The #19 Longhorns (19-7, 9-3) look to extend their winning streak to four games when they meet Texas Tech (17-10, 6-6) tonight at the Erwin Center. The second to last home game of the season will be televised by ESPN Plus at 8 PM. A victory would assure the Horns of an eighth straight 20 win season and probably lock up both a first round bye in the Big 12 tournament and a berth in the NCAA tournament. With three difficult games to round out the season, it is still not out of line to call this one a 'must win' game.
Texas has dominated the Red Raiders in the Rick Barnes era. The 17-2 mark against Texas Tech includes a 76-64 win just three weeks ago in Lubbock. That meeting was dominated by a 37 point and 23 rebound performance from Kevin Durant, solid man-to-man defense in the second half, and Barnes' acceptance of using bigger lineups, including budding star Connor Atchley.
Texas Tech's Tourney Chances
The Red Raiders currently sit firmly on the bubble. They are #40 in the RPI, have won four games over the top 50 (including one over Kansas and two over A&M), and played a solid non-conference schedule. But they are just 6-6 in conference and have a bad loss at Baylor. If Tech can go 3-1 over their final four and avoid a first round exit in the Big 12 tourney, they will likely be NCAA tournament bound. Following tonight's game, Tech plays Oklahoma State and Baylor at home and finishes at Iowa State. Even if they drop tonight's contest, it's not of the question to sweep those three and finish 9-7 in the Big 12.
Since Texas & Tech Last Met
The Red Raiders are a picture of inconsistency. The home loss to the Longhorns was the second in string of five straight for Texas Tech. Losing at Oklahoma or Oklahoma State was not unexpected, but the home loss to Nebraska, in which a Tech player saved a ball to a Cornhusker for the game winning three-pointer, was particularly devastating. Give Bobby Knight and Tech credit, though. They bounced back quickly to beat the Aggies on the road and Colorado at home last week and are now right back in the discussion for an NCAA tournament bid.
Reviewing Texas Tech
Refer back to the preview of the first Texas Tech game, to refresh your memory of the Red Raiders. Unlike before the first game, Texas Tech appears to be at full strength with both Jon Plefka and Charlie Burgess both healthy. Guards Martin Zeno and Jarrius Jackson are their two outstanding guards who are both coming off twenty-plus point performances against Colorado. Burgess added 16 points, six assists, and six rebounds in his best game of the season. Tech will likely need all three to score in double figures to have any shot at upsetting the Horns in Austin.
Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report
Texas Tech is rated as 53rd best team in the country according to Pomeroy's latest ratings, while Texas has dropped to 30th after the close call in Waco. Pomeroy's scouting report on Texas Tech shows a very good offensive team (27th in adjusted offensive efficiency) and only an average defensive team (89th in adjusted defensive efficiency). On offense, the Red Raiders protect the basketball well and are deadly from behind the three-point arc. On defense, Tech has trouble defending the paint, creating turnovers, and competing on the defensive glass. The Red Raiders' lack of size and strength up front allow opponents too many easy second chance points close to the basket.
Keys to the Game: Texas
Defend the three-pointer. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but the Horns are terrible at defending the three pointer when we go zone. Baylor killed us in the first half on Saturday night and Tech torched us in the first half in Lubbock. Texas will likely play more man-to-man, like we did in the second half of the first meeting, and really try to lock down Jackson on the outside.
Positive Bench Play Over the last few games, our starters, especially Durant, really appear to be wearing down. Our lack of depth has been Texas' Achilles' heel all season, but with Connor Atchley's excellent play recently, Dexter Pittman's positive (if brief) minutes, and the occasional defensive presence of Craig Winder, maybe our bench is coming around. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Winder come in to harass Jackson for a few minutes in each half. It's unrealistic for four of our starters to play 35 minutes or more per game, and Coach Barnes must find a way to give our starters, especially Durant, a rest during tonight's game - both for the good of this game and for the good of the season.
Recognize Mismatches Bobby Knight does not like playing zone defense, which means KD will have a mismatch on just about every offensive possession. Tech doesn't have the athletes to guard Texas one-on-one, which means DJ Augustin must effectively recognize and exploit advantages every time down the floor. On most possession feeding Durant will be the best option, but others times it may be Justin Mason or even Damion James who has the advantage over a slower, unathletic Tech defender.
This is a big game for the Horns, as they'll be heavily favored for probably the last team during the regular season. Stealing a win in the last three becomes more likely if the Horns have already secured 20 wins and a top four seed in the Big 12 tournament. Tech certainly has the capability of knocking off the Horns, but it would take some lights-out shooting, foul trouble on Durant, and a ton of Texas turnovers. None of those seem likely to happen. I see solid man-to-man defense frustrating Jackson, the Horns taking advantage of their athleticism on the glass, and another double-double from Kevin Durant leading to a 76-68 Longhorn victory.