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Stephen F. Austin Basketball

Behind Enemy Lines: SFA/Texas Tech Q&A with Staking the Plains

March 14, 2018
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The countdown is almost over. The moment Lumberjacks have been waiting for since, well, the last time it happened two years ago, is hours away as Stephen F. Austin will take on Texas Tech in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at 6:27 p.m.

Of course, the Red Raiders are standing in the way of a third trip to the Round of 32 in the last five years for SFA and they are certainly a formidable opponent, having finished second place in the always brutal Big 12 this season.

To get some perspective from Lubbock, we went behind enemy lines to Staking the Plains and writer Dan Swany who covers the Red Raiders. For our half of the exchange, you can read STP's release right here.

Ready? Let's go...

Chris Beard didn't fit the mold of a typical mid-major to high-major head coach, being that he had just one year of experience as a head coach in at the Division 1 level. Was there pushback from fans when he was named to the position and how does the community feel about it now?

Dan: Texas Tech fans were really bummed when Tubby Smith decided to up and leave Lubbock for Memphis. He had built the program in his few years there from a bottom dweller in the Big 12, to a mid-level conference contender. It was also an expectation for the Red Raiders to make the postseason with him every year.

Once he abruptly departed, the Texas Tech fans wanted a hire that was willing to keep the Red Raiders on the rise and be loyal to staying in Lubbock. Chris Beard has three daughters that live in the West Texas area. He had enjoyed his time as an assistant for 10 years at Texas Tech, and grew up nearby. Coach Beard actually wanted to be the Texas Tech head coach and inquired about it before Tubby Smith left town. Needless to say, the Texas Tech basketball fans welcomed him into the program with open arms when the hire was made.

What is the best way to explain Texas Tech's motion offense and are there similarities from the Knight era?

Dan: The best way to explain the motion offense is as simple as it sounds, continuous movement when we have the ball across the half-court line. In the motion sets the players set screens, look for skip passes, and move the ball to the open man. Also, you should never see a player standing “motionless” on the perimeter. You will see our guards rotating and the frontcourt helping with screens.

Offense is not a staple of this roster, or even Chris Beard’s M.O. Bobby Knight taught Coach Beard the offense, and he runs it well… but, his identity is on the defensive end of the court. Similarities are there, but the twist is that Chris Beard puts emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.  Bobby Knight’s famous motion offense is not the strength of this team. 

Nationally, Texas Tech is, despite being a #3 seed, kind of a Cinderella story themselves, defying low expectations to achieve what they did this season. Are those close to the program as surprised as everyone else at how good Beard got them in his second season, or was this expected?

Dan: The Red Raider fans were not at all surprised that Beard made Texas Tech much better. Tech was projected to finish 7th in the conference, and we could not believe that the rest of the conference thought of us this way.  But, I would be lying if I told you that anyone would have been expecting us to finish the regular season at #2 in the Big 12 while floating in and out of the AP Top 10. We witnessed some flashes of what Coach Beard and staff were trying to do in year one. It was expected that we would be a surprise team, yet we exceeded expectations this season.

You have a perfect recipe with basketball experience and skill on this roster right now that is as deep as the formula gets. Texas Tech fans are now ready to see big things happen with this special of a squad in the Big Dance.  And will be crushed if they do not show up the way we watched them play this season.

Many have attributed injury to the Red Raiders' late slide in Big 12 play. Was that the only factor or was there more to the story?

Dan: When power forward Zach Smith, one of our senior leaders, went down with a broken foot the whole team stumbled. But, we figured it out and got back on a winning streak. Then our other star senior guard Keenan Evans hurt his toe, and that is when things started to unravel. Fans that have been following closely have seen how good we play at full health, and how much we regressed with a few injuries. The good news for Red Raider fans is that Zach Smith and Keenan Evans seem to have been getting healthier each game. And, hopefully with some rest are ready to be back close to full strength during March Madness.

Who are the players SFA fans should become familiar with over the next day and what are their advantages in this matchup?

Dan: As previously mentioned, all eyes should be locked on Keenan Evans. He has been in the national conversation as a top player since before his toe injury, and won a lot of awards. His first team All-Big 12 honors were just the start. When he is having a stellar game we seem to be impossible to be beaten. Texas Tech really does not have another guy on the roster that can finish like Evans. He is shifty and will find a way to get to the basket and score. Watch out, he will be the one you find yourself getting angry at the refs over; because he is crazy good at drawing a foul.

The rest of the supporting cast each have a distinctive role to contributing the on court success, but instead of going through each one know that lots of different players on the roster usually step up to assist Evans. Two other names to be aware of are the stud frosh Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver.

Zhaire will amaze you with his rim protection and finishing in the paint. His freakish athleticism is almost unnatural. Culver on the other hand is very long and can light it up from anywhere on the court to go along with being an excellent ball handling talent.

What do you like about this matchup and what do you not like?

Dan: What I like is easy, our strength is defense and the “Jacks are not that great of an offensive team. Just like a mirror image, what I don’t like is that we struggle on offense and SFA thrives on the defensive end of the floor.

Basically, I like that SFA is probably not going to come out and hit an absurd amount of three-pointers. Texas Tech tends to do poorly against is a great outside shooting squad. If the Lumberjacks can get on fire from beyond the arc it will give Texas Tech fits.

What I don’t like is that SFA is efficient in turning games into track meets. Even with a deep roster and fresh legs, when the Red Raiders start to get going fast on offense things go wrong. A calm steady motion offense is what we want to see, it scares me that SFA is so disruptive on defense.

How much attention does basketball get in Lubbock this time of year, despite being such a football-centered culture?

Dan: With the football team being on a decline, and the basketball program being on such a roll… the Texas Tech fans have been amazing in supporting the success of the program. ESPN Gameday visited campus in Lubbock this year for the Tech versus Kansas contest. Fans and students went above and beyond to come out and cheer this team for that game, and were there all season long doing what they could to give us a huge home court advantage.

Texas Tech basketball and even baseball might not have all the glamour that football does in West Texas. Yet, you will find that Red Raiders are equally passionate about all their sports programs. We don’t discriminate when it comes time to celebrate a sports victory. 

What is your prediction for Thursday?

Dan: I have the feeling that Texas Tech has been waiting all season for this moment in the NCAA Tournament on the national stage. Matching up with a another Texas school in Dallas for Round 1 is an opportunity for this game to have a huge crowd on hand to make it an unbelievable atmosphere. I am a homer, and have to pick Tech in this one by about 12 points. I think it will be a good one, but Tech will be too much down the stretch in the last 6 minutes. But, no matter what happens in the game the Red Raiders and the Lumberjacks can definitely go grab a beer together after and have a good time in Dallas.   

Discussion from...

Behind Enemy Lines: SFA/Texas Tech Q&A with Staking the Plains

cboothe09
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"Not that great an offensive team"? Ummm, maybe not a traditional half court offense, but we can still score a few points. Also, sounds like they are poo pooing our three point abilities. Not stellar as a team, but Ivan, Ty, and Shannon are more than capable of knocking down a few triples...
nacluth
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...and Kevon's 8 in a game.
cboothe09
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I knew I was leaving someone out...Tech is good, but my confidence is growing...
edstile
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It's Tech's many trips to the Big Dance over the last five years and their many wins there, plus the fact that SFA has not been there and has no wins there over that last five years that really, really have me worried.

Wait, what's that you say? Oh... Never mind...
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