There's a ways to go for the Texas Tech Red Raiders, but the future is more clear since they last met with the Arizona Wildcats a season ago. Tuesday night, Texas Tech visits McKale Center with longtime college head coach Tubby Smith leading the way.
The Red Raiders went 11-20 last season guided by interim coach Chris Walker, and in a nonconference matchup the Sweet-16 bound Wildcats dropped them 85-57 Lubbock. It won't get any easier for Smith's team on the road this year, but there's promise.
It starts with 6-foot-7 forward Jaye Crockett, who came off the bench as was Tech's only double-figure scorer last season against Arizona. This year, Crockett is leading his team by averaging 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Fellow starting forward Jordan Tolbert, who fouled out in last season's game, will get another crack at a large UA frontline, as will center Dejan Kravic.
The three returnees make for the biggest starting trio that Sean Miller's team has faced this season.
Revenge would be a sweet motivational tool for Crockett and Co., but this isn't the same Arizona team of a year ago.
Let's talk about AG's defense
Aaron Gordon should get the matchup on Crockett, and he's coming off a test against Duke's duo of Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Oddly enough, Gordon was still the topic after Arizona's 72-66 win over Duke, and many praised his work on his fellow freshman. Though he had timely blocks and a few big offensive possessions, it was Brandon Ashley who -- when he was on the court -- got the assignment against Jabari Parker. And it was Ashley, not Gordon, whose length and defense did the most work against Parker, who shot 33 percent for the NIT Season Tip-Off finale.
Gordon's initial defensive assignment, Hood, led the Blue Devils with 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting.
Despite all the praise, it's Gordon who has my inquisitive eye if he's matched up against Crockett. It's not that Gordon has been bad, and Hood is certainly worthy of enough credit. But it was Gordon that had some issues staying in front of the talented small forward. Most of all, it's important to credit Ashley for doing the most damage against Parker.
Will Ashley avoid foul trouble?
This summer, the behind-the-scenes impressions of Brandon Ashley were certainly concerning if you're an Arizona fan. He was floating and seemingly not focused in trying out for Team USA's U-19 team that Gordon eventually made.
That's not the player that's shown up for the Wildcats this season. Only foul trouble has kept Ashley from doing damage on a consistent basis. He's third on Arizona's roster by averaging 11 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game, and he's second in field goal shooting at 61.2 percent. While he's promised to stretch the floor as a power forward but has only gone 1-for-5 on the season, Ashley is not shying away from his one-dribble faceup moves to get points in the paint.
He'll play a big role Tuesday against Tolbert, who is averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
In general, playing against a confident and big frontline will be a test for Arizona. The Wildcats' length has been great for defense, but not so much for avoiding whistles. Let's see if the Wildcats can stay out of foul trouble.
Can Arizona score on size?
Defense has been an obvious reason for the Wildcats to stay and succeed in all seven of their games so far. Texas Tech has size up front with Kravic standing at 7-feet tall and averaging 1.3 blocks. Tolbert is 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds and averaging more than a block per game, and Crockett is big for a college wing. It's length on length, which means Arizona will need to finish in the paint and be able to hit their jumpers with rangy arms trying to alter shots.
7 p.m. MST
- Lute Olson does not like the new NCAA rule changes.
- Bruce Pascoe of the Daily Star talked with TT coach Tubby Smith.
- SB Nation's Jonathan Tjarks took in the Jabari Parker vs. Aaron Gordon matchup.
- Not game-related, but USA Today's Eric Prisbell wrote a feature on just how hardworking Josh Pastner has been through his time at Memphis.