1) Sans Andre: Texas Tech lost Andre Emmett's 20.6 points to graduation and the NBA after last season. Without a singular talent ready to step in and replace him, making up for that lost production has been a team effort.
Thus far, the Red Raiders (10-4, 2-1 Big 12) have been effective in doing so. Tech is averaging 82.9 points per game and has topped 90 points five times. The Raiders have achieved that with a balanced offense, which includes all five of Wednesday's likely starters averaging in double digits. Guard Ronald Ross tops the list, averaging 15.1 points and 4.6 rebounds, while forward Curtis Marshall is the floor at 11 points and 4.2 rebounds. No single player possesses the game-breaking ability that Emmett brought to the floor every night, but Tech has not dropped off too precariously after his departure.
2) Ross rises: While Tech may be as balanced as any team in the conference, Ross has emerged as its most consistent offensive threat. His 15.1 points lead the Red Raiders, while his 4.6 rebounds are second most. His 55 percent mark from the field is best among players averaging at least 11 minutes a game, while his 52 percent mark from beyond the 3-point line is also tops in Lubbock. Chip in a 2.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and Ross is a solid contributor all over the floor. Not bad for a former walk-on.
Not far behind Ross in terms of production is guard Jarrius Jackson, whose 13.4 points per game rank second on the squad. There are few players on the Tech roster that rely primarily on the perimeter shot, as witnessed by Marshall's 38 3-point attempts to lead the team. (Thomas Gardner leads the Tigers with 92 attempts.) Jackson is 14-of-30 from beyond the arc, a 47 percent mark that trails only Ross.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder mentioned Monday that it is difficult to defend the Red Raiders because all five of their regulars can score. Still, when Tech is looking for an important basket at a key time, it will likely turn to Ross or Jackson.
3) Finding focus: I usually use these points to describe Missouri's upcoming opponent, a scouting report of sorts. This time around, Missouri has more pressing concerns than the talent their opponent brings into Mizzou Arena on Wednesday evening. After a disheartening performance in their 20-point loss at Kansas State over the weekend, the Tigers have some serious issues to sort out.
Let's begin on offense. In Linas Kleiza, Jason Conley and Gardner, Missouri has three players capable of taking over games with their offensive ability. What we have discovered in the first two months of the season is that neither player is capable of doing it on his own; while Kleiza can dominate from the inside and the perimeter, he struggles when his outside shot is not falling.
Kleiza is clearly the most dangerous offensive player, but he rarely gets touches on the inside. With Kevin Young and Kalen Grimes still learning to contribute offensively, getting Kleiza more touches on the inside makes sense. He might not be as comfortable there as he is on the wing, but Kleiza needs to make the adjustment for the benefit of the team.
By running the offense through Kleiza's hands, better looks from the perimeter should develop. It will be up to the rest of the Tigers to convert those, but the shift should result in better balance.
4) Footing the line: On to the other end of the court, the Tigers had improved in leaps and bounds until struggling at Kansas State. Statistically, the numbers were not all that bad against the Wildcats; sure, they scored 74 points, but they shot an average 42 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc.
For the second game in a row, Missouri's opponent greatly hurt the Tigers at the line. Four days after Oklahoma State converted 26-of-29 shots, Kansas State made 25-of-34. That's 51 points over two games; comparatively, Missouri scored 25 points from the line. This has to change, on both ends of the floor.
Defensively, Missouri needs a more consistent presence under the glass. Young and Kleiza combined for 15 fouls in those two games, although many of those came on charges. Those two, along with forward Marshall Brown, need to play more under control on both ends of the floor, limiting the damage their opponents can do at the charity stripe.
Expanding on our third point, Missouri needs to attack the basket more consistently. This starts with Gardner, who can finish at the rim but envisions his role as a shooter. This is likely what the coaches are looking for from him, but Gardner needs to drive when his shot is not falling.
Food for thought: Gardner is 3-of-13 from the 3-point line in the past three games and 0-of-0 from the free-throw line.
5) Projected headline: Tech topples Tigers
I have given the Tigers the benefit of the doubt in my predictions all season, but that will change for now. Texas Tech has really come together in the past few weeks and managed a tight win at Bramlage Coliseum, where the Tigers were just waxed. Tack on five players capable of leading the team in scoring and I like the Red Raiders in this matchup.
The offense must improve significantly. Bob Knight's players play strong defense; if they don't, they won't see the floor. How consistently the Tigers can score will be the determining factor Wednesday.
Final score: Red Raiders 71, Tigers 68