Can Tubby Smith save Texas Tech?

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I couldn’t get anyone to say anything interesting about Tubby Smith. I thought this might hinder my efforts to write a feature about his first season at Texas Tech, until I realized something important..

Tubby Smith isn’t in the business of being interesting.

That’s part of what made him an ill fit at Kentucky, where the slowed-down style dubbed “Tubbyball” helped him win the 1998 national title that is still his calling card in coaching circles. It also got him on the bad side of Big Blue Nation, who howled with frustration watching prize recruit Rajon Rondo walking the ball up the court between 2005-2006. A couple of 12+ loss seasons put the writing on the wall, so Smith jumped to Minnesota before he could be pushed out.

Billy Gillispie followed Smith at Kentucky and preceded him at his current posting at Texas Tech. Gillispie’s antics in Lexington and Lubbock served very well to show fans that they could do worse than Orlando Smith… a lot worse.

Which begs the question: outside of Gillispiean context, is Tubby Smith a good coach? Is he what Texas Tech needs to survive the shark-infested Big 12?

I’m going to say yes, and I’m going to tell you why.

First of all, let’s look at the culture of Texas Tech over the past few years. The school has made national waves by hiring brilliant mavericks – Bobby Knight, Billy Gillispie and former football coach Mike Leach – and that’s been good and bad. Talented athletes have made their way to Lubbock and the school is a known quantity to recruits and fans. On the flipside, altercations between high-strung coaches and the players under their charge have added a powerful negative stigma to the headlines.

You’ve heard the saying “There’s no such thing as bad press,” but we might have to re-evaluate that statement from time to time. Tech’s reputation was damaged by those reports, which has affected the school’s ability to attract top talent of the coaching and athletic variety ever since.

From that vantage point, Tubby Smith looks like the safe choice. He wins, and he doesn’t cause controversy. He attracts positive attention. I mean, here I am writing about a program I tabbed to finish dead last in the Big 12 this season. That’s the Tubby effect.

source: Getty Images
Tubby Smith will bring joy back to the Texas Tech sidelines. (Getty)

And Tubby Smith wins games. His career mark of 511 wins to 226 losses (a .693 winning percentage) is somewhat distorted by that single national title, representing a career achievement that somehow detracts from every subsequent season in which he fails to approach the same lofty heights. He won at Tulsa, he won at Georgia and he won at Minnesota. He’ll win at Texas Tech, though not right away by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, I don’t expect Tubby Smith to work miracles in Lubbock. I’ll be impressed if he gets the Red Raiders to play better than .500 ball in the rugged Big 12 by the 2016 season. But he’ll bring in good players, he’ll win a few games, and he’ll lend an invincible aura of even-handed, avuncular fairness to the proceedings. He’ll rehabilitate the Texas Tech name and prepare it to take the next step under an up-and-coming younger man; perhaps current Tech assistant coach Pooh Williamson, who played under Smith at Tulsa. Maybe someone else.

For now, however, Smith is the Texas Tech program’s physical therapist: He’ll supervise those first slow steps toward recovery, and make sure his team doesn’t face-plant. Soon, he’ll have the program walking and even running.

Tubby Smith represents a positive view of the near future in Lubbock. He can, and likely will, have the Red Raiders back in the Big Dance some day, and that’s a pretty good carrot for a program that hasn’t been there since 2007.

If he wears a suit and smiles like your granddad and nobody says anything interesting about him along the way, is that really such a bad thing?

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.