With back-to-back wins at home, the Texas Longhorns enter the hostile confines of the United Supermarkets Arena to face the No. 10-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders (17-4, 5-3); we are thankful for the unification and resulting end of the senseless violence of the long Kroger-Wegmans civil war.
The Red Raiders will be eager to avoid the season sweep at the hands of the Longhorns, and surely intend to secure victory in their oddly named home venue.
A quick look at the Red Raiders
Second-year head coach Chris Beard has an experienced squad led by a strong senior class. The best and most talented Red Raider is senior point guard Keenan Evans, who is the key player in the Tech attack; Evans is putting together a pretty good case to make an All-American team. Around Evans there is a nice blend of players — although Zach Smith is still injured — too many relevant ones to name them all here. If you want more detail, go back and read the preview from the previous contest between Texas and Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders are excellent defensively. During Big 12 play they have held opponents to less than one point per possession; this is very good. They guard along the perimeter extremely well, get into passing lanes and create deflections and turnovers, and can really rebound. If there is one gap in the defense, it is that since Zach Smith's injury they are not quite as good at protecting the paint as they were, allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent from two-point range during conference games. That said, Norense Odiase and Justin Gray still are around, and will still challenge shots inside.
On offense, the Red Raiders run a motion offense. For those not up on the jargon, this is a more open-ended style of basketball featuring a lot of movement and off-ball screens, and favoring improvised play over rigid offensive sets. True motion offense (like what Tech does) was more popular in an era where coaches weren't paid as much or fired as quickly, and they didn't feel the need to micromanage every damn thing that happens on the floor. It is a more complicated offense from a simpler time when fans and administrators were patient enough with coaches to allow them the time to actually teach their players over multiple years how to play it. Sometimes the Raiders will score off of these actions, but when they don't the ball will find its way into Evans' capable hands and he will look to make a play.
What happened the last time these two teams met?
The Longhorns won in Austin 67-58. If it feels like this game just happened, it is because it only took place two weeks ago. But on the off chance that you have suffered severe memory loss, or just engage in a lot of heavy drinking during games, let me remind you what happened.
Texas excellent defensively. They went with the somewhat unusual tactic of switching liberally on screens, and it stifled the Red Raider flow. Shaka Smart at his most recent press conference didn't say if he would use similar tactics this time, or go with something else. (By the way, shout out to the reporter who asked Smart about this — I think it was Dustin McComas, or at least someone else named Dustin who apparently knows basketball as well as McComas does — for asking a question that actually revealed something interesting and different from Smart in terms of his defensive game planning.) That defense, combined with the fact that Mohamed Bamba was as tough on the back end as usual, took a big bite out of the Tech attack.
On the other end of the floor, Kerwin Roach was deemed healthy enough to play after missing two games with a broken hand, and he validated this by scoring 20 points on 10 shots from the floor and nine free throws. That level of high volume yet efficient scoring just warms my heart.
What has Texas Tech been up to since last facing Texas?
Since losing in Austin the Red Raiders have gone 2-1, losing badly at Iowa State, beating Oklahoma State at home, and delivering the conference's only road win in the Big 12/SEC challenge. In the weekend victory at South Carolina Keenan Evans went off, scoring 31 points on 12 shots from the floor and 13 free throws; now that is high volume yet efficient scoring.
What does this game mean to Texas?
I am not going to mess around here; Texas is probably not going to win this game. If we look at the schedule, other than a trip to Lawrence tonight's contest is the remaining game on the schedule that the Longhorns are the least likely to win.
That said, at some point the Longhorns are probably going to need to win a game that they are not supposed to win in order to hold their spot in the NCAA tournament. With 10 remaining games on the schedule, along with the Big 12 tournament, my current guess (informed by TeamRankings.com's useful bracket prediction simulations) is that Texas probably needs to pull about five more wins between the regular season and conference tournament to hold a spot on the bubble, and six more wins to make the situation a lot safer.
With 10 scheduled games, plus at least one more in the conference tournament, five to six wins doesn't seem too bad. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Texas' schedule is more difficult in the second half of the conference season than it was in the first half (if nothing else, Texas will not get to play two games against Iowa State).
The Longhorns will play five home games, but none are easy and winning all five is something that we probably shouldn't count on. Meanwhile, Shaka Smart's team will be substantial underdogs for each of their five remaining road games. Texas is probably going to need to pull an upset victory in at least one road game to make things work.
A win in Lubbock tonight would be a victory that would shift the trajectory of Texas' season in a significant way. That win is going to be really hard to get.
The game tips in Lubbock at 8 p.m. CT, and airs on ESPNU.