We have seen Texas Tech struggle in the last few games at points. Tech has trailed by over 10 at one point or another in each of the last four games. Before the Kansas State game, the identity of the Red Raiders included beating you with three main things, great depth, a balanced offense, and the play of Keenan Evans. Now that injuries seem to have taken the senior season of Zach Smith, the Red Raiders will have to play differently.
Smith has been your defensive leader, one of your best athletes, and one of your emotional and psychological leader. What I mean by that is the Red Raiders are able to play better even with Zach Smith not 100% because other teams will key in on him offensively. Without Smith in the fold, the Red Raiders have had to play with more guards and less post play, especially with Norense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton IV not playing to their potential the past couple of games.
The Red Raiders recently have gone away from their regular game-plan recently as with four guards on the floor, The Red Raiders have thrown up more three-pointers than usual. For a team that shoots 34% from behind the arc, this style of play is not what the Red Raiders want. Coach Beard preaches balance, and this team has not had much of it in the two losses this past week. Against Texas, the Red Raiders shot 27 3-pointers, which was by far the most this season.
The Red Raiders have also seemed to stop getting to the free-throw line as much. In the loss to Iowa State, Texas Tech only attempted 10 free-throws, the least this season by far. One of the pillars that make this team go is their ability to slow the game down by getting easy points at the free-throw line.
The Red Raiders are now forcing tough shots, and driving to the bucket less. This is a destructive way to play basketball for a team whose identity has been to pound the ball inside and get to the line. This team misses Zach Smith more than the 1-3 record in his absence shows. Although Keenan Evans has been the man all season, Zach Smith provided an inside-outside punch that was harder to defend. Without a huge offensive presence inside, the Red Raiders have now seem to become one-dimensional. Here are a few ways for the Red Raiders to get back on track after this slump of a week.
1. Drive The Ball
Keenan Evans has been bottled up and doubled in the paint whenever he drives, so it is imperative someone else step up and drive the ball more. I think Niem Stevenson and Zhaire Smith are the players to do this. Stevenson is a great finisher inside and is also a decent free-throw shooter. Zhaire Smith is a highlight making machine and can also be relied on to finish at the rim.
2. Malik Ondigo
Ondigo played his first Big 12 minutes this weekend against Iowa State and played fairly well posting 6 points and 4 rebounds. Although I do not believe you can completely replace Zach Smith, adding another big man to the rotation with as much raw talent such as Malik can help the Red Raiders inside and will give them the ability to play two big-men again. Ondigo has a good looking jump shot out near the three-point line and this ability can help the Red Raiders spread the floor and make driving lanes for Keenan and the other guards a little easier.
3. Keep up the Defense
This team’s defense has been its calling card all season. Defense is the reason the Red Raiders became ranked and soared into the top-10. With your defensive leader injured, the Red Raiders have to lead by committee on the defensive end and it starts with Justin Gray. Gray can guard all 5 positions and tends to match-up with the opposing team’s best player. However, with Zach Smith injured, Gray has had to guard the best forward or big on the floor. The Red Raiders need to find a way to move Gray back to a guard spot defensively.
Texas Tech had a block party and this guy from Wofford got an invite. ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/Go3hDMnkoF— Shimmy Gray-Miller (@shimmy33) November 23, 2017
4. Grow Up Fast
Without senior Zach Smith on the floor and Malik Ondigo potentially getting more minutes, you now have as many true freshman in the rotation as seniors. While these freshman have played really well, for the Red Raiders to really strive they all need to step up and play up to the experience of their upperclassmen teammates or the team will not make it very far this season.
5. Find your Second Best Option
The Red Raiders’ offense has been stagnant this past week as Keenan Evans, who averages 17 points per game, has been contained against our last two opponents. When teams key on him, the fuel that drives the offense is no longer there and the Red Raiders lose their spark on offense. What needs to be done from here is for the team to find another player who can step up and drop 20 on a team and make them key on more than just one player. My best guess of a player for this type of role is Jarrett Culver. Culver averages 10 points per game and has been one of the bright spots on the team this week as he had 16 points and 9 rebounds against Texas. Culver is a natural spot-up shooter but has the ability to drive and finish at the rim. I think for the Red Raiders to get back to their winning ways, Culver has to have a monster game against someone.
Time will tell if these things will be done and if the Red Raiders will be able to get out of this slump. As fans, we need to remember the season is a marathon, not a sprint and 2-losses in a row to average teams happen every once in awhile no matter how good you are. The Red Raiders need to re-group and re-think what their identity is and if it needs to change. What do you think of this last week for the Red Raiders? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.