Last Time Out
In a matchup of two 0-2 teams that were desperate at the time for a Big 12 win, Texas pulled out a three-point victory late, 67-64. That win was the first of seven in a row for Texas, which was able to shake off a tough start to enter Saturday's game in position to tie for second in the Big 12 with a win.
Texas Tech was able to rebound with two wins of its own, then lost three, then won three and has since lost six in a row. So many of those losses have been close — an overtime loss to West Virginia, the above loss to Texas, a last-second loss to Kansas, and one- or two-possession losses to West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas State — that it isn't hard to envision a Tech season that could have seen the Red Raiders as a major surprise team in the league.
As for the Texas game, the Longhorns were led by six players with eight or more points, while Texas Tech — shooting a sizzling 53.6 percent from two-point range (Texas usually allows teams to shoot 43.3 percent on its twos) — had 19 points apiece from Robert Turner and Jaye Crockett.
Texas tried to pull away at multiple points in the second half, but just couldn't gain distance from a Tech team that trailed by eight with 7:49 left and by five with 3:30 left. Six straight points from Texas Tech, including a pair of free throws from Turner with 1:19 remaining, had Tech up one at 64-63 and looking like the Raiders could steal one in Austin.
Javan Felix missed a three that Jordan Tolbert rebounded, giving Tech a chance to press its advantage further, but Jaye Crockett missed a jumper of his own with 38 seconds left. Felix missed another three with 33 seconds remaining, but this time Cameron Ridley was there for the offensive rebound, and he was fouled. Ridley sank both to give Texas a 65-64 lead with 31 seconds left. Prince Ibeh blocked Tolbert's first attempt, but Turner grabbed it and Tech called timeout again. That set up a jumper for Crockett, but he also missed with Holmes pulling down the rebound. Holmes hit both free throws with one second remaining, and Texas pulled it out late.
On the Red Raiders
Texas Tech isn't your usual second-to-last team in the league. The Red Raiders (13-17, 5-12 Big 12) are ranked 86th in the nation by KenPom, meaning that if they played in say, the Missouri Valley (which houses the nation's current No. 2 team in Wichita State), Tech would be the second-best team in the league.
The Red Raiders have been especially dangerous at home, where they've beaten Baylor and Oklahoma State, while Kansas took a buzzer-beater to escape with a one-point win. Tech did claim a nice road win over Oklahoma as well.
Tech does two things exceptionally well: slow the game down — the Red Raiders are 334th in adjusted tempo and 318th in average possession length — and hit the offensive boards. Texas Tech's offensive rebound percentage of 37.1 ranks 25th in the country. The reason for slowing it down isn't any sort of surprise: as an under-talented team, you try to grind things out and create fewer possessions against better teams.
Texas Tech is a big top-heavy on offense though, as the Red Raiders score 58.1 percent of their points on two-point buckets. That's 16th in the nation. By comparison, Tech scores 19.9 percent of its points on three-pointers, 323rd nationally.
Still, slowing the game down has been good for the offensive efficiency, with Texas Tech ranking a respectable 76th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Each of Texas Tech's six most-used players has an individual Offensive Rating over 100, while last year, only two players who played at least 40 percent of the team's minutes could claim that stat.
Tech's most frequent lineup, by far, the last five games has been Turner (6-3 190), Toddrick Gotcher (6-4 195), Crockett (6-7 210), Tolbert (6-7 225) and Dejan Kravic (7-0 235). That lineup does leave Tech significantly short on three-point punch (Tech shoots just 31.6 percent as a team), though reserve Dusty Hannahs (6-4 210), the team's lone successful volume three-point shooter, makes 38 percent and he actually plays starter minutes, logging a higher percentage of the team's minutes than Kravic.
Hannahs is the only Texas Tech shooter with 10 or more threes this season who shoots 35 percent or better from distance.
Still, it isn't easy keeping Tech from scoring its two-point buckets, even if you know they're coming. Crockett is one of the Big 12's better one-on-one players, a tough player to defend who shoots 71.8 percent at the rim and just under 40 percent on his two-point jumpers. Tolbert is a scrappy player who gets nearly 60 percent of his shot opportunities at the rim. Kravic ranks 120th nationally in offensive rebounding rate (both Tolbert and Crockett are top-400 players there as well). Kravic also serves as the team's best rim protector on the other side, with a block rate of 7.5 percent (90th). Turner's capable of scoring as well, while Gotcher is excellent at getting to the free throw line. Hannahs shoots 91.8 percent when he gets there.
Aaron Ross (6-8 225), Alex Foster (6-8 225) and Kader Tapsoba (6-10 225) give the Red Raiders some size options off the bench, with Ross being the best offensive player of that group, Foster ranking as the best offensive rebounder and Tapsoba as the best shot-block artist.
Tech is below average in each of KenPom's four factors for efficient defense. They allow teams to shoot above the national average, don't force the national average in turnovers, allow over the national average for offensive rebounds and put teams on the free throw line more often than average.
All of that leads to a defense that, surprisingly, is slightly above average (120th) because Tech also isn't exceptionally poor in those areas, so there isn't one giant weak spot docking it way down.
How Can Texas Win?
The first thing that Texas (22-8, 11-6) can do is value possessions. The Longhorns haven't done a great job of that on the road lately, and Texas committed 13 turnovers against Tech in Austin. That might not sound like a death knell, but when you're playing so many fewer possessions because of Tech's slow pace, each one gains an added importance.
Even with those turnovers, Texas had 1.08 points per possession in the first game, meaning the Longhorns would have won more comfortably had they been able to hold the turnovers down. Remember that Tech isn't especially great at forcing them in the first place.
Second, the Longhorns should be able to control the glass. That comes in two very different parts against Texas Tech: keeping a feisty offensive rebounding team off the glass (a challenge) and hitting the heck out of the offensive glass yourself (a big Texas advantage). Texas did that in the first meeting, likely why the Longhorns won despite committing more turnovers and not shooting as well from two or three as the Red Raiders did.*
* It also helped that Texas shot a sublime 18-of-21 (85.7 percent) from the free throw line.
And third, Texas needs to do a better job of protecting the rim. Tech scored far too easily inside the arc last time, and did a nice job of generating looks at or near the basket. That's Texas Tech's bread and butter.
So avoid turnovers and value possessions (that also means taking few bad shots), control the glass and protect the rim, and the Longhorns should be able to pull out what should be a really close road game in Lubbock.