Texas Tech Basketball Has Found Its Kryptonite

AUSTIN, TX - JANUARY 17: Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts as his team plays the Texas Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center on January 17, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - JANUARY 17: Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts as his team plays the Texas Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center on January 17, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images) /

A close examination of all three losses for the Texas Tech basketball team reveals one common dominator; the Red Raiders struggle against elite defensive centers.  

The Texas Tech basketball team suffered just its third loss of the season on Wednesday night in Austin.  While the 67-58 setback was disappointing for fans hoping the program would notch its first win in the state capitol since the Clinton Administration, the Red Raiders remain squarely in the middle of the conference championship race.

However, if Chris Beard’s team is going to breakthrough and claim the regular season Big 12 crown or make a memorable run through March, the team must figure out how to handle teams with size in the paint.

All three of the opponents to defeat Texas Tech this year, Seaton Hall, Oklahoma and Texas have been blessed with at least one (and in some cases multiple) big men capable of defending the rim.

Seaton Hall’s 6-foot-10 center Angel Delgado was a force against Texas Tech in November.  In addition to pouring in 12 points and grabbing five rebounds, the senior blocked three shots and came away with three steals.

Likewise, OU’s 6-foot-9 big man Khadeem Lattin was able to dominate the paint against the Red Raiders.  The senior controlled the defensive end of the floor by registering seven blocks and altering a handful of other shots.  In all, the Sooners blocked ten Texas Tech shots on the evening while holding Tech to just 65 points.

This trend continued this week when Texas’ true freshman center Mo Bamba blocked five shots, scored 15 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.  The 7-foot freshman with a 7-foot-9 wingspan made his presence known early with back-to-back blocks of Norense Odiase after which it seemed the psyche of the Red Raider offensive attack changed for the worse.

When Texas Tech is unable to get offense in the paint, the team runs into problems.  74% of the team’s offense comes from inside of the 3-point line and in every game but three this season, Texas Tech has outscored its opponent in the paint.

This team has been built to attack the rim.  The motion offense allows the athletic Red Raiders to beat defenders off the dribble and create offense by getting to the paint.

Consider the Nevada game from earlier in the season.  Texas Tech was able to claw back from a double-digit second half deficit by attacking the rim.  That night, point guard Keenan Evans took over the game and use the pick-and-roll to assault the rim on virtually every possession in the final ten minutes of the game and overtime en route to a career-high 32 points.

Texas Tech must have success in the lane by scoring or getting to the free throw line in order for the offense to be effective.  When the Red Raiders have been turned away by defensively dominant big men, they have not been able to shoot their way to a win.

Tech does not shoot the three well.  Its 34.4% from deep is just 7th in the Big 12.  Even more concerning is the fact that in Big 12 play, Tech ranks last in the conference with a paltry 29.2% from three-point-range.

So what can the Red Raiders do to reverse this trend?

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The first area of improvement must come from Texas Tech big men Odiase and Tommy Hamilton.  Simply put, both must be a larger part of the offense, especially away from the rim.

Odiase has shown in his career a decent penchant for hitting mid-range jumpers but that part of his game has been nonexistent this year.  Meanwhile, Hamilton was touted as an above average jump shooter for a big man.  In fact, he had hit close to 40% of his three-point attempts in his career at  De Paul prior to transferring to Tech.  Unfortunately, he has gone cold as of late and Texas Tech has not benefited from Hamilton’s shooting touch thus far.

In order to draw defenders out of the paint, either of the two Texas Tech big men must prove capable of hurting the opponent from 15-20 feet.

Second, the Red Raiders must stick to Chris Beard’s game plan even if the opponent has early success defensively.  Against the Sooners and Longhorns, Tech seemed to abandon the offense after having a few early shots blocked.  An experienced and senior-laden team must not be so easy to discourage.

Seniors like Keenan Evans, Justin Gray and Niem Stevenson must continue to attack the basket and force the referees to make a call.  They won’t get a whistle on every play but aggressive teams often get the benefit of the doubt from officials and driving to the rim will always lead to more foul shots than 23-foot jumpers.

Finally, Texas Tech must not forget to put the motion in the motion offense.  Against OU and Texas,  the Red Raiders appeared to be in shock on the offensive end.  The result was a team that seemed content to pass the ball around the perimeter while waiting for someone to play hero.  The lack of off the ball screens and dribble penetration made the offense easy to guard because Tech was not using the team’s greatest attribute, its overall team athleticism.

Fortunately, Texas Tech has put itself in a position to absorb a couple of losses in conference play and remain in the Big 12 race.  However, Tech must learn to play its game and grind out wins against the elite defensive centers in the nation if the team is going to go where we all hope it can in 2018.