Texas Tech Hoops Gears Back Up

Texas Tech basketball returns from a 12-day hiatus Sunday against Central Arkansas. How have the Red Raiders looked in the first nine game under Tubby Smith? Who has starred? Who needs to improve? What does the road ahead hold?

Texas Tech's basketball team has entered a new era under head coach Tubby Smith – one which has already produced its own trends and storylines. The Red Raiders have been on a 12-day hiatus for finals after opening the season 6-3.

The following is a breakdown of how Texas Tech has played up to this point and what lies ahead in the handful of games leading up to Big 12 play.

The Good
In all honesty, we cannot place much weight on defeating the likes of Texas Southern (regardless of the quality of coach), Northern Arizona, or Texas-San Antonio. However, individual players on the Red Raiders have stood out as valuable pieces in the long run, especially leading up to the Big 12 conference schedule:

Robert Turner
The junior guard transferred to Texas Tech after two years at New Mexico Junior College. Turner has provided a spark for the Texas Tech offense, averaging 10.7 points and 2.6 rebounds.

He has similar numbers of turnovers and steals (11 apiece) in nine games this season. Turner has been shooting 38.9 percent from the floor and 26.1 percent from behind the arch, numbers that can surely improve but show that he is certainly a shoot-first lead guard. To add to this notion, Turner has just 25 assists at this point in the season.

Turner leads the team in minutes per game (28.7) and has the most shot attempts of any player (90).

Dedication to "deflections" and defensive play
Tubby Smith has encouraged a new, defense-minded Red Raider team this season. Utilizing the length of his wings – particularly the trio of Kader Taposba, Jaye Crockett, and Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech has kept the pressure high and the ‘deflections' at an acceptable number for Smith.

Keeping the focus on defense, Texas Tech has allowed 68 points a game (yet scored 73 points a game themselves); forced nine more turnovers (112 to 103) and five more steals (55 to 50) than the opposition; and average 4.6 blocks per game. Cumulatively, Tech is outscoring their opponents 657-613.

Tolbert and starting center Dejan Kravic share the team lead with 10 blocks apiece. Tapsoba, flourishing in his role as a defensive spark off the bench, has nine. The next closest player has four.

The bad
Texas Tech has struggled mightily in its more challenging games, falling to the likes of Alabama, Pittsburgh and No. 2 Arizona. Two of those three games came on the road, and the third, against Pitt, was in Brooklyn at the Legends Classic, a pre-season tournament which was meant to test Tech against elite teams in preparation for the Big 12 schedule.

This will prove to be a major challenge, as the Texas Tech schedule only gets tougher: after another home game against Central Arkansas, the Red Raiders get a double-dip of Division I talent with LSU and Arizona State, the latter of which is on the road. By January 4, 2014, Big 12 conference play will have started, against Iowa State.

In short, Texas Tech has shown that they have sufficient talent to overtake minnows such as Houston Baptist or South Dakota State, but not enough to seriously challenge major-conference foes like Pittsburgh or Arizona. There's not much of a remedy for that this season; the Red Raiders get a special visit from the Cyclones (projected a top-four finisher) and West Virginia in short order.

In addition, Tech has been prone to fouling early and often, which players and coaches have attributed to new rules which disallowed the hand-check, a staple of college basketball defense for generations. Tech has committed 166 total fouls to their opponent's 154, and they have out-fouled the other team in six of their first nine games.

Hannahs needs to step up
Dusty Hannahs has found his niche in the Texas Tech scheme of things, and that's as a spot-up shooter.

Hannahs' overall shooting looks off-the-mark (37.7 percent, lowest among starters), but those numbers don't reflect the fact that he is, primarily, a three-point shooter and little else. In games, he may drive to the basket a couple of times, but his job is to stretch the floor as a perimeter player, but he has struggled by shooting just 35.3 percent. Yet, he still remains one of Tech's best options from as only Toddrick Gotcher shoots better from downtown.

His ability to shoot (and make) the long-range shot is a change of pace for a slashing, high-pressure basketball team, but he has to start knocking them down at a more regular basis.

The road ahead
As mentioned earlier, Tech will have their final non-conference challenges against Central Arkansas, LSU, Arizona State, and Mount St. Mary's. The Big 12 schedule should prove a real challenge; don't expect much from this bunch in that span. Although Crockett, Tolbert and Turner have been the brightest stars for the Red Raiders so far, the road ahead is filled with challenges from the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor. Make no mistake: those teams have much more talent and prove more difficult to compete with than most of Tech's early-season opposition.

Tech has a date with Central Arkansas on December 15, after which the "feeling-out" period is effectively over.

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