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December 21, 2013

Preview: Raiders visit Tempe

Texas Tech (7-4) faces its last big challenge before Big 12 play begins, a road tilt against Arizona State (9-2).

WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. CT
WHERE: Tempe, Ariz. (Wells Fargo Arena)
: Texas Tech Sports Network (affiliates) / Pac-12 Network
SERIES: Texas Tech leads the all-time series 21-20. Tubby Smith is 1-0 all-time against the Sun Devils.

TECH TRENDS: Texas Tech took another step forward in free throw percentage (79.5 percent), free throw attempts (a season-high 39) and three-point percentage (60 percent) in Wednesday's loss to LSU. Additionally, the Red Raiders outrebounded the nation's seventh-best rebounding team 28-27. Constant foul trouble for LSU may have had a lot to do with the rebound margin finishing in Tech's favor, but give the Red Raiders credit for being assertive enough to take it right at the Tigers and force 27 whistles against them. The 39 foul attempts bested the previous season-high by eight.

Unfortunately, Tech had some missed opportunities offensively that kept them from fully getting over the hump and ever seizing a lead of any kind. Perhaps most encouraging were the three-point numbers. Tech entered the game shooting just 30 percent from downtown, and had gone 5-of-27 in its previous two games against Arizona and Central Arkansas. To not only hit 6-of-10 attempts, but spread those around amongst four different shooters, was a definite bright spot. To see Jaye Crockett and Rob Turner each hit a pair of threes, after both had seen a sizeable swoon in their percentages over the previous month, was certainly a very positive development.

OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Herb Sendek's Sun Devils like to get out and run, push tempo and score 80-plus points a game -- and they have just the point guard to do it. Jahii Carson might be the most explosive point guard in the nation, and in an offense that stresses three magic numbers -- 3, 12 and 24 -- he's the perfect mathematician to crunch those digits. Three symbolizes the number of seconds in which Sendek wants to get the ball across midcourt. Twelve is the number of seconds in which a good shot needs to be taken and 24 is for the NBA shot-clock that ASU practices with. It's a fast-paced style most players love and this particular group of Sun Devils is very good at it.

In addition to being great in transition, ASU scores well in a half-court set in part because of Carson's ability to create off the dribble and also because of 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski, who's having a career year with averages of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per contest. Add in Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall -- ASU's second-leading scorer at 14.9 points per game -- and you've got quite a formidable trio in Tempe.

ASU is also a terrific three-point shooting team, as Tech fans saw a year ago in Lubbock.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jahii Carson versus Rob Turner. Carson is the only player in America averaging 19.9 points and five assists per game and shooting 50 percent from three. Now a sophomore, he's more polished and skilled than the standout rookie that Tech saw a year ago.

Last season in Lubbock, Carson went for 18 points and five assists in 39 minutes, shooting 7-of-14 from the floor. Carson was a big reason -- but not THE reason -- why Arizona State posted a 77-62 win at United Spirit Arena. A 14-of 27 barrage from downtown buried the Red Raiders in their own gym, and while Arizona State remains an excellent three-point shooting team -- 39 percent and nine makes per game -- more of the offense goes through Carson this year and 65 of his 83 field goals this season have been from inside the arch.

Containing his dribble penetration is easier said than done, but a huge key none the less because he's so good at finishing in traffic or setting up a penetrate and pitch to players like Jonathan Gilling -- six threes last year in Lubbock -- and Marshall camping on the wing, waiting for the help defense to slide over and stop Carson.

If Turner can stay in front of Carson more times than not, and not require help defense constantly, Tech has a chance to defend the perimeter better and force Carson into some tougher attempts, himself. Defensively, Carson is not a standout player, and Turner will have a chance to shine both in scoring the ball himself and creating for others.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Beyond how well the Red Raiders handle Carson, simply getting back in transition defense is a huge key based on the way the Sun Devils like to run the floor. Perimeter defense will be critical for the reasons mentioned above and that starts with staying stride for stride with Carson.

On the boards, ASU has just a plus-2.7 rebound margin and while Bachynski is a stud on the glass -- 10 rebounds per game and already eight double-doubles this year -- the depth of Tech's capable rebounders surpasses what ASU has in the post. In other words, ASU might have more quality in Bachynski, but the quantity advantage lies on the Red Raiders side. If Tech could somehow get Bachynski in foul trouble as they did with Johnny O'Bryant of LSU, a serious frontcourt edge could swing the Red Raiders' way.

Finally, ASU is 22-4 at home over the past two seasons and can really get rolling in front of the home fans at Wells Fargo Arena. Weathering early runs and keeping the crowd seated, will certainly aid in the Red Raiders upset bid. The way the Sun Devils can score points in bunches, it could feel like an Arizona avalanche if Tech limps out of the gates like they did in Tucson.

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