Tonight, the Texas Tech basketball team will look to rebound from the season’s first loss, a tough outcome at Providence last Wednesday. However, getting back in the win column will not be easy as the Red Raiders will square off with No. 13 Tennessee at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Currently, the ESPN.com Matchup Predictor gives Tech only a 33% shot at pulling off this upset. And it’s easy to see why virtually everyone is picking the Volunteers to come out on top.
So far this season, Rick Barnes and Tennessee have beaten every team on their schedule by double digits with one exception, an 18-point loss to then No. 5 Villanova. Their two most impressive wins have been a 17-point drubbing of then No. 18 North Carolina and a 14-point road win at Colorado.
The Vols are led in scoring by 6-foot guard Kennedy Chandler. Shooting an impressive 42.3% from the 3-point arc, Chandler is averaging 16.1 points per game to go along with 2.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists per showing. He truly is the engine that makes the Tennessee machine go.
Playing beside him in the UT backcourt is another dangerous weapon. 6-foot-3 Santiago Vescovi from Uruguay is averaging 15.1 points per contest. He has scored in double figures in all but one of Tennessee’s games this year and already has a pair of 20-point outings to his credit.
On the inside, the Vols won’t overwhelm anyone with size. Their two primary forwards, Olivier Nkamhoua and Justin Fulkerson are each in the 6-foot-8 to 6-foot-9 range. They average 9.1 and 8.5 points per game respectively and each grabs at least six rebounds per game on average.
They do bring 6-foot-10 freshman Brandon Huntley-Hatfield off the bench for around 16 minutes per game but he’s only a bit player averaging 5.1 points and 4.0 rebounds. Of course, last time we saw the Red Raiders, they were letting another spare part big man, Ed Crosswell, score 11 points and grab six rebounds.
Look for this to be a more high-paced game with both teams averaging over 80 points per contest. That could be good news for an athletic Red Raider team that, so far this season, has looked far more comfortable on offense when the game has had a wide-open flow. But the Volunteers are no slouch when it comes to defense as they are surrendering only 62 points per game.
Another aspect of this contest will be Rick Barnes facing off with a school that he has simply dominated. Of course, most of his success against Texas Tech came over a decade ago and he hasn’t faced the Red Raiders in his six-plus seasons as the man in charge of the Volunteers.
But still, it is worth noting that, as head coach of the Texas Longhorns, Barnes was 33-4 against the Red Raiders from 1998-2015. Hopefully, that will not carry over to this evening’s contest.
So let’s look at three keys for the Red Raiders to focus on as they try to secure what would be the first significant victory of the year. And we will start with something that the Red Raiders don’t need to do.