team-high 3.6 assists per game.

Evans has scored 10-plus points in 37 of his last 39 games and ranks 26th in Tech history in all-time scoring. He had 41 points and seven assists in two games against KU last year.

His dad, Kenny, was a high jumper at Arkansas and advanced to the finals of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

  • “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.”

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 2— G Zhaire Smith | 6-5, 195, fr.

Playing off of the bench, Smith averages 10.7 points in 22.6 minutes per game. He’s shooting 65 percent from the field, only attempting 11 3-pointers. He grabs 4.1 rebounds each night and is tied for the team lead with 15 blocks.

From Garland, Texas, Smith attempts 68.8 percent of his shots at the rim according to hoop-math.com. He had 15 points in the team’s Big 12 opener vs. Baylor.

No. 10 — G Niem Stevenson | 6-5, 205, sr.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) get in the face of Texas Tech guard Niem Stevenson (10) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) get in the face of Texas Tech guard Niem Stevenson (10) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Averaging 8.7 points and 2.8 rebounds on 46.4 percent shooting. He’s 12 of 30 from the 3-point arc. From Dallas, he transferred to Tech from Seward County CC in Liberal, Kansas.

Against KU last season, Stevenson totaled 24 points and 12 rebounds in 44 minutes.

No. 23 — G Jarrett Culver | 6-5, 190, fr.

Entering off the bench in most games, Culver has made an immediate impact with 10.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 41 percent from the 3-point line and has grabbed 20 steals.

From Lubbock, he’s one of the top local players to play at Tech since Craig Ehlo. One area that he’s struggled is the free-throw line, where he’s only made 54.8 percent of his 31 attempts.

ONE THING TEXAS TECH DOES WELL

Forcing more than 18 turnovers each night, the Red Raiders lead the Big 12 — and rank second in the country — in scoring defense by allowing only 58.2 points per game. They don’t give up many transition buckets. Opposing teams are only shooting 29.9 percent from the 3-point line against Tech.

ONE AREA TEXAS TECH STRUGGLES

The Red Raiders do have some trouble at the free-throw line, making only 67.2 percent of their attempts as a team. They’ve made 302 trips to the charity stripe, which ranks second in the Big 12 behind West Virginia.

MEET THE COACH

Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard gets fired up during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard gets fired up during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

The Red Raiders are ranked for the first time since the 2009-10 season when current coach Chris Beard was an associate head coach under Pat Knight. Beard is in his second season as head coach at Tech after spending one season at Arkansas-Little Rock.

His first head coaching position was at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. Before returning to Tech to become the head coach, he briefly accepted the head coaching position at UNLV.

VEGAS SAYS…

Kansas by 7. After passing one tough defensive test last week, the Jayhawks will play the top defense in the Big 12. The difference between Texas, which had Mo Bamba in the paint, and Tech is how the Red Raiders play against guards. They suffocate the 3-point line and grab a lot of steals. With Tech’s talented bench, I think this is a much tougher matchup for KU.

My prediction: Kansas 71, Texas Tech 68. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 7-5.

Reply 6 comments from Dirk Medema Robert  Brock Jayhawkohio Bobby Nightengale