Texas Tech Basketball: 10 observations after 4 games

  1. Zach Smith (the good): Smith is not only going to be one of the best two or three pure athletes on the court every night, he is becoming one of Texas Tech’s most important players due to his improved confidence. Smith is attacking the rim and the backboards at every opportunity and it is making him the type of player this program has lacked for some time.
  1. Zach Smith (the bad): Smith is going to be an end-of-game liability in close contests due to his awful free throw shooting. He is currently making only 46% of his attempts from the line (7-15). His lack of a solid outside shot means he will attack the rim quite often, which is great except when he draws fouls and does not convert. Teams looking to get easy stops in close games could intentionally foul him forcing Tubby Smith decide whether or not it is worth taking his team’s best athlete off the court in clutch situations.
  1. This team is the most athletic Texas Tech basketball team I can recall since following the program as a freshman at Tech in 1999 (James Dickey’s last season and the year before Bob Knight took over). While athleticism is not the only component of basketball, it has been a very long time since Texas Tech could put such high caliber athletes on the floor as it can this season.
  1. The reserve guards need to improve. Down the stretch against Minnesota and Mississippi St., Tubby Smith stuck with starters Devaughntah Williams, Keenan Evans and Toddrick Gotcher because of the earlier ineffectiveness of his reserve guards. Against Minnesota, the reserve guards had only 7 points and committed 4 turnovers. That must improve.

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  1. In the two most impressive wins of the season, (Mississippi State and Minnesota) Texas Tech shot over 72% from the free throw line. This is up from 65% and 55% in each of the firs two games respectively. Without a large number of pure outside shooters, Texas Tech will face zone defenses almost every game. When the Red Raiders attack the zone by driving to the rim or dumping the ball into the paint, they will draw fouls and must hit their foul shots. In its only loss of the season, a 10-point loss to No. 16 Utah, Texas Tech missed 7 of 25 free throws, which would have made the game a one-possession contest had those seven shots been made.
  1. In every game, the team has taken fewer three-point shots than in the previous game. This shows that Tubby Smith’s team is starting to get a feel for the offense, especially the zone offense and is attacking the soft spots in the zone rather than passing the ball around the perimeter and jacking up three-pointers. It also may signal the team’s comfort level with the new 30-second shot clock is increasing as fewer desperation threes are being heaved as time winds down.
  1. Aaron Ross and Justin Gray are the two most important substitutes on the team. Both players have suffered significant knee injuries and Ross looks to be fully healthy while Gray is working his way into form. Gray is the top-scoring reserve guard with 6.0 points per game and Ross is contributing 6.0 points per game as well. Gray and Ross are both talented enough to start but might find that they better serve this team by leading the second unit when Smith has to go to the bench.
  1. Freshmen C.J. Williamson was rated as high as a 4-star prospect by some recruiting services but the true freshman from Florida looks lost early on in his collegiate career. He has played sparingly thus far and when he has played he has made simple mistakes like he did against Minnesota when he caught a pass with his foot standing on the sideline. The 6-foot-6 combo-guard has scored only two points this year but has 5 turnovers in his 18 minutes of action. He has the talent to be a good player but the game needs to slow down for him right now. That will come in time.

Next: Vindication: Texas Tech beats Tubby Smith's former team in Puerto Rico

  1. Texas Tech basketball will not play another game away from Lubbock until January 6th, 2016 at Iowa State. This includes the conference opener against Texas on January 2nd. Texas Tech will be favored in every game until the Texas match-up meaning that after the strong showing in Puerto Rico, the team has a reasonable chance of entering conference play 10-1. That would mean Tech would have to win 6 of its final 20 games to finish above .500 for the first time 2009-10. But beware, home games against Richmond and S.F.A. will be challenging.
  1.  Throughout the offseason and preseason practices, Tubby Smith lauded sophomore center Isaiah Manderson for his improvement physically and with his basketball skills. Keep in mind that the 6-foot-11 Manderson has only played basketball since his sophomore year of high school so he came to Texas Tech very raw. But the improvements that Smith has seen in practice have not been noticeable during games. Manderson is averaging only 9.5 minutes per game, scoring 3.0 points per game and most disappointingly grabbing only 1.8 rebounds per game. When he has played, he has looked clumsy with the ball and uncertain on defense. He must improve because Texas Tech will need his size during Big 12 play.