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November 29, 2013

Preview: Black Friday matchup

Texas Tech (5-2) returns home to face off against a reeling UTSA (1-5) squad in a Black Friday matchup.

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Lubbock, Texas (United Spirit Arena)
: Texas Tech Sports Network (affiliates) / Fox College Sports Pacific
SERIES: Texas Tech leads the all-time series 4-1. Tubby Smith is 1-0 all-time against UTSA.

TECH TRENDS: The Red Raiders have improved dramatically in two areas that have been recent points of emphasis by Tubby Smith in practice: free throw shooting and rebounding. Two weeks into the season, Texas Tech was shooting just 59 percent from the stripe and not getting there nearly as often as Smith would like. Heading up to Brooklyn, the team had been out-rebounded in three straight games.

While Smith would still like to see more trips to the free throw line, the team's free throw percentage has climbed greatly of late with the season average currently residing at 70 percent. That improvement is most noticeable in Tech's last three games -- South Dakota State, Pitt and Houston -- where the team has shot 82 percent from the line (41-of-50) in its last three games.

The Red Raiders have also made major strides in crashing the glass. The team out-boarded Pitt by one -- the Panthers entered that game with a plus-18.5 rebound margin -- and won the rebound battle against Houston by 20 boards.

Another negative trend that turned positive last game was Rob Turner getting back on track offensively. Prior to his 1-of-15 funk versus South Dakota State and Pitt, Turner was leading the team in scoring at just under 16 points per game. While he didn't shoot lights out against Houston, his 15 points (4-of-10 FG, 6-of-8 FT) was certainly a step in the right direction.

Jaye Crockett's eruption for 35 points in the two Brooklyn games shows he's feeling a lot more healthy and is getting his explosiveness back. Toddrick Gotcher's career-high 16 points on a season-high 23 minutes could be sign of how Smith will utilize some of his minutes at the two-guard spot moving forward.

OPPONENT STRENGTHS: There's no way around it: UTSA has not looked good to open the season. The Roadrunners, 1-5 on the year, average 16.5 turnovers per game, have a negative rebound margin and are shooting just 28 percent from downtown.

Their best scoring punch comes from a pair of guards, Keon Lewis (16.2 points per game) and Hyjii Thomas (15.5 points per game). Neither has shot well from beyond the arc to open the season, but they're both getting to the stripe a ton -- 55 and 49 attempts, respectively -- meaning they're taking advantage of the new officiating emphasis and drawing plenty of contact on dribble penetration. Lewis is a great free throw shooter at 86 percent and Thomas is strong as well at 74 percent, meaning this pair of Roadrunners is not only skilled at getting the line, but dangerous once they're there.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Keon Lewis versus Robert Turner. Both players have opened the year looking more like score-first guards who are certainly capable passers as well. It will be critical for Turner and his backcourt mates to handle Lewis' dribble penetration and force him to score on his own without earning a trip to the line. In turn, the Roadruners' defense can certainly be penetrated and it would be great to see Turner string back-to-back quality offensive games together.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Comparing common opponents isn't always a smart exercise but, this early in the season, it's one of the main tools we have in getting a feel for competition that's not often televised.

The Houston team that Texas Tech just topped by 12 beat UTSA by 18. The Northern Arizona team that the Red Raiders bested by 20, beat the Roadrunners by 11. We reference this to say that if Tech should win comfortably tonight barring some sort of look-ahead factor to Tuesday's game at No. 4 Arizona.

The Red Raiders will have a size and skill advantage in the post and should exploit that early and often. Tech's depth of posts players compared to UTSA is also a great advantage. So not only will Tech be bigger at just about every position, but Smith should be able to keep his players fresher down low and have more fouls to give.

As mentioned above, the Roadrunner guards are great at drawing fouls and hanging in the game by hitting free throws. It will be critical for the Red Raiders to be disciplined enough defensively to not allow them that luxury.

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