Analysis: Scouting Texas Tech basketball

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Friday, January 25, 2019
Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver (23) lays up the ball during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)
Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver (23) lays up the ball during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

FAYETTEVILLE — Texas Tech coach Chris Beard is against the idea that his Red Raiders are in the midst of a rough patch despite losing three consecutive games in Big 12 play over the last nine days.

Beard’s club’s losing skid began with a home loss to Iowa State before following up with back-to-back road losses at Baylor and Kansas State. But prior to the loss to the Cyclones, Texas Tech was 4-0 in conference play with road wins at West Virginia, who beat Kansas on Jan. 19, and Texas, and its only loss of the season was to Duke in Madison Square Garden in late December.

"This is life in the Big 12," Beard said Thursday. "Go on a two-game winning streak, you get free car washes and queso and chips, lose a couple games, people act like you can't play or coach. So, it's no problem. It's what you sign up for at this level. Certainly, we're a team that's not going to get too high, not going to get too low."

The Red Raiders will more than likely fall out of the top 15 in most polls on Monday, but they are still every bit the contender to compete with Kansas atop the Big 12 and potentially make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Texas Tech advanced to the Elite 8 a season ago as a 3 seed, beating Florida and Purdue, who Beard and UALR famously upset as a 12 seed in 2016, before bowing out to eventual national champion Villanova.

Arkansas and Texas Tech have met just three times since the Razorbacks joined the Southeastern Conference with Arkansas winning twice, including a 75-68 overtime win in Fayetteville in Jan. 2016, which was also part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. This will be the first time the teams have played in Lubbock in 28 years.

Ahead of Saturday’s matchup, which tips off at 5 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN2, here is what you should know about Beard and the Red Raiders:

Jarrett Culver is a star

There is no secret to Texas Tech offensively. The Red Raiders revolve around sophomore swingman Jarrett Culver.

Only two Texas Tech players average more than 10 points - Culver and guard Matt Mooney - and Culver leads the way at 18.7 points, seven rebounds and nearly four assists per game. He pours in 17-plus points per night in the Big 12 this season, too, on an impressive 58 percent shooting inside the 3-point line.

Culver is responsible for a large part of the Red Raiders' offense, as evidenced by his usage rate - a measure of personal possessions used while on the floor. It assigns credit or blame to a player when he ends a possession with a made shot, missed shot that isn’t rebounded by a teammate, or a turnover. Culver's usage rate is 30.8 for the season, which ranks 41st nationally, and a Big 12-high 32.3 in conference play.

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was short but succinct when talking about Culver on Thursday.

"Culver is probably first team. He may even be an All-American," he said. "I know he’s going to be All-Big 12."

Culver has reached double figures in all but one game this season, a six-point win over Kansas State on Jan. 5, and scored 20-plus points in eight games. Much of Texas Tech's success depends on his efficiency. He averages better than 18 points per game on 58 percent shooting in Red Raiders wins, but in their four losses this season, his shooting percentage dips to 42 percent on an average of 18.5 shots per game.

Iowa State held him to 6/18 on 2-point shots and 1/3 from 3-point range in the Cyclones' win in Lubbock, which began Texas Tech's current losing streak. Culver has struggled from distance in Big 12 play (3/21), but can be dangerous using his handle to work himself into pull-up jumpers.

Arkansas' close outs when approaching him on the perimeter after the catch must be crisp. Watching Culver even for a short time, it's apparent he has a tremendous ability to keep defenders off balance with shot fakes and jab steps. That craftiness also gets him to the free throw line with great regularity. His 45.6 percent free throw rate (free throw attempts/field goal attempts) ranks 10th in the Big 12.

While Culver is the obvious head of the snake for Texas Tech on the offensive end, the Red Raiders, as a whole, struggle offensively. According to KenPom analytics, Texas Tech is 139th nationally in offensive efficiency (105.3), slightly ahead of mediocre teams like Georgia (9-9) and Missouri (10-7) and behind Texas A&M and South Carolina.

To provide a sense of the load Culver shoulders on a nightly basis, Mooney, who averages 10.2 points per game, has scored just 12 points over Texas Tech's last three games and scored in double figures in less than half of the team's games. Of late, Davide Moretti, a 6-3 sophomore guard, has been the Red Raiders' most effective scorer in January outside of Culver, averaging 12.1 points per game.

"We’re a team that’s searching for a second option, we’re searching for a third option,” Beard told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal following Tuesday’s loss at Kansas State. “I’m not the kind of guy that’s gonna call out players. It’s just not what I believe in. But it’s pretty easy to look at the stat sheet and understand how this Texas Tech team was put together. Some of our guys have got to play a lot better individually.”

Defense-first program

Something of a rarity in college basketball nowadays, Texas Tech draws its identity from when it doesn't have the basketball. Beard, quickly, has not only built a nationally competitive program, but one that has grown to that point by defending at an elite level.

"It’s kind of what we hang our hat on," Beard said. "It’s what we recruit, it’s what we coach, it’s what we practice every day. We’re a defensive program. We think that gives you a chance to compete and win games in March. Very similar to our team at Little Rock when were in the great state of Arkansas a few years ago."

The Red Raiders rank first nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom figures, allowing 83.8 points per 100 possessions, which is slightly better than Virginia and Michigan - both top-5 teams in the latest AP poll. Texas Tech has given up more than 70 points just once this season. Baylor poured in 73 in its 11-point home win last Saturday.

For the season, Texas Tech is limiting opponents to 55.9 points on 35 percent shooting and 26 percent from 3-point range. Duke, third nationally in offensive efficiency, scored only 69 points in its win over the Red Raiders in New York City. Texas Tech held RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson, likely the top two picks in the upcoming NBA draft, to a combined 11/31 from the floor and the Blue Devils as a team to 3/20 from 3-point range. Duke also turned the ball over 19 times.

"They’re going to make it difficult around the basket," Anderson said Thursday. "They want to grind out games. I think that’s what they want. They want the pace to be in the 50s and 60s. That’s where they’re comfortable at. But I think defensively, they’re really all engaged and on the same page. Guys coming off the bench, same mindset."

Four of Texas Tech's probable starters hold a defensive rating - points allowed per 100 possessions - under 83, which is stellar. Culver, for all of his publicity as the team's top scorer, has a defensive rating of 81.5. Beard has opened games with essentially the same lineup with the exception of one game, and his lineup of Mooney-Culver-Moretti-Tariq Owens-Norense Odiase has been phenomenal on the defensive end.

The group, over 127 possessions this season, is allowing .67 points per possession, per HoopLens. Opponents are shooting 38.5 percent inside the arc and a minuscule 21.4 percent from deep.

Owens and Mooney are Beard's most heralded defenders, and both were among the 15 players named to the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award midseason watch list released on Tuesday. Owens, one of the nation's premiere shot blockers, ranks 10th nationally and first in the Big 12 with 47 blocks this season. He has at least one block in each game this season and turned away eight shots in a win over Memphis in December.

Mooney is a strong on-ball defender and leads the Red Raiders with 33 steals. Culver and Moretti each have 25 as well. While Texas Tech strangles opposing offenses and holds a majority to poor shooting nights, it also forces turnovers on nearly 24 percent of possessions, which ranks seventh nationally.

"We’ve lost two road games and we’ve been in basically one- and two-possession games over the last week," Beard said. "So we’ve just got to stay the course. I’ve got confidence in our team. We’re playing well this year. We look to be competitive in every game."


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