Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Texas Tech’s Dejan Kravic (11) puts back the winning basket with 0.4 seconds left against West Virginia during the first round of the Big 12 tournament last March.
LUBBOCK, Texas — The rosters have been retooled since March, and Texas Tech even traded its interim coach for one with 519 victories, yet there is emotional carryover from the Red Raiders’ 71-69 win that bounced West Virginia on opening night of the Big 12 tournament.
Because not all the faces have changed.
As West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten reminded us: “We still have five returners who know what it felt like to have our season ended.”
And the guy who essentially ended it that night in Kansas City is back for Texas Tech. Forward Dejan Kravic made the last-second tip-in off a missed 3-pointer, going to the rim unimpeded by WVU’s trio of Aaric Murray, Jabarie Hinds and Dominique Rutledge.
Whereas West Virginia’s season ended at 13-19, Texas Tech lived another day only to lose to Kansas by 28. After the 11-20 finish, interim head coach Chris Walker was replaced by Tubby Smith—a hire that could give the program the kind of juice that Bobby Knight provided in 2001 (without the theatrics and nepotism).
While the 62-year-old Smith won’t make the Red Raiders relevant overnight, he already has provided a stabilizing influence. His team erased a 20-point deficit before succumbing to unbeaten Iowa State on Saturday, continuing a trend that parallels WVU: beating the bad teams, falling short against the good ones.
“We’ve got to get kids believing,” Smith said.
He readily identified the key to Monday night’s matchup inside the 15,098-seat United Spirit Arena.
“We need to get the ball inside, something we didn’t do a good job of (against Iowa State),” Smith told the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. “That’s the strength of our team. When we don’t do that, we’re going to get beat.”
West Virginia won 77-61 in Lubbock last year. This season the teams have faced and beaten one common opponent, Mount Saint Mary’s. The Mountaineers won 77-62 and Texas Tech cruised 100-69
SCOUTING TEXAS TECH
Tipoff: Monday, 7 p.m. in Lubbock, Texas (Big 12 Network)
Records: The Red Raiders (8-6, 0-1) are 7-2 at home, including a 73-62 loss to No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday. West Virginia (9-5, 1-0) defeated TCU 74-69 that afternoon.
RPIs: Texas Tech is No. 142 and WVU is No. 77.
Coach: Tubby Smith is aiming to rejuvenate Tech’s program after a six-year stint at Minnesota produced a 124-81 record, three NCAA bids and two NITs—yet wasn’t satisfactory to the Gophers administration. Smith owns an overall mark of 519-232 in 23 seasons, which includes 17 NCAA berths, nine Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights and the 1998 national title at Kentucky.
Texas Tech top players: Jaye Crockett (14 points, 4.4 rebounds, 59-percent shooter) and Jordan Tolbert 12.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 60-percent shooter) are interchangeable 6-foot-7 forwards. Both attempt only the occasional 3-pointer, just enough to keep defenders honest. Crockett produced his second double-double of the season (20 points, 11 rebounds) in the loss to Iowa State. In three meetings against WVU last season, he averaged 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. Tolbert was an efficient 13-of-21 from the floor in those three games. … Dusty Hannahs, whose name seemingly destined him to play his college ball in the Lone Star State, sank 4-of-8 from 3-point range in Morgantown last season.
WVU roster notes: The Mountaineers shot only 40 percent from the floor at TCU and allowed the Frogs to make 47 percent—both totals were the worst in a WVU victory this season. Huggins was primarily concerned about the defensive field-goal percentage, saying “That’s too good to continue to beat good teams consistently.” … Eron Harris scored 22 points in Fort Worth—coming off the bench after a weeklong battle with the flu limited his practice time—and leads the Big 12 at 18.6 per game. “He’s a guy who fill it up,” Smith said. … Juwan Staten ranks seventh in the league in scoring at 16.2, and he’s now second in assists at 6.07, narrowly behind Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane. … Devin Williams stands fifth in rebounding at 7.8. … WVU was still awaiting word on the possibility of transfer forward Jonathan Holton making his debut, but that appears to be a longshot for Monday night.
Line: West Virginia favored by 1.
Prediction: WVU 67-66