“We owe everybody in the entire league.”
After Saturday’s last-second win over the West Virginia Mountaineers, Texas Longhorns redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones didn’t mince words when discussing the team’s desire to make up for losses in previous seasons.
On Wednesday, the payback tour for the No. 4 Longhorns continues at the Erwin Center against the No. 14 Texas Tech Red Raiders, a team that has won four of the last six games against Texas. The game tips off at 8 p.m. Central on ESPN2.
Texas Tech enters the game ranked No. 13 in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric and at 10-3 on the season with losses to Houston, Kansas, and Oklahoma State.
One of the greatest compliments that Smart can pay to his own team, and a subject that he discusses frequently, is connectivity. As Smart watched film on the Red Raiders, that’s something he’s seen improving over the season.
“Coach Beard and staff do a terrific job — they have a really connected group,” Smart said on Monday. “Just watching them over their past few games they seem to have really just gotten closer and closer over the course of the season.”
The connectivity needed to grow because, as usual, Texas Tech has multiple transfers who are key contributors — former Georgetown guard Mac McClung and former VCU forward Marcus Santos-Silva.
Kevin McCullar, a 6’6 sophomore guard, also missed the first nine games of the season with a high ankle sprain. Since his return, McCullar is averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. McClung leads the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game.
“I think the biggest thing that they’re doing really, really well is sharing the basketball with each other, creating for each other,” Smart said. “I think having McCullar back — you know he was injured earlier in the season — I think he just makes him better on both ends of the floor, he’s such a connector out there on the court. And then their guards doing a great job playmaking.”
Texas Tech doesn’t turn the ball over at a high rate, hits the offensive glass effectively, and gets to the free-throw line frequently.
With the departure of guard Davide Moretti, however, the Red Raiders don’t have the same firepower from beyond the arc, shooting 33.1 percent from three as a team, and don’t have great size, either, as the only two players on the team taller than 6’7 aren’t currently contributors. So this is an extremely perimeter-oriented attack, but Texas Tech is long enough and athletic enough to do damage on the offensive glass.
Beard’s team is also once again one of the top defensive groups in the country, ranking No. 5 in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric, and continues to excel with the no-middle approach that has defined Beard’s defensive scheme for years. It will be the best defense the Longhorns have faced so far this season.
Smart wants his team to continue working to get into the paint, but that’s a difficult proposition against the Red Raiders.
“Some teams are better than others at keeping you out of the paint,” Smart said. “Texas Tech is really, really good at their whole defense predicated on no middle, no paint. We’re gonna come over and help keep you out of there and you make you do stuff on the sides of the court. And so, we just have to find ways to get in there and then we have to remember that sometimes the best way to get into paint is to get an offensive rebound.”
Texas Tech defends the three-point line well, allowing opponents to hit only 29.5 percent from distance this season, forces turnover at the fourth-highest rate in the country, and ranks in the top-50 nationally in block percentage.
Even though the Longhorns have a six-game winning streak and are 10-1 on the season, there are still some areas where Smart wants Texas to get better defensively. He was frustrated with the on-ball defense in the last two games, with the lack of consistent help defense, and the lack of deflections, one of Smart’s favorite measurements of good defense.
“Good is the enemy of great,” Smart said, sharing a phrase he’s shared with the team. “So, we’re pretty good at those things, but not great, and if we want to be what we all say we want to be, got to keep improving.”
One area where the Horns have improved tremendously from previous seasons is winning close games — Texas is 4-0 in games decided by three points or less following the last-second win over West Virginia thanks to a three-pointer by redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones off of penetration by junior guard Courtney Ramey.
The 16-point effort by Jones helped him become the 39th player in program history to score 1,000 points.
In the frontcourt, Texas has received a big boost from freshman forward Greg Brown III, who is averaging a double double in Big 12 play — 14 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game — after scoring 12 points and pulling down 14 rebounds against the Mountaineers.
KenPom.com gives Texas a 64-percent win probability with a projected score of 68-64.