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Is Texas Tech the favorite to win the Big 12?

In a devastating weekend of college basketball, No. 7 Texas Tech saw the chips fall in its favor. After demolishing TCU 83-71 in a game that was not as close as the score indicates, the Red Raiders watched as first place Kansas suffered a defeat at home to Oklahoma State. This loss vaulted Texas Tech into a first place tie with Kansas, with Texas Tech owning the tiebreaker having defeated Kansas earlier in the season.

Coach Chris Beard has completely changed the culture of Texas Tech Basketball, working to install a level of toughness, intensity and energy that opponents would have difficulty matching. This change in attitude has led to the Red Raiders becoming a popular underdog story this season. Now, with highly anticipated showdowns against Kansas, Oklahoma and at West Virginia on the horizon, can this Texas Tech team complete the season with a Big 12 regular season title?

DEfensive Attitude

Perhaps the most stunning turnaround for this program has been on the defensive side of the ball. Beard’s squad ranks 11th in field goal percentage defense, 16th in turnovers forced per game and eighth in scoring defense. Add this to the fact that they rank third in overall adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.

Beard’s style of defense is slightly different from other top teams in the nation. Texas Tech does not simply rely on a singular style, such as West Virignia’s full court trap pressure, game in and game out. Beard is notorious for altering his schemes to attack his opponent’s weaknesses.

Regardless of its defensive scheme, the Red Raiders have a knack for forcing turnovers. This allows star point guard Keenan Evans to get out on the fast break and create easy offensive opportunities for Texas Tech. Evans, a ball dominant scoring point guard, can take over games early if he can find his offensive rhythm. Creating turnovers gives Evans increased chances at finding his groove quickly in games.

The Most Underrated Player in the Nation

Evans is the engine and the conductor of this Texas Tech team on both sides of the ball. Beard’s team went through a stretch this season where it struggled to score in the half court. Evans would consistently bail the Red Raiders out of poor possessions with his play-making ability. Evans has averaged 18.6 points, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per game so far this season.

Keenan Evans nails a buzzer beating shot to down Texas 73-71 in overtime (Brad Tollefson/AP Photo).

As mentioned above, Evans has the skill-set to take over any game against any opponent on offense. Against Texas, a team that Tech had previously lost to this season, Evans poured in 38 points, including the game winning step back jumper, on 69.2 percent shooting from the field. Of Tech’s 73 points in that game, Evans accounted for 52 percent of them.

College basketball fans are familiar with how valuable it is come postseason play to have a star who has this skill. UConn fans will recall how Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier seemingly willed their squad’s to national championships. However, both of these teams were coupled with a strong supporting cast, similar to that of Texas Tech, that was committed to playing defense.

Paint Problem

A common theme emerges from all four of Texas Tech’s losses this season: their inability to score and defend the paint against long, physical big men. In its 75-65 loss to Oklahoma, forward Khadeem Lattin controlled the paint from start to finish. Lattin ended up with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks. Similarly, in its 67-58 loss to Texas earlier this season, center Mo Bamba rained in 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

Beard understands that the strength of his offense is attacking the rim, not relying on the three ball. Tech shoots 35.2 percent from three collectively. If big men Norense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton, the only registered forwards on the team, cannot prove to be able to spread the floor by making defenders respect their mid-range jump shot, Beard’s guards will have difficulty finishing drives at the rim. Rim protecting centers will shade toward the rim, anticipating the drive by Evans and co.

Verdict

Beard has molded this roster into a defensive machine capable of shutting down the nation’s most potent offenses any given night. With star point guard Kennan Evans playing lights out, Texas Tech has the momentum necessary to bring home a Big 12 title. However, Odiose must step up in a rematch with Lattin coming up on the calendar as every remaining game matters in a race as close as this one.

Featured image by John Weast/Getty Images North America

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