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November 25, 2013

Preview: Tech takes on Pitt

Texas Tech (4-1) continues its challenging non-conference schedule with a neutral site tilt against Pittsburgh (4-0) at the Legends Classic.

WHEN: Monday, Nov. 25 at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Brooklyn, N.Y. (Barclays Center)
RADIO/TV
: Texas Tech Sports Network (affiliates) / ESPN2
SERIES: Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 1-0; Tubby Smith is 1-1 against Pittsburgh

TECH TRENDS: Texas Tech is still on pace to challenge for the Big 12 lead in fewest turnovers per game after committing just nine against South Dakota State on Thursday -- not quite the five turnover outing against Texas Southern last week, but still impressive. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in this category at 9.4 per game but the Red Raiders are right behind the 'Eers with 10.

Three-point shooting was against streaky on Thursday with Tech missing its first five attempts before nailing five of its final six -- 5-of-11 for the game, 46 percent. For the season, the Red Raiders' 33.7 percent from beyond the arc ranks eighth in the league ahead of TCU and Kansas State.

Tech got out-rebounded for the third-straight game -- although only by one board -- but that remains a concern based on Pitts' strengths.

Offensively, it was great to see Jordan Tolbert turn in his best performance since the opener. Tolbert hit 8-of-13 shots against the Jackrabbits en route to 19 points; he also pulled down nine rebounds, coming up just short of his second double-double of the season. His tenacity on the glass, provided it matches his effort on Thursday, will be key against the Pitt frontline.

OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Beyoncé, a frequenter of the Barclays Center, once sang "Bills, Bills, Bills" as a member of Destiny's Child. If Jamie Dixon had an anthem it would be "Boards, Boards, Boards." His Panthers have a plus-18.5 rebound margin on their four opponents this season thanks in large part to Talib Zanna's nine boards per game average. Derrick Randall, a transfer from Rutgers that comes of the bench, averages over nine rebounds per contest.

Everyone on Dixon's team crashes the glass, from the biggest of the bigs to the smallest of the guards. It's a huge Pitt staple and, in part, how Dixon became the winningest -- based on career conference win percentage -- coach among Big East coaches a year ago. It's also why many feel the Panthers will transition well into a stacked ACC.

The other great Pitt attribute is defense. Last season, Dixon's Panthers set a school record holding by their opponents to a per game average of 56 points. This year, through four games, opponents are averaging just 55.

Pitt has lost some star power from a year ago, but this is still a tough, physical, hard-nosed team that will beat you up down low and steal your wallet (or the possession) while they're at it.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Talib Zanna versus the Texas Tech front line. The Red Raiders will likely used a combination of players on Zanna. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound senior has posted double-doubles in two of his first three games this year and is coming off a career-high 23 points and 14 rebounds versus Lehigh. He gets deep touches and converts that at an incredibly high clip -- 78 percent so far this year. It will be critical to deny him the ball as much as possible and keep him off the glass -- both are, obviously, easier written than done.

Jaye Crockett against Lamar Patterson will be a fun matchup to watch as well. The 6-foot-5 Patterson has made 70 consecutive starts at small forward and is on pace to be just the third player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists. He's a do everything three-man and will surely present Crockett with a strong challenge.

KEYS TO THE GAME: As mentioned above, Tech has been out-boarded in three-straight games and now takes on a team whose bread and butter is hitting the glass. Tubby Smith has noted that while you don't have to always win the battle of the boards to win big games, you certainly can't get throttled on the glass and give repeated second chances to a team like Pitt. You also can't expect to win if you go one-shot-and-out on your end. The Red Raiders have to turn in their best night of boxing-out all season tonight against Pitt -- this has been an area of increased emphasis of late.

It will also be key to defend the perimeter. Pitt has opened the season shooting almost 40 percent from downtown, but they've been streaky in doing so -- 0-of-11 against Fresno State, then hit 8-of-15 in their next game against Howard.

Tech must value the ball as this is a very tough team to score on; Pitt has forced at least 15 turnovers in three of its first four games.


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