How can Texas Tech get beat at home, 76-64, mainly at the
hands of an 18 year old kid? The answer is pretty simple. This is no ordinary
18 year old. In a world where superlatives are thrown around much too
liberally, Kevin Durant is an extraordinary young man. He is a superb talent,
one who stands head and shoulders above the many other talented Texas players,
perhaps the best collegiate player in the land, even at his young age. The
first time around against Tech, he scored 37 points and hauled down a mind-
boggling 23 rebounds. Even in what has been called by press accounts a bad
performance by his standards, he managed to limp along with a mere 20 points and
14 rebounds against Baylor in a nail biter win, 68-67, at Waco on Wednesday.
So, is this a game, on unfriendly turf in Austin, that Tech should just surrender at the outset? I think not. After a string of defeats, some thought that Tech should mail it in after the Nebraska game and even more so after the bitter defeat at Oklahoma State. however, this Tech team may not always play well, but there is no quit in them. The Raiders came back from the grave with a sterling performance against #6 A&M , winning 77-75, on the road no less. They then proceeded to pound Colorado 95-74. Against Texas, it really is just a matter of slowing down Durant, because I don't believe a team can really stop Durant, and clamping down on the supporting cast. Sounds simple in the saying, but as we well know, not nearly so simple in the execution.
By the Numbers
According to my Composite Power Ratings, I have Texas as a not insurmountable five point favorite, even with the home edge.
With regard to RPI, Tech has rebounded from its home loss to Nebraska and is once again in more friendly NCAA Tourney territory, hovering in the mid-30's. A road win, with the bonus attached to such by the NCAA, would be most helpful to Tech's RPI. As an aside, some lesser lights laboring away in relative obscurity may help Tech attain its goal of going to the NCAA Tourney. Bucknell has only lost two games since its defeat in Lubbock. The Bison are 11-1 in conference with its sole blemish coming at the hands of Holy Cross. Holy Cross is also 11-1 with its only loss to Bucknell. An NCAA tourney bid to Bucknell would look good on Tech's resume and the Crusaders of HC seem to be the only obstacle. Sam Houston State also has a legitimate shot at representing its conference. The Bearcats are 10-2 and have already defeated their apparent toughest competition, A&M-CC, once this season on the road.
|Per Game Statistical Comparison (Rounded Off)|
While overall numbers can be misleading, in this instance the discrepancy in PPG in conference should be noted. Texas, even discounting the OSU game OT production of 103 points, is still scoring at the rate of 79 pts/game in regulation, versus Tech's 68 pts/game. Nevertheless, Texas was held to 62 points by Nebraska in a narrow 62-61 escape and by Baylor to 68 in a 68-67 nail biter, although both games were on the road. Perhaps more pertinent is the 72 points to which the Longhorns were held in their home defeat by Kansas State, 72-73. It would still seem to behoove Tech to score a few more points than its conference average. In addition, Texas takes good care of the ball overall, so Tech may have some trouble generating as many T/O's as usual. On the plus side, prior to the OSU game, Texas opponents were shooting over 44%.
Once more the rebounding disadvantage that has plagued Tech all season long bears a cursory mention. Texas is a very good rebounding team. Without beating a dead horse, suffice it to say that Tech would seem to be at a disadvantage.
Texas tends to get to the line substantially more than their opponents. The Horns outshot K St. 15/18 to a meager 5/6 FT's, Iowa St. 11/15 to a paltry 4/5, and Baylor 21/29 versus 11/17.
Texas has been proficient from beyond the arc and has a number of good 3-point shooters. Against K St. they hit a credible but not great 5/15. Despite only making 27/67 FG's, for K St., making 14/27 3-pointers was a key to their win. Otherwise in their last five games, Texas has made a decent 31/80 or 38.7%. Over the last five games. Durant has run hot and cold. Over this period he is a decent 9/25 for 36%. However, he shot 50% against both A&M, K St. and OSU, but was a less spectacular 0/3 against Iowa St. and worse 1/6 against Baylor. The most prolific 3-point shooter is Abrams who has launched 210 3's and made 90 for a good 43.7%. Augustin is also not shy about putting them up and has the best average of 47.2%, although on only about a third as many attempts. Justin Mason also has a good average of 43.7% on about the same number of attempts as Augustin. Even Center Atchley is doing OK at 33%, but on small numbers. Here again, I am wary of predicting anything except that it is unpredictable which team will benefit most from 3-pointers. However, they have been instrumental in Tech's last
two wins as well as helping make the OSU game so close. In those last three games Tech has made 25/60 3's for a very good 41.7%. Jackson is making them at an excellent rate over this period, 9/20 for 45%. Charlie Burgess, who early on was doing quite well on 3's, may be starting to find the range again, as he has made 6/11 in this interval for 54.5%.
The only apparent vulnerability of Texas would seem to stem from its thin bench, which struck me at first as odd given their much touted talent. Nevertheless, they only have 12 players on their roster and with Matt Hill out, Texas is reduced to 11 players. The truth is that even though Coach Barnes plays what could be construed as an eight or nine man rotation, Texas primarily only plays six players. That very important 6th man, 1st off the bench, is Center/Forward Conner Atchley. In the last five games since Tech, Atchley has played 23/32 bench minutes against K St., 20/29 against A&M, 17/30 against Iowa St.. 26/37 against OSU, and 26/33 against Baylor. But then, Coach Barnes must know he generally can't count on much offense off the bench. The bench provided only 6 points against K S t., 2 out of 82 points against A&M, 9 points against Iowa St., and 5 points against OSU. It was only in the Baylor game when Atchley went wild with 15 points of 17 points provided by the bench, that the subs provided any substantial offense.
Two other problems occur related to this paucity of productive players, shades of OSU. The first is fouls. On numerous recent occasions, the Texas players have had some foul problems, most notably in the loss to A&M. Atchley fouled out, James and Mason had 4 fouls, and Durant, Augustin, Winder, and Pittman all ended the game with 3. The second problem for Texas relates to Augustin. In scouring the Texas stats I noticed something which seems logical. When Augustin struggles, Texas is in trouble. In both the K St. and Baylor game, Augustin had 4 fouls and perhaps coincidently, but I think not, Texas struggled. In addition to or as a consequence of his foul trouble, Augustin only scored 6 points against K St. and 11 points against Baylor. This pattern appears to be confirmed by scrutinizing other earlier games where Augustin's numbers are down. In losses against Michigan and Gonzaga, he only scored 7 points. In the first Baylor game in Austin, a game in which Baylor led much of the game, including leading at the half 42-36, Augustin again only scored 7 points. I'm not sure how all this might be exploited, but I'm sure Coach Knight could think of something.
Other than having a relatively thin bench, Texas does not seem to have any obvious vulnerabilities. Like virtually all teams, of course they are susceptible to the occasional sub par outing, especially with their young team. That said, they are a very solid team, getting better at both ends of the court as their young players mature. I guess you will have to wait for the Bottom Line to see why I think Tech can win this game.
To put it mildly, Kevin Durant is a one young man wrecking crew. He is leading the conference in scoring and rebounding. I need only point out that he is averaging a double double overall in both. He has had double doubles in 16 games this season He has scored more than 30 points on 6 occasions in conference and is averaging about 10 rebounds per game in the last 5 games. He is also averaging almost 2 blocks per game. I've pretty much run out of superlatives. I can only repeat that I don't believe he can be stopped, but perhaps he can be slowed down. In his "bad" game against Baylor, although he scored 20 points, he only made 5/16 baskets and as mentioned before, made only 1/6 3's.
The second major cog in the Texas machine is J. D. Augustin from New Orleans. He leads the conference in assists, of which he had 11 against Tech. While not generally a big scorer, he can pick up the slack as in the Iowa State game when Durant was held to a mere 17 points while being double and triple teamed. As was described in a press account, "Augustin made easy work of the Iowa State defense, slashing through the lane for twisting layups or pulling up to hit three 3-pointers", making 3/5. He also scored 25 against LSU, 23 against both Villanova and A&M, and 19 in the OSU II game.
The starters are of course Durant and Augustin, in addition to Mason, James, and Abrams. They are so good that one tends to forget that four of the five are mere freshmen. The oldster of the bunch is Abrams, a Sophomore. The trusty sixth man as mentioned is Sophomore Atchley, whose specialty is defense and rebounding. However, in the Baylor game his 15 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes undoubtedly made the difference. That was Atchley's high for the season as he is only averaging 4 points a game. There must be something about Baylor that inspires him, because he had 9 points in Baylor I, his third highest point output of the season.
Other major contributors are of course the other starters. James is the team's second leading rebounder while Abrams is the team's second leading scorer. Mason is a Jack of All Trades, 4th in scoring, 4th in rebounding, 2nd in assists, 4th best overall shooting percentage of anyone with substantial minutes, in addition to having the 2nd best 3-point average. Pittman, Lewis, and Winder have also gotten a few minutes in the recent games.
At this stage of the season, I will narrowly focus on the conference record since Texas defeated Tech in Lubbock. Immediately afterwards, Texas suffered its only two game losing streak of the season, a rare squeaker home loss to Kansas State, 72-73, and a decisive road loss to the Aggies, 82-100. While comparative scores are hazardous to depend on, Tech's double digit 62-52 win on the road against the same K St. is encouraging and that home loss shows that the Horns are mortal. In the same light, Tech's ability to beat A&M in Aggieville, which the Horns could not accomplish, is also
Next on the schedule was a home win for Texas, although hardly a blowout, against Iowa State which is only 4-8 in conference. Texas was blowing out the Cyclones 42-23 at the half, but Iowa State rallied in the second half. They got within 67-59 and 73-66 before Texas closed them out 77-68. The next game was a blowout of struggling OSU, 83-54, and doesn't indicate much in my estimation.
Finally, we have the last game in Waco where Texas scraped by Baylor 68-67. A win is a win and as Tech knows, it's not such an easy task to win in Waco as some seem to think. For the umpteenth time, may I remind us all that Baylor was the favorite, albeit by a slim single point, in its game against Tech. Nevertheless, the Baylor game shows that Texas is to some degree vulnerable.
In sum, while the ability of inferior opponents to play Texas close and comparative scores are encouraging, this is hardly the foundation on which to ground a conclusion that the Red Raiders can beat Texas.
I think Tech can win simply because, at their best, the Raiders are a very good team, capable of beating anybody on any given day. One doesn't defeat a team as talented as Kansas, even at home, unless one is good. Further, for those that may have assessed the 70-68 Tech win over #6 A&M as a fluke or due mainly to the home court advantage, Tech's win against the Aggies on the road, 77-75, dispelled that myth. In addition, Tech's decisive win at Manhattan against surging Kansas State, 62-52 in a defensive gem, shows that Tech can shut down even a very good team on the road.
Again as solid as Texas is, the Tech guards are as good as any in the country and with all of them, including Charles Burgess, seemingly at full strength physically, this has got to be an edge for Tech. The Texas forecourt is imposing, yet Tech's forwards are coming into their own as a consistent supporting cast offensively, especially Jon Plefka. There is always the chronic problem with rebounding. However, with the emergence of the Tech forecourt as a credible force in the last several games in that department also, the differential hopefully will not be that severe. In its last three games, Tech has only been narrowly out-rebounded by its opponents; 25-26 against Colorado, 25-29 against A&M, and 34-39 against OSU. As a final point, Tech has been shooting well of late, best evidenced by the fact that Tech was the first of 36 straight opponents to shoot over 50% against A&M. That bodes well for Tech, given the previously mentioned fact that prior to the OSU game, Texas was allowing its opponents to shoot over 44%.
There is no doubt that Rick Barnes is a good coach and a superior recruiter.
As the trite expression goes, "Texas doesn't rebuild from year to year, they reload" with top quality players. In fact, congratulations to Coach Barnes. He has just surpassed now Houston Coach Tom Penders as the winningest Texas basketball coach. He now has 210 wins to Pender's 208. Barnes is also number one in winning percentage at 71.5%, having won 208/291 games. Despite the compliment, with Coach Knight at the helm of Tech, I
have to give the edge to Tech in the coaching category.
Coach Gillespie, before the game against Tech in College Station, warned his team that the team they were about to play was even better than the team that had already beaten them once in Lubbock. I believe the same in relation to the game against Texas. The team that the Horns are about to encounter is a much better team than the one they beat before. Before that first game I opined, "Given the uncertainty of the injury situation, I would think the game might be off the board in LV town right now."
Now that the Raiders are healthy, the forecourt is responding positively, the motion offense seems to be clicking, the team has confidence instilled by very good performances on the road against both OSU and A&M as well as the blowout of Colorado, and there is some urgency because of their record, I believe Tech will respond well. This will be a close game; but to reiterate, it is one that Tech is capable of winning.
#3 A.J. Abrams G 5-10 155 Sophomore Round Rock, TX
#4 J.D. Lewis G 6-1 180 Junior Amarillo, TX
#5 Damion James G-F 6-7 227 Freshman Nacogdoches, TX
#14 D.J. Augustin G 5-11 175 Freshman New Orleans, LA
#21 Matt Hill F-C 6-9 230 Freshman Lincoln, NE
#22 Ian Mooney F 6-3 225 Junior Austin, TX
#23 Harrison Smith G 6-2 185 Freshman Houston, TX
#24 Justin Mason G 6-2 185 Freshman Amarillo, TX
#30 Craig Winder G 6-2 190 Senior Hebron, MD
#32 Connor Atchley F-C 6-9 225 Sophomore Clear Lake, TX
#34 Dexter Pittman C 6-10 293 Freshman Rosenberg, TX
#35 Kevin Durant G-F 6-9 225 Freshman Suitland, MD