Texas Tech Hoops: Changing the Culture

Tubby Smith led the Red Raiders to more Big 12 victories (six) in his first season at the helm than Tech was able to produce in the previous two seasons combined. The Red Raiders defeated NCAA Tournament teams Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma (on the road) and Texas. The Red Raiders also swept in-state rival TCU. How did Smith and the staff do it?

During the midst of Texas Tech's
late-season swoon that saw the Red Raiders lose seven of their last eight games, more than a few fans were heard to grumble and grouse. Yet those very complaints stemmed from Tech's earlier success.

Hence, the Red Raiders went on a surprising three-game Big 12 win streak gunning down TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in succession. Consequently, many folks came to expect Tech to finish the season with a flourish en route to a postseason appearance. They were sorely disappointed when the opposite happened.

But do not be deceived by Tech's travails down the stretch. The Red Raiders did win six conference games, after all, twice as many as they won the year before. If you told any Tech fan before the season started that Tech would win that many Big 12 games, they would have laughed in your face and then alerted Homeland Security. So moribund was the Red Raider basketball program that even a modest six conference wins seemed a pipedream.

So what we have in Tubby Smith's inaugural season on the South Plains is one heck of a start. The Red Raiders improved dramatically over previous seasons and seniors Jaye Crockett, Dejan Kravic, Kader Tapsoba and Jamal Williams should be credited with having helped lay the foundation of what assistant coach Joe Esposito has termed "a monster" in the making.

So what was the key to Tubby Smith's success? In what area did he make the most pronounced positive impact?

The answer is binary.

First, Smith quickly diagnosed his team's strengths and weaknesses, and that is not an easy thing to do. Lesser coaches often go an entire season without ascertaining just what it is that makes their teams tick, and what causes the mainspring to snap.

Tubby realized that he had few offensive weapons. He sussed out that Crockett was the team's only reliable scoring threat, and he understood that his team was a woeful deep shooting unit.

Smith also hoisted in that while his team lacked any real firepower on offense, they were a team with plenty of spit and vinegar, an outfit that would dig in on defense, and punch far above its weight on the glass.

And the statistics indeed show that the Red Raiders kept their opponents from shooting particularly well and scoring very much. They also report that the beanpole-and-toothpick brigade finished the season plus-three in rebounding margin. That statistic is one heck of an accomplishment which speaks both to the team's determination and to the coaches' ability to teach proper rebounding technique.

Tubby's accurate analysis of his team's strengths and weakness led, in turn, to the formulation and inculcation of the strategy—perhaps the only possible strategy—that gave the Red Raiders their best shot at victory.

In this day and age where the tail often wags the dog in the game of basketball, where ESPN highlight reels determine many players' mode of play, coach Smith made the unfashionable decision to play small ball. Rather than send his limited ranks hurtling down the hardwood in Rucker Park fashion, the coach fired up the Studebaker and drove it horizontally rather than vertically.

Dispensing with the allusions and metaphors, Tubby Smith slowed the game down dramatically. He had his point guards walk the ball leisurely up court, and then he had them run set plays that very frequently saw the team not even look seriously for a hoop until the shot clock had nearly faded to black. This was Bob Knight, early Dean Smith and Gerald Myers rather than Pat Riley and John Calipari.

Among the younger set it is never popular to reject the hip and the faddish in favor of the old and the forgotten. Yet Smith made the choice to do just that. And even more impressive, he convinced his players that this antediluvian approach was the best thing for the team. In his first season with those players, he got them to "buy in" to his bowtie-and-horn rim approach to basketball. This was an outstanding display of basketball psychology.

But don't think for a second that the style of play Tubby chose in 2013-14 is what you'll see from here on out. Smith has always been a coach who loves to press and run, and the cat has not changed his stripes. As Smith brings in his custom fits and ups the talent level, he will evolve Red Raider basketball into what he won with at Tulsa, Georgia and Kentucky. But until that day, it is meet to appreciate what he accomplished with other men's players and the basketball of a bygone age.

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