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January 25, 2014

Preview: Raiders host Sooners

The Texas Tech Red Raiders (10-9, 2-4) return home to try and pull off another Top 25 upset, this time against Oklahoma (15-4, 4-2).

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. CT
WHERE: Lubbock, Texas (United Spirit Arena)
: Texas Tech Sports Network (affiliates) / Big 12 Network
SERIES: Oklahoma leads the series 33-19. Tubby Smith is 0-2 all-time against the Sooners.

TECH TRENDS: The month of January has featured dramatically enhanced scoring from Texas Tech's perimeter players, something that was lacking at times in December. On Wednesday in Morgantown, Dusty Hannahs erupted for a career-high 25 points on 7-of-7 three-point shooting -- a new Big 12 record for most threes without a miss. Toddrick Gotcher didn't have his best shooting line (4-of-11) but still posted 15 first half points, giving Tech 40 points from that tandem alone. Hannahs upped his three-point percentage by seven points (to 43 percentage) with the perfect line from downtown, and Dusty is now averaging 13 points per game in league play -- second only to Jaye Crockett.

Unfortunately, the recent trend of improved defense on the perimeter took a big hit at West Virginia. The Red Raiders allowed Terry Henderson to go off for a career-high 28 points as WVU hit 11-of-20 threes. Many of those were relatively well-contested, so you can't put all the blame on the Tech guards, but TTU's inability to stop Juwan Staten's dribble penetration is ultimately what did them in when they needed several stops late in the game and struggled to get them. Staten may be the most explosive guard in the league, but there's plenty of very quick ones still on the schedule -- including OU's Jordan Woodard -- and the Red Raiders will have to do a better job in not allowing deep penetration and finishes at the rim.

Tubby Smith called Wednesday's 87-81 loss a "horrible defensive performance."

OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Even though they were picked to finish tied for fifth in the league, Oklahoma's 15-4 start has been a surprise to most. The Sooners are up to a six seed in the latest Bracketology from ESPN's Joe Lunardi. They come to Lubbock ranked No. 25 and are in a three-way tie for second place behind Kansas. Lon Kruger is obviously a terrific coach and he's proven already that he can get quality talent to Norman -- perhaps not quite like Jeff Capel, who landed Blake Griffin, but Kruger can sure coach them up better than Capel did.

Oklahoma has raised its offensive production dramatically this season -- by over 15 points a game -- and enters today's game averaging 84.3 points per outing, which is third best in the league. Iowa State tops the Big 12 at 85.1, so it's just by the slimmest of margins that OU is not the best scoring team in the conference. The Sooners are tied for second in the league in three-pointers made per game (7.9) and are fourth in three-point percentage (37.5).

Ryan Spangler, a transfer from Gonzaga, has been a terrific addition in the post and is really tearing it up of late -- he's averaging 14.3 points and 13.5 boards in his last four games. Kruger is utilizing him more and more, and should continue too.

OU is a good jump shooting team that relies on its shooters a great deal, but that can also detriment on the days in which the shooting numbers fizzle. This happened in the second half at Kansas State, when OU was just 2-of-12 from beyond the arc and yet kept launching threes. Tech may need a comparably cold shooting day today, to have its best shot at an upset.

Defensively, OU is at the bottom of the league in scoring defense (77.5) and field goal percentage defense (43.4) so they can certainly be scored upon.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cameron Clark versus Jaye Crockett. Plenty of Sooners have blossomed from where they were at a year ago, but perhaps none more so than the Big 12's fifth leading scorer: Cameron Clark. The senior from Sherman has three games of 30-plus points, including 32 against both Michigan State and Kansas. He's drilling 44 percent of his threes, grabbing six boards a game and playing an integral role on both ends after coming off the bench in all 32 games last season. Sound a little familiar?

While Jaye Crockett wasn't the sixth man in every game last year, he's certainly shined in an exclusively starting role this season. His shooting percentages from deep aren't as good (32) but he's a comparably gifted rebounder and all-around scorer with similar versatility to Clark. Watching these two go back and forth all afternoon could be quite a show.

I'm also intrigued to see how Rob Turner handles Jordan Woodard, who is the best in the Big 12 at drawing contact and getting to the stripe. Gotcher on super sophomore Buddy Hield (16.6 points per game) is another great matchup to track as well.

KEYS TO THE GAME: As spotlighted above, the Sooners can certainly be scored upon and, much like the Red Raiders' last Top 25 upset, I think the home team need to come out with their Guns Up and guns a blazing. Hitting some early shots on a susceptible OU defense will energize what should be another strong crowd and hopefully help land a blow or two to the Sooners' psyche that says TTU doesn't plan to play opossum this time.

Spangler is the Big 12's best individual rebounder, but I think the sum of the parts favors Tech if they crash the glass aggressively like we've seen more times than not this season. The Red Raiders are the league's fourth-best rebound margin team, OU checks in No. 6.

Obviously, Tech has to have more of an answer for Woodard's penetration than they did Staten's and when he starts to penetrate and pitch, the team needs stay close enough on the wings to contest the threes that Clark, Hield and company will be launching. Woodard loves getting deep penetration and drawing fouls -- he leads the league in free throw attempts and makes -- and OU as a team is a mere fraction of a point behind Tech for the league lead in free throw percentage, so keeping the Sooners off the stripe will be key as well.

Finally, Jordan Tolbert is due for a big game and the coaching staff is certainly trying to pull it out of him. He'll have his hands full fighting for boards with Spangler, but this is the type of game in which he needs to step to the forefront and help Tech take advantage of it's biggest advantage (post play), something the Red Raiders didn't do in Morgantown when WVU's strength, it's guards, clearly outshined Tech's strength in the post.

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