\ Kevin Kinder

SCOUT-ing: West Virginia Mountaineers - Texas Tech Red Raiders

In each of the past two seasons, West Virginia has counted an early road win over Texas Tech as part of a run to a high NCAA Tournament seed. This year, the task will be much more difficult, but the reward will be even higher if a victory can be secured, as Tech has been on a steady improvement arc and figures to provide a decent RPI bump by season's end.


Tech has beaten everyone it has supposed to, but stumbled in losses to Auburn and Iowa State. Its best win is a road victory over Richmond, but the Spiders don't appear as stout as in years past.. The Red Raiders were very competitive in both of those losses, however, and look to have taken another improvement step from the team that went to the NCAA tournament a year ago.

The Red Raiders have been riding the experience of a veteran roster that has grown up through the Big 12 wars, and isn't fazed no matter the competition. Junior Keenan Evans (6-3, 185 lbs.) is a consistent shooter from all ranges, and leads the team with 13.5 points while managing to pass it enough to stand second in assists. Senior Devon Thomas (6-0, 175 lbs.), who moved into the starting lineup after a short stint as a reserve, is averaging almost five assists for every turnover, pacing a team that has protected the ball well through its first baker's dozen of games. Junior Justin Gray (6-6, 210 lbs.) rounds out the three-guard set, but plays closer to the hoop then the other guards, as befits his height. He's averaging 9.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest.

On the front line, Anthony Livingston does it a bit of everything. The 6-8 senior forward averages 13 points and five rebounds per outing, and also passes it better than any of the other bigs on the Tech roster. Junior Zach Smith is the anchor, tallying 11.8 points and eight rebounds while also serving as a defensive force. He has 21 blocks and is very good at coming off the ball to reject shots as a help side defender.

That's just the start of the Red Raiders' experience, however. Junior college transfers Shadel Millinghaus (7.1 points) and Niem Stevenson (7.3) are adding scoring punch off the bench. Aaron Ross (6-8, 215 lbs.), who missed five games in the middle of the non-conference season, has been a big spark, providing mid-range shooting and scoring close to the rim as well as rebounding bulk.

WVU may not be able to coax as many turnovers from Tech as it did from Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders have handled the ball well as a team, and have two different players who can direct the offense. The Mountaineers can't focus on taking one or two players out of the game, and will have to recover well in transition from the press to halfcourt defense to keep the home team in check.


Texas Tech has been able to run its offense and produce better shots than in previous years, and with six seniors and a like number of juniors on the roster, are quite savvy. Head coach Chris Beard has blended his returning veterans with some junior college imports to produce a team that's able to score across the board. Like West Virginia, Tech doesn't have to rely on one or two volume scorers to stay in games.

WVU (12-1 / 1-0) vs. TTU (11-2 / 0-1) Tue Jan 3 9:15 PM EST
United Supermarkets Arena Lubbbock, TX Series: WVU 9-1
RPI: WVU - 33 TTU - 93 TV: ESPNNEWS Sirius/XM: 81/81

What does power Tech is good shooting. The Red Raiders top WVU in effective shooting percentage (which factors in the higher difficulty of 3-point shots) by the margin of 57.4% to 54.7%, and barely trail the Mountaineers in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.17 points per possession as opposed to West Virginia's 1.19. That will turn the spotlight on productivity for both teams – which squad makes the most of each chance with the ball?

Tech also figures to challenge WVU's offensive rebounding drive. Tech is grabbing almost 82% of the available defensive rebounds it sees – an excellent percentage. WVU is getting nearly 40% of its misses, setting up a classic duel when Mountaineer shots go up. The team that can change its opponent's number by, say, 10%, will have a big advantage.

The Red Raiders will be scrapping to avoid an 0-2 league start, which would be a disappointment given its non-conference run. A road loss to Iowa State is no shame, and a defeat at the hands of WVU wouldn't be either, but an 0-2 start is a psychological hole that might be difficult to overcome. Expect the home team to put up a massive fight in this one.


Tech big Norense Odiase has played in a couple of games since his return from a foot injury, and is providing a boost for the Red Raiders. His showing in the box score has been inconsistent, but he provides more depth and another big body for Beard.

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Texas Tech converted 32 of its 34 free throw attempts in last year's game in Lubbock to nearly win the game. The Red Raiders are again highly efficient at the line this year, making almost 75% of their tries. Only one player is making lower than 69% of his chances this year.

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Center Elijah Macon has practiced with WVU and could be available for duty. However, the Mountaineers have the luxury of several options up front. Brandon Watkins and Sagaba Konate have been playing well, but Nathan Adrian can slide down to a straight post position if need be, and Logan Routt is also available for duty. Head coach Bob Huggins has praised Routt's practice performance recently, and while it might be hard to imagine him getting his Big 12 baptism in a road contest, Huggins has shown that he will make unorthodox or unexpected moves if he believes a player is ready.

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Red Raider backup forward Thomas Brandsma has played for head coach Chris Beard at McMurry University (2012-13), Angelo State (2013-14, 2014-15), Little Rock (2015-16) and Texas Tech (2016-17). Apparently he received a volume discount on transfers.

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