The Texas Tech Red Raiders have gotten off to a fast start this season, winning their first two games at home with relative ease. For a team that only mustered six non-conference wins last year this is a massive step in the right direction. There was not much roster turnover this season, as Texas Tech returns six of the top seven leading contributors from last season. However, there is one big change that is the catalyst in the Red Raiders’ red hot start: Tubby Smith.
Ever since legendary head coach Bobby Knight retired in 2008, the Red Raiders have failed to put a competitive team on the court. The team has not made postseason play since 2007, which was Knight’s last full season as head coach. The success enjoyed under coach Knight was short-lived as the Red Raiders hit rock bottom in the Big 12 Conference last season, going 3-15.
Predominantly a top-heavy conference, the Big 12 landed the master of reclamation projects in the form of Smith. In 22 years seasons as a Division I basketball coach, Smith has had 18 twenty-win seasons and is one of five coaches to win 365 games in 15 seasons or fewer. Smith is also one of five coaches to lead four different teams to the NCAA tournament.
Smith built a Missouri Valley Conference power in the form of the Tulsa Hurricanes and made the Georgia Bulldogs competitive in the SEC. After replacing Rick Pitino at Kentucky following the 1997 season, Smith won an NCAA championship in 1998 without a first team All-American or a future NBA lottery pick — a feat that had not been accomplished in twenty years. In Minnesota, Smith took a Golden Gopher team that went 9-22 the previous season and went 20-14. Smith has only missed postseason play three times in his illustrious career — twice in his first two years at Tulsa and in 2010-11 with Minnesota.
History bodes well for the Red Raiders moving forward. Tonight they play a tough Alabama Crimson Tide team. If Smith can land this early road win, it will do the Red Raiders wonders on their resume for March. An NCAA tournament berth would make Smith the second coach in NCAA history to take five different teams to the tournament, joining Oklahoma Sooners coach Lon Kruger.
It is too early to say that the Red Raiders are “back,” but they certainly have the potential to be tournament bound. Smith’s first ever recruit at Texas Tech, JUCO point guard Robert Turner has already made a big difference. In his first two games Turner has gone 5-for-8 from three point range. This may be a relatively short sample, but considering that the point guard position for Texas Tech shot an abysmal 17 percent from the perimeter last season it is a good sign.
Turner is not a shooting point guard. He was inked by Smith because of his ability to defend and orchestrate the offense as a facilitator. Solid shooting and decision making at the point guard position will be critical to determining the success of this program moving forward. Optimism should be running high in Lubbock, Texas with a new sheriff in town. As the record of 2-0 indicates, so far, so good.