Texas Tech men’s basketball head coach Tubby Smith has high hopes for his team entering Big 12 play today with a home game against undefeated No. 13 Iowa State.
“I think we’ll play our best game (today),” Smith said. “That’s what I believe because of the way we’ve practiced.”
The Red Raiders are coming off a 100-69 win over Mount Saint Mary’s, a game in which Smith saw improvement on both ends of the floor.
“In transition defense we’ve gotten better,” Smith said. “Our outside shooting was better. I like the way our guys are playing right now. I’m confident that we’ll play well and we’ll play better than we’ve been playing.”
The Red Raiders look to start conference play for the second straight year with a win after a 62-53 win at TCU last year.
“Since we got done with the last game against Mount Saint Mary’s, we’ve been going two-a-days,” junior point guard Robert Turner said. “We’ve been lifting real hard. We’ve been dialed in more than usual. This is a critical time of the season. Everyone’s just really focused in.”
Tech comes into Big 12 play with an 8-5 record in non-conference.
“We’re really competitive,” junior forward Jordan Tolbert said. “I think if we can do better in transition and transition defense and taking our time in the half court that we’ll be able to beat some teams. We just can’t get hurried on offense or beat in transition.”
Iowa State enters conference play as one of only seven unbeaten teams in Division-I and ranked nationally in scoring offense at No. 7 with 87.2 point per game, in three pointers made per game at No. 10 with 9.2 and assists per game at No. 4 with 18.5.
So far this season, five Cyclones have scored 20 or more points in a game led by sophomore forward, Georges Niang, who has scored 20-plus points in four of his last six games, shooting at least 50 percent from the field in each of those contests.
Senior forward Melvin Ejim leads the team in scoring with 17.9 points per game and is third in the Big 12 in scoring.
While Ejim is No. 5 in the conference in rebounding with 8.1 per game, junior forward Dustin Hogue leads the league with 9.8 boards per game and averages 13.3 points.
Hogue has four double-doubles and is shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Senior guard DeAndre Kane is the floor general for the Cyclones, averaging 15 points and six assists per contest.
“They’re a team that has so much balance,” Smith said. “They can hit you in so many ways. They have so many weapons. They can shoot from outside. Niang is a great facilitator … They don’t have many weaknesses that we can try to exploit.”
Both Ejim and Niang play well with their backs to the basket but they also have the ability to shoot the three.
“That’s a real concern for us,” Smith said. “If we have an issue with that, we’ll probably have to change up our lineup. Aaron (Ross) is playing better so we might go with a smaller lineup. I doubt if we’ll have Kader (Tapsoba) available to us because he hurt his finger in practice (on Friday). … That takes away a little of our inside depth that we had. I thought that’s where we had a slight advantage with a size factor with Dejan (Kravic) and Kader. But then it could be that now its going to force us to play smaller in that regard. Hopefully we can guard Melvin Ejim and Niang because they do pick and pop and they do shoot the three and they can shoot on the perimeter. We’ve been trying to tell our post players that we have be conscious of that and stay up.”
Iowa State does a good job offensively of on-ball screens where the screener pops out and catches the ball to drain the trey.
“We did like a different close out technique — closing out with one hand instead of two so they won’t beat us to the middle,” Tolbert said. “Just making sure that when the shot goes up we contest and rebound so they don’t get second-chance opportunities.”
While the posts have to prepare to defend out on the perimeter, the guards will have to defend down low.
Iowa State’s shortest guard in the starting lineup is 6-foot-4, and throughout the non-conference part of the schedule, the Cyclones have made the most of their size advantage outside by taking the defense to the block and posting up.
“We’re just fronting and stuff like that,” Turner said. “We’re working on switches. It all comes down to everybody talking on defense. Once we see things like that, we’ve got to be ready to switch, get over and deny the ball.”
Beyond the X’s and O’s, the Red Raiders are looking to use home court advantage tonight against Iowa State, a team who is 1-6 in the last seven years in United Spirit Arena.
“We could really send a message to some people,” Tolbert said. “We beat Iowa State last year. They’re doing a good job right now; they’re undefeated. We could definitely send a message to all the other teams in the Big 12.”
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