Texas Tech Must Defend The 3-Point Shot Against Florida

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 15: Kevon Harris
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 15: Kevon Harris /

Saturday, Texas Tech takes on Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and defending the 3-point shot will be critical for the Red Raiders.

The nature of the NCAA Tournament is such that teams get little time to enjoy a victory.  Though Texas Tech fans are celebrating the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in 13 years, the team’s focus has already turned to its next opponent, Florida.

The Gators are coming off of a convincing 77-62 win over St. Bonaventure and are looking to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second-consecutive season and the sixth time this decade.  They face a stiff challenge for a Texas Tech team looking for its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005.

Where the Gators pose a threat to the Red Raiders is at the three-point line.  Florida ranks No. 55 in the nation in made threes per game with 9.1, which is two more than Texas Tech averages.  On the season, Florida has shot 37% from deep, good for 60th in the nation.

What’s more, the Gators do not rely on just one or two key shooters.  They have five players with at least 37 threes this season, led by Jalen Hudson who has hit 74.  Additionally, three Gators, (Hudson, Egor Koulechov and Keith Stone) are connecting at greater than a 40% clip from deep.

Thus, a renewed emphasis on perimeter defense is likely to be the focus for Chris Beard and his staff.  Unfortunately, that’s an area where the Red Raiders have been vulnerable of late.

Against SFA on Thursday, Tech allowed the Lumberjacks to shoot just 5-14 from deep.  However, in recent weeks, opposing teams and players have had success from deep against the Red Raiders.

In the Big 12 Tournament, West Virginia hit 10-20 from three led by five from guard Daxter Miles. The previous game, Texas sophomore guard Jacob Young went 6-7 en route to 29 points.

Against Kanas in Lubbock, Tech yielded 11 threes allowing two players (Graham and Mykhailiuk) to both hit four.  And most still remember the three-point barrage that Oklahoma State unleashed on Tech in Stillwater.  The Cowboys hit six-consecutive three-point attempts in the second half as they built a lead Tech could not overcome.

So how will Tech combat Florida’s shooting attack?  The answer may have come from Thursday night’s second half.

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After SFA hit three-consecutive threes to open a nine-point lead, Chris Beard went to a smaller lineup with Zach Smith as the only big man on the floor.  The Jacks had been able to expose big men Tommy Hamilton and Norense Odiase on ball screens for open threes.

However, Smith’s versatility allowed the Red Raiders to switch on all ball screens as necessary without giving up driving lanes to quicker guards.  The senior forward is rounding into form after returning from a broken foot that caused him to miss 14 Big 12 games.

In 17 minutes, the Plano, Texas native scored nine points, pulled down four boards, blocked three shots and was a key defensive cog as the Tech defense stiffened in the final ten minutes.

Overall, the Red Raiders are the No. 58 team in the nation in defending the three.  Tech is allowing teams to shoot just 32.8% from long-range.

Thus, Saturday’s game will feature the No. 55 ranked 3-point shooting team in America in Florida trying to figure out a Red Raider defense ranked just three places lower in defending the three.  There will be two key stats to watch.

First, look at Florida’s three-point shooting percentage.  Tech can expect the Gators to hit their share from deep but Tech must turn UF into a volume shooting team.  If Florida is to get to their average of 9 threes, Tech needs to make sure it takes the Gators 25 or more attempts.

Second, look to see how evenly dispersed the Gators’ threes are.  If one player gets hot and has four or five threes, Tech can overcome that strategically by double-teaming him or putting the team’s top defenders on him.  However, if multiple Gators are on fire from deep, the task of stopping them becomes vastly more difficult.

Texas Tech is a team built around defense and it takes pride in that identity.  Now, that identity will be put to the test by a dangerous foe.  But if Texas Tech is really as good as we think they are, they will rise to the challenge.