Absence Of Zach Smith Proving To Be Huge

LUBBOCK, TX - DECEMBER 29: Zach Smith /

The Texas Tech basketball team has played without pre-season all-conference selection Zach Smith for the entirety of Big 12 play.  A closer look at the statistics show how  significantly Smith’s foot injury has impacted the Red Raiders.

One of the great unknowns in sports is whether a team will be able to avoid catastrophic injury during the season.  A team must have a bit of luck on the injury front if it is to compete for a championship.  Unfortunately for the Texas Tech basketball team, such luck was not in store for the 2017-18 season.

In the first conference game versus Baylor, pre-season all-Big 12 forward Zach Smith suffered what was initially labeled as an ankle injury just four minutes into the game.  The senior would return to play four minutes in the next game at Kansas but after 19 minutes in the team’s third conference game at home against Kansas State, Smith suffered a broken foot that has kept him out of action since.

The prognosis is not encouraging as most fear that Smith is likely to miss the remainder of the season.  This unfortunate turn of events has caused the Red Raiders to make adjustments in numerous facets of the game and a closer look at the statistics gives a clearer picture of how impactful Smith’s absence has been.

Texas Tech has managed just one win in the four games since Zach Smith went down.  Granted, the three losses all came on the road in tough places to win (Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State).  Still the void left by Smith’s absence has been noticeable.

The 6-foot-9 Smith was one of the best defenders and rebounders in the nation.  His athleticism and versatility allowed him to defend any position on the court.

Without Smith, the Red Raiders have allowed 70.7 points per game.  While that number is far from troubling, it is an increase of nine points per game from the Red Raider’s season average of 61 points allowed.

One reason for the increase in points allowed is field goal percentage.  Without Smith, Texas Tech has allowed its last four opponents to shoot 44.6% from the field.

On the season, Tech leads the Big 12 with a field goal percentage allowed of just 38.8.  Zach Smith is Texas Tech’s only true rim protector and with him on the sidelines, opposing teams are having tremendous success scoring in the paint.

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In the last four games, Texas Tech has been exploited by opposing big men.  Iowa State center Camron Lard and West Virginia forward Esa Ahmad each exploded for 18 points while Texas center Mo Bamba poured in 15 points and Oklahoma forward Kadeem Lattin had his best conference game thus with 11 points.

Without Zach Smith, head coach Chris Beard has had to turn to a smaller lineup with the 6-foot-5 Zhaire Smith starting at the power forward position.  While Zhaire Smith is as athletic as Zach Smith, he is not as strong meaning he is less equipped to stand his ground in the post.  Also, he is not nearly as long as Zach Smith whose 7-foot wing span combined with his 6-foot-9 frame made him a defensive nightmare for opponents.

Another area that has suffered in Zach Smith’s absence is Texas Tech’s rebounding.  As the second best team in the Big 12 with a 6.9 rebounds per game advantage, the Red Raiders have relied on hitting the boards as a huge part of the team’s success this year.

However, without Smith, that advantage has dissipated.  In the last four games, Texas has been out rebounded by its opponents 130-129.

Furthermore, Tech’s rebounds per game have gone from its season average of 37.8 boards per game to 32.2 in the past two weeks.  That means opponents are averaging over five extra possessions per game without Zach Smith which could be the difference in close Big 12 games.

The final area in which Tech has struggled without Zach Smith might come as a surprise.  Though Smith is not known as a tremendously skilled scorer, his absence has hurt Texas Tech’s offense.

Since Smith was lost, Tech has averaged a meager 61.5 points per game.  Only once has Tech broken 70 in that span.

The stunning drop of 15.5 points per game from the team’s season average is a multifaceted problem that has other contributing factors beside Smith.  But, whileSmith is not Tech’s primary scorer, he does have a decent mid-range shot.  That combined with his ability to handle the basketball and drive to the rim forced opposing forwards and centers to leave the paint to guard him.

With Zach Smith on the floor, the offense had better spacing and Tech was able to more effectively drive to the basket and make plays in the paint.  Also, Smith was Tech’s best offensive rebounder and he amassed a significant number of his points on put-backs off of offensive rebounds.  Without him in the lineup, the Tech offense has looked out of sorts and has struggled mightily.

The numbers bear out just how much Zach Smith is missed.  He was the do-it-all Swiss Army knife of the Texas Tech basketball team.  Without its most versatile player, the Red Raiders must find a way to adjust their style of play and make up for Smith’s production.

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That task of re-tooling on the fly during Big 12 has proven to be difficult thus far.  While coaches will talk about the mindset of “next man up” when a key player goes down, the simple reality is that whomever the next man up may be, he is not Zach Smith and that’s hurting the Texas Tech basketball team.