The Oklahoma Sooners are currently ranked No. 3 after suffering a loss to the Kansas Jayhawks. Thankfully, six other teams in the top ten lost this past week preserving the ranking in both the AP and Coaches Polls. Now, Buddy Hield and the rest of the gang look to bounce back on the road against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Seth C. of Staking the Plains sat down to answer a few questions ahead of Wednesday's match-up.
CCM - TTU started the season 11-1 before enduring a 2-8 stretch. Now, Tech is coming off back-to-back wins over ranked opponents. How has this team turned it around as of late?
Seth C. - Texas Tech has really played some decent basketball. Not perfect, but pretty good (good for Texas Tech). The Red Raiders had a 3 point loss to Baylor earlier, then a 4 point loss to West Virginia, a close loss to Arkansas, etc. For whatever reason, Texas Tech really just wasn't able to put teams away and that happens with young teams, which is essentially the core of the team. Plus, it helps to have a steady hand with Tubby Smith. He doesn't let the guys get too high or too low and that's a terrific trait for a young team.
CCM - With the season winding down, Texas Tech sits at 15-9 on the season and 7th in the conference. While some speculate only six programs from the Big XII will earn NCAA Tournament bids, the Red Raiders continue to sit on the bubble. Is this team tournament worthy this year?
SC - I always thought that this team was a year away from really being a tournament team. The unthinkable could happen, but I think the likely scenario is for Texas Tech to make the NIT. There might be three more wins left in the season, at home to TCU and Kansas State and they would need to win at West Virginia, Oklahoma, at Kansas. That's a tough stretch and if Texas Tech does get that third win, that still only puts Texas Tech at 18 wins (before the conference tournament). Texas Tech has a terrific RPI working for them, 31st in the nation, and a terrific strength of schedule, 4th in the nation according to CBS Sports. Maybe 18 wins is enough, and then getting a win in the conference tournament would seal the deal.
CCM - A win over the Oklahoma Sooners would be a welcome addition to the tournament résumé I'm sure. But, stopping the offense of OU and more specifically Buddy Hield has been a problem all season long for opponents. Yet, Devonte Graham found a way to limit Hield for an entire half. Does Texas Tech possess a lock down defender and will he draw the sole task of shutting down Buddy?
SC - No, not really. Texas Tech has some good defenders, but nothing like Graham. If I were Texas Tech, I'd have a rotation of guys pestering Hield, most likely Toddrick Gotcher, Devaugntah Williams and Justin Gray. The other thing that I'd do is that I'd try to get them in motion as much as possible when Hield is on defense. I doubt Hield is going to have trouble keeping up, but maybe having to play that much on offense and defense will have a significant impact by the game ends. Also, of late, Tubby Smith has employed different looks on defense, whether it be a man press after a made basket or slipping into a zone defense for a short period of time. It's generally man and some zone, but I could see Tubby mixing things up to try to throw off the Sooner offense.
CCM - In the first meeting toward the end of January, Khadeem Lattin forced slashers to think twice about attempting a shot in the lane. Will the points in the paint be the deciding factor in this game or will another stat have a larger impact?
SC - Yeah, that was brutal. Texas Tech (I think) was without big-man, Norense Odiase, and he'll miss this game as well. Texas Tech currently starts Matthew Temple, a former walk-on that's been pretty good. I'd guess that was one of Temple's first games to start. Maybe the biggest thing that's happened since that game is that Justin Gray has been a really solid contributor of late and is near double-figures, while Keenan Evans has taken a huge step offensively. Maybe the key is that the other Oklahoma defenders won't be able to take off as much with some of these other guys hitting their outside shots, like Gotcher, Evans, Gray and Williams.
CCM - Give us your score prediction.
SC - Oklahoma is still the better team, but crazy stuff happens in Lubbock. Generally speaking, Oklahoma has better parts than Texas Tech (a majority of the group is still really young). Cousins, Woodard and Spangler are all really good parts and are either juniors or seniors. Vegas has Oklahoma favored by 4.5 and that's probably about right. Texas Tech has confidence that's sky high, but Hield has been so great this year. He's been near impossible to stop for pretty much the entire year. I'll take Oklahoma, but I'll take the points here and say it's a really close game.
Tune into ESPNU tomorrow evening to catch the action!