The Gophers find themselves in the consolation championship in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with a chance to exit the island having gone 2-1. Standing in front of that outcome is good ol’ Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Smith is in his third season as head coach, and has the team in the throes of a rebuild. Like the Gophers, Texas Tech lost quite a few seniors to graduation and is relying heavily on youngsters to carry the load.
FTB: Obviously there’s some history with Tubby Smith and his tenure at Minnesota. How does his time with the Gophers impact Texas Tech and how they’re approaching the game? Is it simply a footnote?
STP: I think it is important to Smith to some extent, but I think he also realizes that Texas Tech is still a year away from challenging a team like Minnesota competitively. Smith seems to be a very proud man, but not vengeful or hateful, so I don’t think that those negative sort of feelings really drives Smith, but rather to simply win the game. He’ll be gracious either way because that seems to be how he reacts to most situations. You all probably know this all too well.
FTB: What should Gopher fans know about the Red Raiders this year?
STP: Texas Tech is still a very young team, starting three sophomores and two senior, one of the seniors could move to the bench when the sophomore he replaced is fully healthy. In year two of Tubby Smith for Texas Tech he decided to go very young and make every attempt to completely turnover the roster and he had a huge recruiting class last year with a ton of freshmen, five freshmen, and he threw all five of them into the fire and played them as much as possible. I do like Texas Tech’s talent and I think this is a pretty deep team, starting in the middle, Norense Odiase is a big-bodied center, 6-9/260 who has a nice inside game and an excellent rebounder. Zach Smith is a non-traditional power forward in that he’s 6-8/215 or so and a terrific defensive player and Keenan Evans is a point guard that’s still trying to figure the scoring and distribution, but he’s getting there. Devaughntah Williams is this team’s leading scorer, by a wide margin, but he can shoot Texas Tech into a game or out of a game. He’s not getting his feet set while in Puerto Rico and his shooting percentage is pretty dreadful.
FTB: Much like Minnesota, Texas Tech is in a rebuilding phase. What’s the feeling about the basketball team in Lubbock these days?
STP: Because Tubby made it clear he was somewhat starting over last year with all of the freshmen, most fans knew what to expect. Most folks don’t realize how bad Billy Gillispie had torn down the program when he left. It was terrible. So Texas Tech somewhat suffered the big overhaul last year and this year, there’s some hope that Texas Tech can increase that conference win total from 3, which is what they won last year, to 6 or 7. I think most fans would also like for Texas Tech to be close to .500 for the year. Overall, I think most fans see that Texas Tech is working it’s way to being competitive overall in the Big 12. If I had to guess, I think Tubby believes that the only way he’s really going to be competitive with this team is to recruit a majority of freshmen and when those freshmen are juniors and seniors then they’ll be competitive with those teams that recruit better. Most fans think that Smith is on track.
FTB: What does Minnesota need to do to beat Texas Tech?
STP: I think that Minnesota has a much better offensive team, which is what I think is the biggest difference between the two teams. Texas Tech struggles to score at times and Minnesota appears to be a team that is significantly more efficient offensively. If Minnesota will play a zone and force Texas Tech to shoot outside, it will absolutely result in Texas Tech struggling offensively and a Minnesota win.
FTB: Predictions for the game. What do you think happens?
STP: I think Minnesota wins this game by 10 or so. I’m a bit surprised that Minnesota is only favored by 1 in Vegas.