Texas Tech's 76-62 loss to Arizona State was the Red Raiders' final game of any consequence before the start of conference play. And this game, combined with Tech's earlier body of work provides us with a diagnostic tool of some value. Unfortunately, the diagnosis hands us a rather dispiriting prognosis.
Now the Red Raiders haven't had any problem with the mid-major and small conference opponents on their schedule. But there are no teams in the Big 12 that resemble Houston Baptist, Central Arkansas and UT-San Antonio. The more accurate analogs to Big 12 teams are Pittsburgh, Arizona and Arizona State. And in those games—all away from Lubbock—Tech simply has not been competitive. Heck, the Red Raiders lost by a dozen to an Alabama team that is proving to be mediocre at best. Tech's only decent performance against a good opponent was its two-point loss to LSU in Lubbock.
Based upon the foregoing, two things are becoming ever more apparent. First, any improvement the Red Raiders are making is glacial. The team that ASU handled with relative ease isn't much better than the one that the Pitt Panthers smoked three and a half weeks ago. Second, it is hard to envision the current Red Raiders posting a record much better than last year's Red Raiders.
Like the 2013-14 Red Raiders, last year's team polished off the creampuffs (McNeese State excepted), were hammered by Arizona and Arizona State, and played an SEC team (Alabama) close in Lubbock. They then won three Big 12 games (two of them in Lubbock), and beat West Virginia in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament before, inevitably, succumbing to Kansas in the second round. Given the state of the current team, it is easy to foresee a similar result in 2013-14.
And it is quite clear where Tech's most serious deficiency is located--the Red Raiders simply don't have the guards to compete with mid- and upper-level BCS basketball teams.
Defensively, the common theme in Tech's losses has been getting scorched by opposition guards, primarily on the perimeter.
Alabama's Trevor Releford had a career scoring night against Tech, putting up 29 points and connecting on five of seven three-pointers. Pittsburgh's Lamar Patterson singed Tech for 23 points, while knocking down four of seven three-point attempts. Arizona's Nick Johnson poured in 18 points, and went four of six from downtown. LSU's duo of Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey combined for 28 points and six-of-ten shooting from beyond the arc. And ASU's Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall made LSU's guard output look like child's play. They put up 43 points, 15 assists and made 70 percent of their three-pointers.
The evidence makes it crystal clear that the Red Raiders are behind the eight-ball when facing competent guards, particularly on the road.
Now if Tech's guards were putting up numbers similar to their opponents, the situation would not be so dire. But they're not. The ASU game was merely the worst instance of a general lack of offensive productivity from the guards. Against the Sun Devils, Tech's five guards combined for 13 points and five assists while going zero for seven from deep. For the season, Tech doesn't have a guard who shoots 40 percent or better from beyond the arc.
Unfortunately for Tubby Smith, there is no easy fix. The only guard on his team who provides reasonable quality on both ends of the court is Toddrick Gotcher. He's Tech's best perimeter defender, its best deep shooter, and possibly its best passer. Gotcher should seldom leave the court for the remainder of the season.
But you're not going to be remotely competitive in the Big 12 with just one guard. How Tubby Smith tries to coach around this glaring weakness will be the story of Tech's conference season. And if he can do it well enough to eke out five wins, he will have done a phenomenal job.
Prognosis is Poor
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