In their first year after losing Chris Beard to that school in Austin that can't beat KU in football, Texas Tech basketball is still going strong. They come into today's game ranked 25th in the AP poll, with KenPom rating them 20th and Torvik 24th. They sit at 10-3, but it may be a bit concerning to their basketball fans that they're just 1-3 in their four games against good opponents.
They do have a solid overtime win over Tennessee at a neutral site, but they've lost to Gonzaga, Providence, and then to Iowa State three days ago. To be fair though, there's no shame in losing to Gonzaga, and their two other losses were by a combined eight points. They’re also suffering from a bit of a player shortage, which I’ll get into shortly.
Stylistically, while Beard may have moved on from Lubbock, his influence on this year's team is still very strong. Tech has been a defensive powerhouse, ranking 5th on that side of the court per KenPom. Opponents hit just 43.5% of their twos against them, and they're 17th in D1 in forcing turnovers, on nearly a quarter of their defensive possessions.
They have also followed Beard's tendency to see opponents struggle from behind the arc, though there's a lot of evidence that the defense doesn't have as much influence on that as one might think. What's especially weird is the number of threes Tech's opponents have shot. Tech focuses on taking away easy buckets, and in doing so have seen more than half their opponents’ shots come from behind the arc! To put it another way, Tech's opposition has fired away freely from behind the three point line, and collectively they've shot terribly in the process. It will be interesting to see how those numbers hold up through conference play.
Tech is also a menace on the boards, and on both sides of the court. They rank 31st nationally in defensive rebounding and 8th on the offensive glass. This would be a good day for McCormack and Wilson to have another rebounding party (although let's hope that doesn't mean sitting through another parade of missed shots like we did Tuesday night). This year’s Kansas team rebounds very well themselves, so this is more strength-on-strength than it is a mismatch for either side.
On the offensive end, rebounding and getting shots at the rim are their forte. Aside from that, they aren't too impressive, with KenPom ranking them just 68th on that end. They turn the ball over a lot, and while they do a good job of getting to the line, they shoot terribly there. They're also a very average three point shooting team, both by volume and efficiency. And while they do like to play at a slow pace, they've put up scores of 57, 55, and 47(!) in recent weeks.
In short, this team wants to slow it down, defend the hell out of you, and score just enough to beat you. Think Big Ten basketball in the 2000s.
Players to Watch
I'm not naming any particular players here, not because I'm lazy (though I am lazy), but because which Tech players we'll see this afternoon is very much up in the air. Tech had only seven players available against Iowa State, and all coach Mark Adams has confirmed as of now is that those same seven will be good to go today. Leading scorer Terrence Shannon has missed their last four games due to injury, and second-leading scorer Kevin McCuller was injured in practice the day before the Iowa State loss, forcing him to miss that game.
There has been no official determination yet as to whether these two are available today, but even if they are, they certainly won't be at 100%. The other players who missed the game against the Hawkeyes are in the dreaded "health and safety protocols," so we have really have no idea, outside of the seven who played Wednesday, who will be suiting up this afternoon.
The possible/probable absence of some of the Red Raiders' top players should be a huge factor today. This team has shown that they can play with just about anyone when healthy and clicking, but even if they have more than seven players good to go today, some of the players they get back are likely not going to look like their normal selves. Granted, the seven who played Wednesday did an excellent good job of turning the game into a rock fight, but they ultimately scored 47 points in 66 possessions.
With the uncertainty surrounding Tech, I'm a little surprised to see Kansas as just 4.5 point favorites, even on the road. Tech forces a ton of turnovers, but that's not something KU has been especially susceptible to this year, especially with Remy Martin back and at least mostly healthy. If they let the Jayhawks bomb away from three like so many of their other opponents, they may very well get scorched. Unless Tech gets some reinforcements back, and are playing closer to 100% than I'm expecting, I think the Jayhawks cover on the road. Kansas 74, Texas Tech 65