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Surging Red Raiders' biggest challenge yet awaits them at KU

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Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith directs his defense during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016 at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith directs his defense during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016 at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Undeniably, Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech team is on the rise. The Red Raiders have won five straight games, a stretch that includes their first two road victories of the season.

As March approaches, Tech is peaking at the right time, playing its way from afterthought to NCAA Tournament team in the past couple of weeks.

But the Red Raiders (18-9 overall, 8-7 Big 12) will have to put together some extraordinary game planning and execution to add another win to the run Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse (11 a.m. tip, ESPN).

The No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (24-4, 12-3), of course, are on as good a run as any team in the nation, with eight straight victories, and in need of one more to snag at least a share of the program’s 12th conference crown in a row.

Smith, now in his 3rd season with the Red Raiders, is 0-5 versus KU as Tech’s head coach. While this team obviously is his best yet in Lubbock, Texas, it also is 0-2 on the road and 0-1 on neutral floors against RPI top-25 teams this season.

Texas Tech (No. 38 in the nation according to KenPom.com) will need to stick to what it does best to win at the fieldhouse, where Kansas has rattled off 38 consecutive victories.

The Red Raiders average 15.4 points off turnovers a game compared to their opponents’ average of 12.2.

In their best victories of the season, they’ve won points off turnovers:

- 10-7 (Jan. 2 vs Texas)

- 11-8 (Feb. 10 vs. Iowa State)

- 24-15 (Feb. 13 at Baylor)

- 14-9 (Feb. 17 vs. Oklahoma)

The ability to turn foes’ mistakes into easy points hasn’t always traveled well with Tech in its various stops around the Big 12 (and one SEC road game) this winter:

- at ISU, lost 14-10

- at Kansas State, lost 18-16

- at TCU, lost 15-8

- at OU, lost 16-13

- at Arkansas, lost 15-8

- at Texas, won 16-7 — but lost game 69-59

- at BU, won 24-15

- at Oklahoma State, lost 9-2

Clearly the Red Raiders will need to find some comfort in Allen Fieldhouse, and this is one way to do it. If possible, they’ll need to turn KU over and go the other way for baskets that will give them a boost while turning down the volume of the home crowd.

Another strategy the Red Raiders will use is simply attacking KU’s defense and getting to the free-throw line. Six of the Red Raiders’ top players have attempted 44 or more free throws in Big 12 play. When Tech makes 20 or more free throws this season, it has resulted in a Red Raiders victory on 10 out of 11 occasions.

Texas Tech’s 76.2% free-throw accuracy in conference games leads the Big 12.

Defensively, Tech’s biggest strength is its shot-blocking ability. The Red Raiders are averaging 4.5 swats a game in league play, second only to OU’s 5.9. So finding ways to frustrate KU around the rim will also be critical in their upset bid.

With those things in mind, here are the Red Raiders the Jayhawks have to worry about as they go after yet another Big 12 title.

TEXAS TECH STARTERS

No. 20 — G Toddrick Gotcher | 6-4, 205, sr.

Texas Tech's Toddrick Gotcher runs toward fans to celebrate after an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won 65-63. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

Texas Tech's Toddrick Gotcher runs toward fans to celebrate after an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won 65-63. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

  • — Jan. 9 vs. KU: 13 points, 5/12 FGs, 2/7 3s, 1/2 FTs, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 32 minutes*

  • More likely than any other Red Raider to pull up from 3-point range, senior Toddrick Gotcher (10.9 points) has made a team-best 51 3-pointers on 129 attempts (39.5%).

  • In his last 6 games, Gotcher has knocked down 18 from downtown on 31 tries (58%).

  • A week ago, Gotcher scored a career-high 24 points at Oklahoma state, behind 4 second-half 3-pointers.

  • An 85% free-throw shooter in Big 12 games.

No. 11 — F Zach Smith | 6-8, 215, soph.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III tries to cut between Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) and guard Keenan Evans (12) for an attempted steal during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016 at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III tries to cut between Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) and guard Keenan Evans (12) for an attempted steal during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016 at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

  • — Jan. 9 vs. KU: 5 points, 2/7 FGs, 0/3 3s, 1/4 FTs, 6 rebounds (2 offensive), 1 block, 2 steals in 31 minutes*

  • Texas Tech’s best shot-blocker (1.6) and rebounder (7.5), sophomore Zach Smith chips in 10.3 points a game.

  • Had a rough outing at OSU last week, but bounced back by scoring a career-high 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting against TCU.

  • Playing well offensively in 4 of his last 5 games, Smith has averaged 13.2 points and shot 55% from the floor in Tech’s last 5 games.

  • Looking at the past 10 Tech games, Smith has blocked 23 shots.

  • Tech’s worst free-throw shooter among its core players, Smith is shooting 67.7% in Big 12 action.

No. 5 — F Justin Gray | 6-6, 210, soph.

None by TexasTech Basketball

  • — Jan. 9 vs. KU: 10 points, 4/7 FGs, 2/3 FTs, 3 rebounds (2 offensive), 1 turnover, 1 block, 2 steals in 23 minutes off the bench*

  • A second-year guard who became a starter late in the season, Justin Gray (8.7 points) leads Tech in 3-point accuracy: 17-for-40, 42.5%.

  • Only a starter for the past 7 games, Gray has produced double-digit points in 9 of the past 15 games.

  • However, Gray has been in an offensive slump the past 3 games: 5.3 ppg in 29.0 minutes/game.

  • In Big 12 contests, Gray averages 10.1 points on 52.5% shooting (best on the team) and is Tech’s second-best rebounder (4.6).

  • Hitting 73.8% of his free throws in conference.

No. 12 — G Keenan Evans | 6-3, 180, soph.

None by TexasTech Basketball

  • — Jan. 9 vs. KU: 1 point, 0/3 FGs, 1/3 FTs, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 steal in 23 minutes*

  • Lead guard Keenan Evans (8.6 points) has only dished 2.8 assists a game this season — best on the team — but has become a little more active distributing the rock of late, with 3.3 apg in his past 6.

  • Had one of the best games of his career at Baylor, with career-high 21 points, to go with 5 assists and 4 steals.

  • An occasional 3-point shooter, Evans has hit 15 of 43 this season (34.9%). But he did connect on a big 3 to help beat Iowa State, giving TT the lead in overtime.

  • Leads Tech with 18 steals in Big 12 games.

  • Making 77.4% of his free throws in conference play.

No. 34 — F Matthew Temple | 6-10, 235, jr.

None by TexasTech Basketball

  • — Jan. 9 vs. KU: 3 points, 1/2 FGs, 1/1 3s, 2 rebounds in 9 minutes off the bench*

  • Not originally in Tech’s starting lineup, junior Matthew Temple (4.0 points in 12.0 minutes this season) still doesn’t spend much time on the court as one of the first 5.

  • One of the Red Raiders trying to fill the void left by center Norense Odiase, who broke a foot and could miss the remainder of the season, Temple joined the program as a walk-on before the season began.

  • Produced career-highs with 11 points an 4 rebounds in a blowout loss at OU last month.

  • He matched those 11 points last week while shooting 5-for-7 at OSU.

  • 3-for-4 from downtown in Big 12 games and 11-for-20 at the free-throw line (55%).

TEXAS TECH BENCH

No. 15 — F Aaron Ross | 6-8, 225, jr.

None by Campus Insiders

  • — Jan. 9 vs. KU: 7 points, 2/3 FGs, 1/2 3s, 2/2 FTs, 1 assist, 1 block, 4 fouls in 12 minutes*

  • In Big 12 play, junior sub Aaron Ross actually leads Tech in scoring. His 13.1 ppg average against conference opponents tops Gotcher’s 10.8 mark, despite Ross playing almost 5 fewer minutes per game.

  • Ross often sparks Tech, and he’ll need to do that at KU for his team to have a shot. He only played 12 minutes in the first matchup because, in part, he committed 4 fouls. Ross was the only Red Raider with a positive +/- vs. KU: +5.

  • When Ross comes off the bench, he produces by getting to the free-throw line (team-best 90.8% and 65 attempts in Big 12 play) and hitting from 3-point range (24 of 56, 42.9% in conference).

  • Coming off a career-high 25 points vs. TCU, when he went 12-for-12 at the free-throw line.

  • Has scored 10-plus points in 8 straight games, a career best. Ross’ last two single-digit outings? At Oklahoma (4 points) and vs. Kansas (7 points).

No. 0 — G Devaugntah Williams | 6-4, 205, sr.

None by Big 12 Conference

  • — Jan. 9 vs. KU: 4 points, 1/8 FGs, 0/3 3s, 2/4 FTs, 1 assist, 1 turnover in 25 minutes as a starter*

  • A former starter, senior Devaugntah Williams (10.8 points) has seen his team take off as he moved to the bench. Tech is 6-1 since Tubby Smith changed up his role.

  • Williams scored the game-winning layup with less than a second remaining to beat OSU in his first game as a backup.

  • Produced 19 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in Tech’s overtime upset of Iowa State.

  • A 37.9% 3-point shooter on the year, Williams’ accuracy has fallen off vs. league competition: 12 of 45, 26.7%.

  • In his past 4 games, Williams has only scored 4.3 points on 28.5% shooting, while making 2 of 6 from 3-point range.

  • Has shot 72.7% at the free-throw stripe against league foes.

Comments

Jay Scott 5 years, 11 months ago

Worst coaching change this century? Gophers dumping Tubby for lil' Rickie.

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