Game Plan: What Texas Tech Must Do To Beat SFA

LUBBOCK, TX - DECEMBER 29: Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders encourages his players during the game against the Baylor Bears on December 29, 2017 at United Supermarket Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Baylor 77-53. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - DECEMBER 29: Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders encourages his players during the game against the Baylor Bears on December 29, 2017 at United Supermarket Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Baylor 77-53. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

The NCAA Tournament is finally here for Texas Tech as the Red Raiders take on SFA tonight in Dallas.  Here are some keys to the game to keep an eye on.

For the second time in three years, Texas Tech is in the NCAA Tournament.  But this year, the Red Raiders are intent on staying alive for more than just one round.

Tech faces a physical and tough Stephen F. Austin team out of the Southland Conference.  The Lumberjacks will be looking to pull of the upset as a No. 14 seed, just as they did two years ago when they beat No. 3 West Virginia in the opening round.

Texas Tech meanwhile, has hopes of making a run past the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.  But if that is to happen, they must take care of business against SFA.

Here are the keys to the game for the Red Raiders.

Free Throws

The last time Texas Tech took the court, a woeful performance from the foul line cost the team an opportunity to play for a Big 12 title.  What was most disconcerting was the fact that senior star Keenan Evans was dreadful going 3-9 at the line.

Free throws are a big part of the Texas Tech offensive attack.  The Red Raiders shot almost 80 more free-throws than any other team in the Big 12.  On the season, Tech is right at 70% from the foul-line, 8th in the conference.

Given the fact that Sam Houston plays an aggressive defense that traps and plays pressure on-ball defense, there’s reason to believe that Texas Tech will have plenty of opportunities to score from the stripe. But they have to make them.

In Texas Tech’s last five games, the team is hitting just 66.7% from the charity stripe.  In that stretch, the team has shot over 70% just once.

The key will be for the team’s guards, especially those like Evans, Stevenson, Culver and Francis, which will be doing the primary amount of ball-handling, to be true from the line.  Keep a close eye on how often Texas Tech makes the first end of one-and-one opportunities.  Missing those are similar to a dead ball turnover.

Dominate the Glass

It is easy to say that a key to any basketball game is rebounding.  Rebounds have been a fundamental element of the game since its inception.

But the boards could be one of most telling stats in today’s game.  Texas Tech must not only have an advantage in the game but it must absolutely dominate the glass.  Tech was third in the Big 12 with a +4.2 advantage on the boards this season.

Tech has a decided size advantage over SFA.  The Jacks have only one player on the roster over 6-foot-8.  Plus, their style of playing extreme on-ball pressure defense takes wing players further away from the paint meaning the big men will have to battle it out against the Red Raider big men.    Advantage Tech.

Zach Smith, Norense Odiase, Zhaire Smith, Tommy Hamilton and Justin Gray must attack the glass with relentless aggression.  If Tech can have a 2-to-1 rebounding advantage and grab 12-15 offensive boards, the Jacks will have a terrible time keeping up on the scoreboard.

Match SFA’s Intensity

Where a team like SFA is able to catch a No. 3 team in a trap is by overwhelming the favorite with unrelenting intensity.  Underdog teams often come out with a chip on their shoulder knowing they have an opportunity to make a name for themselves on a national stage.

SFA does not have elite three-point shooting (37% as a team).  In fact, they make slightly fewer threes per game than Tech.  They also lack elite size and athleticism.  Thus, they win their games by employing a rabid half-court trap fueled by intense on-ball defense.

Fortunately, Texas Tech is also one of the most intense defensive teams in America.  There has been no game this year in which Chris Beard’s team has been outworked.

Another factor in Texas tech’s favor is the home court advantage that will come with playing in Dallas.  With close to 10,000 Red Raiders on hand to cheer them on, Texas Tech will have no reason to be lethargic.

Turnover Margin

Another fundamental element of the game will be perhaps this game’s biggest key.  SFA leads the nation by forcing 20 turnovers per game.  Meanwhile, Texas Tech does a great job protecting the ball.

This season, Tech averaged just 12.5 turnovers per game.  The Red Raiders ranked third in the Big 12 in turnover margin by forcing 2.6 more turnovers than their opponents.

The Lumberjacks build their offense off of easy baskets that come off of turnovers.  If they have to score in the half-court, they can struggle.

Also, pay close attention to how often Texas Tech takes the ball away from SFA.  The Jacks are ranked No. 341 out of 351 teams in the nation in protecting the ball.  Losing the ball 15.6 times per game almost negates the Jacks’ takeaways.

Many media members have made a big deal about the SFA defense and its propensity for taking the ball away and point to that stat as a reason there could be an upset.  However, the Texas Tech defense is one of the best in the nation and it is not hard to imagine the Red Raiders giving SFA a dose of its own medicine.


There is not any aspect of the game that SFA can exploit.  The Jacks are a tough and physical team that plays with so much confidence that it borders on arrogance but they do not do anything in terms of basketball skill that Texas Tech can’t match.

This is a bad matchup for SFA.  They would do better against a fitness team like Duke or Kansas because they could out hustle and out work those types of teams.  However, they won’t be able to do that to Texas Tech.

Final score: Texas Tech: 84   SFA: 70