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November 26, 2013

Preview: Tech faces familiar foe

Texas Tech (4-2) wraps up the Legends Classic with a matchup against former Southwest Conference rival Houston (5-1).

WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 6 p.m.
WHERE: Brooklyn, N.Y. (Barclays Center)
: Texas Tech Sports Network (affiliates) / ESPN3
SERIES: Houston leads the all-time series 27-26. Tubby Smith is 1-0 all-time against Houston.

TECH TRENDS: The Red Raiders hit quite a snag offensively on Monday night, shooting just 25 percent in the first half versus a Pitt team that set a school record last season for scoring defense (56 points) and is doing even better in that area this season (just under 55 points).

Jaye Crockett was largely responsible for Texas Tech's second-half surge (7-of-7 in the final frame) that helped the Red Raiders ultimately shoot 39 percent from the field for the game and finish with 53 points after scoring just 18 in the first 20 minutes.

Tech finished with 26 points in the paint -- same total as Pitt -- but had numerous bunnies that crawled off the rim and easily could have tightened the margin of the game dramatically. While those close misses wouldn't have changed the overall outcome, the fact that they got some deep catches and close looks remains encouraging to the coaching staff.

The Red Raiders were able to snap a three-game skid of getting outrebounded; the team won the rebound battle 32-31 against a team that entered the game with a rebound margin of plus-18.5. Unfortunately, one of the team's best offensive catalysts, Rob Turner, struggled for the second game in a row, going 0-of-8 from the floor (4-of-4 free throws), which now makes him 1-for-15 over the past two games. Tech can't afford his offensive struggles in matchups with major conference opponents, despite the increased assertiveness of Dusty Hannahs this season. They must have another ball-handler willing and able to create his own shot (and hit it) when the offense is sputtering.

OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Monday's loss to Stanford was Houston's first of the season. They continue to be led by forwards TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House, who combine to average 34.3 points per game. Versus the Cardinal, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Thomas scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. He remains a liability at the free throw line though (6-of-13 versus Stanford) shooting 50 percent on 40 free throw attempts this season. Thomas is unquestionably Houston's best rebounder and one of the best in the American Athletic Conference at 12 boards per game.

At 6-foot-7, 195-pounds, House is an adequate three-point shooter (33 percent on 30 attempts) but can also score around the basket and averages 6.3 boards per game -- second on the team. Baylor transfer LJ Rose has added some instant offense (12.5 points per game) and has been Houston's most efficient three-point threat (8-of-16) this season.

Houston posts modest figures in the other key categories: holding a plus-4 rebound margin this season and averaging a little more than 12 turnovers per game. The Cougs shoot 66 percent from the free throw line and 35 percent from beyond the arc.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: TaShawn Thomas versus Jordan Tolbert. Tolbert had a quiet game Monday night against the Pitt front line -- seven points, two rebounds -- and will need to bring a strong effort against Thomas and company. Thomas is a beast on the glass, capable of posting double-double numbers in a single half like he did last night with 10 points and 11 boards.

Talib Zanna's foul trouble last night aided Tech in winning the battle on the boards versus Pitt and the Red Raiders can't count on that same luxury tonight. Jaye Crockett was the most assertive player wearing Scarlett and Black last night, but he'll need some help on the frontline from Tolbert who had just gone for 19 and 9 last Thursday.

Tech must deny the entry passes to Thomas as much as possible, but when he does get deep catches, fouling isn't the worst option given his horrible free throw numbers this season. The Red Raiders have a bevy of bigs with plenty of fouls to give and would like to spread those around on Thomas -- they can ill afford though to have Tolbert pick up two quick ones in the post tonight.

KEYS TO THE GAME: In this matchup of Texas Tech coaches old and new, Tubby Smith and James Dickey bring comparably talented teams to the floor at the Barclays Center. Both have impressive forward tandems whose production is integral to the output of the team. The Thomas/House vs. Tolbert/Crockett outputs are far from the sole keys in this one though.

As mentioned above, Tech has to get Rob Turner on track offensively. So much of the offense runs through him -- prior to his recent 1-of-15 funk he'd attempted 14 more shots than any other player -- and the Red Raiders are much more efficient when he's scoring or more of a threat to score than he's been of late.

The team's transition defense must improve and Tech has to continue to get better on the boards as we started to see signs of last night. Finally, while percentages are up from the stripe, Smith is still clamoring for more trips to the free throw line (10-of-13 versus Pitt). There's no question that Tech can hit a higher clip from the line than Houston, but can they get to the line more than the Cougars? That remains a bulleted item of improvement for the Red Raiders.

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