SCOUTING THE RED RAIDERS
Tech rides the scoring and rebounding strength of veteran frontcourt players, which will set up an interesting battle with West Virginia's talented, yet still learning, front line.
The bookends of Jay Crockett (Sr., F, 6-7) and Jordan Tolbert (Jr., F, 6-7) will be a handful for all Big 12 foes this year. Both are on pace to reach career totals of 1,000 points and 500 rebounds, and each is doing so quite efficiently. Crockett leads the team with 14.1 points per game, doing so on 59% shooting from the field, while Tolbert adds 12.5 points on 60% shooting. Both are also very good from the free throw line, combining to make 80% of their tries, and are solid defensively too, racking up 22 blocked shots and 24 steals between them. Center Dejan Kavic (Sr., F, 7-0) is also improving in a supporting role, adding 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds. He has played well while recovering from some early season bumps and bruises, and has improved his scoring and rebounding totals significantly over the past six contests.
Past that trio of starters, Tech is mostly guard-oriented, as Aaron Ross is the only other big with contributing numbers. He averages 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds off the bench. Kader Tapsoba (F, 6-10, Sr.) is the only other big to get appreciable playing time. He started a pair of games earlier this year, but is averaging just 3.0 points in 12 minutes per outing.
The backcourt is a collection of role players, with Robert Turner, Dusty Hannahs and Toddrick Gotcher getting the bulk of the minutes. Turner (Jr., G, 6-3) is the leading scorer and the playmaker, contributing 9.4 points and nearly three assists per game, while Hannahs (Fr., G, 6-4) and Gotcher (So., G, 6-4), who have combined for 14 starts this season, add 7.7 and 6.1 points per game respectively. They also have combined for 82 three-point attempts, and often form the core of a three-guard set. Randy Onwuasor (Fr., G, 6-3) and Jamal Williams (Sr., G, 6-4) also get double-digit minutes in the backcourt. They can move the ball well while providing offensive setup and defensive help, and can score if left unattended.
With the wide distribution of minutes and starters, it's clear that first year head coach Tubby Smith is still working to install his system, learn the abilities of his players and fit them into it properly. Eight different players have at least one start this year, and ten different members of the roster are averaging at least 12.2 minutes per game. That hasn't hurt Tech's overall shooting, as it is hitting 47.5% of its shots and 74.5% from the line, but it does struggle at times with ballhandling and getting into the flow of the offense. Getting the ball to Crockett and Tolbert is the key for the Red Raiders this year, and stopping that will clearly be a defensive focal point for the Mountaineers.
As noted, WVU must keep Crockett and Tolbert from getting their normal number of shots, and also avoid putting them on the free throw line. That's not an easy task, especially since it will fall on players that aren't accomplished perimeter defenders at this point.
West Virginia's forwards have been working on their mid-range and perimeter defense, and they'll find those abilities again put to the test against the excellent Tech duo, who range the floor from rim to three-point line on offense. When in man-to-man, Devin Williams will likely draw Kravic, which leaves Nathan Adrian, Remi Dibo and Brandon Watkins to contend with Crockett and Tolbert as they move through screens and work the ball off the dribble. If WVU goes with its normal three-guard lineup, and either Williams or Kevin Noreen are in the game, that will leave a guard, such as Eron Harris or Terry Henderson, on one of the two forwards. That could be a mismatch defensively, but it's also one that the Mountaineers might be able to take advantage of at the other end.
7:00 PM E
WVU 9-5, 1-0
TT 8-6, 0-1
Big 12 Network
WVU - 79
TT - 142
Crockett in particular has been a thorn in West Virginia's side. Last year he scored 49 points in the three games between the two teams, so there's no doubt he's one of the focal points on the scouting report. WVU might have trouble matching his height, driving ability and length with just one defender, so look for a combination of assignments and defensive tactics aimed at keeping him off balance.
That's just the first match-up of what could be a very entertaining cat and mouse game between Smith and WVU head coach Bob Huggins. When Tech goes with three guards, West Virginia has three similar players who can all shoot it and put pressure on the Red Raiders to defend the entire floor. WVU is likely to counter with its own defenisve moves to zones at times, especially the 1-3-1 and halfcourt trap that will pressure Tech's play setting and prevent the ball from swinging side to side, which can allow Crockett and Tolbert to find gaps in the rotating defense. West Virginia must play those zones and traps more aggressively than it did against TCU, and put the guards under duress in order to prevent easy passes and placesetting for the forward stars.
Offensively, WVU hopes to take advantage of some Tech defensive deficiencies. The Red Raiders are last in the league in shooting percentage defense, and range deep in the 200s nationally. WVU, coming off a game in which it didn't shoot the ball particularly well, will certainly concentrate on running its offense efficiently and deep into the clock in order to produce good chances. If it does so, and doesn't get impatient, it will have a great chance of completing a season opening Texas Two-Step and returning home for another big weekend with a 2-0 league record.
West Virginia continues to protect the ball well, having turned it over just 9.6 times per game this year. That is good for seventh in the nation -- by far the highest WVU ranking in statistics tracked by the NCAA.
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Bob Huggins is 3-2 against Texas Tech, but has never defeated head coach Tubby Smith, having dropped games in 2005 and 2010. This is the pair's first meeting as the heads of WVU and Texas Tech; prior meetings came in Kentucky - Cincinnati and Minnesota - West Virginia games.
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Texas Tech's Kader Tapsoba is one of 98 players from Africa on a Division 1 roster this year, but he is the only one from the nation of Burkina Faso.
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Tech has shot 70% or better from the free throw line in its last ten games. The Red Raiders' last such streak of that length occurred in the 2006-07 season.