Zach Smith’s Return To Health Fueling Texas Tech

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Zach Smith
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Zach Smith /

The return of Zach Smith from a broken foot has helped make the Texas Tech Red Raiders a more versatile and complete team fueling the program’s run to the Elite 8.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  They also say that you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone.  In the case of Texas Tech basketball, both cliches are true when it comes to Zach Smith.

The senior’s 14-game absence from Chris Beard’s lineup was a huge hurdle for the Red Raiders this season.  After Smith broke his foot on January 6th against Kansas State, Texas Tech went into a swoon losing three of its next four games as players like Justin Gray and Zhaire Smith adjusted to new roles.

Though Smith’s overall numbers had been less prolific than expected when he was named a first-team all-Big 12 selection in the preseason, his importance on the team was underscored while he was sidelined.

And despite the fact that Texas Tech had a strong Big 12 season without Smith, the team changed for the worse without him.  Tech went from a dominant rebounding team to just an average one.  Likewise, the versatility Beard envisioned being able to utilize was hampered, especially on the defensive end.

Meanwhile, fans began to understand just how important Zach Smith is to the Red Raiders.  As news of his possible return began to make its way into online message boards and public forums, fans began to speculate what Smith’s return could mean to a team fighting for a Big 12 title.

That’s why, when he returned to the lineup February 24th against Kansas, he was greeted with a standing ovation both when he took the floor for warmups and when he entered the game for the first time.  In other words, Texas Tech fans realized how much they had missed the Plano, Texas native.

Now that he is rounding into form, Zach Smith is showing just how impactful he can be.  In fact, an argument could be made that he has become as indispensable as any player on the roster not named Keenan Evans.

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He has been a true stat sheet stuffer averaging 9.3 points, four rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.  during the NCAA Tournament.  In the Sweet 16 win over Purdue, Smith was terrific with 14 points, five boards and a block.

But perhaps Zach Smith’s biggest impact has come on the defensive end of the court.  Truthfully, a case could be made that Texas Tech might not have survived the opening weekend of the tournament without him.

Facing two teams in Stephen F. Austin and Florida that feature guard-heavy lineups, Chris Beard was forced to play a small lineup with four guards and Smith on the floor.  Fortunately, that combination has been magic for Tech.

Smith has allowed the small-ball lineup to have a defender capable of checking another team’s big man without help.  That means that the other defenders on the floor do not have to risk leaving their man open as they double team in the post.

That luxury is a big reason Texas Tech is allowing teams to shoot just 34% from deep in the three tournament games thus far.  And that lineup will likely be needed again Sunday when Texas Tech faces the top 3-point shooting team in the nation in Villanova.

The matchup with the Wildcats, who shoot 43.2% from deep, seems like a perfect time for Beard to employ his small lineup.  Smith could once again be the x-factor for Texas Tech controlling the boards and giving the Red Raiders the ability to switch all ball screens and cutting down on open threes.

Next: How Texas Tech Beat Purdue

It’s a great luxury to have and an example of the role Beard envisioned Zach Smith playing all season.  Now that vision has become reality just in time to push Texas Tech farther than the program has even been.