You would think a coach with a history of winning such as Tubby Smith wouldn’t need to do much to inspire his players.
For the most part, Texas Tech’s Smith probably had instant respect before this season began, his first with the Red Raiders.
But he had to get senior forward Jaye Crockett on board, Smith said, so that the rest of the team would follow. Smith is Crockett’s fourth coach at Tech and had to be spinning when another coach, albeit a legendary one, was coming through the door.
“It starts with him, I think,” said Smith, who has helped the Red Raiders (13-12, 5-7 Big 12) become a pesky thorn to the league’s powers this season. “He was the one you had to convince.”
Smith said he talked with Crockett about this being his final season and buying into a new coaching philosophy, again.
“I said, ‘Where do you want to go with this?’ ” Smith said. “And he has shown remarkable resiliency and coachability that is contagious. If your best player is willing to be led, then it makes a world of difference, and he has been a difference maker.”
The Red Raiders host No. 8 Kansas (19-6, 10-2) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at United Spirit Arena. Tech’s ability to beat tough league opponents at home, including Baylor and Oklahoma State, was backed up with a win at Oklahoma last week. Tech had won three consecutive games before losing at Iowa State on Saturday. The wins have helped bolster fan interest in Lubbock.
“It’s helped. Everybody likes a winner,” Smith said. “We’ve tried to reach out to the student body and spend time with them and do whatever we can to promote the games.”
Defense was a liability at ISU, but the team’s toughness, with the help of preseason drills designed to toughen players, has shown up during Big 12 play.
“We’ve been able to play better defensively,” Smith said. “We’re getting tougher. That’s what we’ve done well and if we can continue to recover from a poor defensive effort Saturday, then we’ll give Kansas a good run.”
Kansas coach Bill Self has noticed how hard the Red Raiders are playing under Smith.
“When Tubby says something [to players] he can back it up,” Self said. “ ‘Hey, this works, we’ve proven that.’ I think that gets kids’ respect.”
Smith’s team has already eclipsed last year’s Red Raiders under interim coach Chris Walker, who took over when Billy Gillispie resigned in September 2012 amid allegations he overworked the team. Last year, Tech finished 11-20 and 3-15 in the Big 12.
“They’re a lot better,” Self said. “They’re guarding and they’re patient offensively and they’re having a lot of fun. They play ridiculously hard. I mean, they’re really getting after it. I bet you they’re leading the league in floor burns.”
Baylor breaking out
Baylor has won three consecutive league games for the first time this season after Monday night’s overtime win against Oklahoma State in Waco.
Bears’ coach Scott Drew knows his team has to keep winning to have a shot at earning an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
“I think anytime you win, it does help with confidence,” he said. “Players are always in a better mood and more focused. Coaches are obviously more excited and I know fans are.
“Hopefully, we can build on that momentum.”
It’s not going to be easy for Baylor, which finishes with three of five on the road, including at West Virginia, Texas and Kansas State.
“We know we need to win a bunch of games, not just two,” Drew said.
Kansas center Joel Embiid, who has had a few nagging injuries, should play Tuesday at Texas Tech. Embiid, who is averaging 10.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, missed Saturday’s game against TCU.
“Joel practiced with us yesterday with no problem,” Self said. “We certainly anticipate him practicing [Monday] and playing [Tuesday].”
Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart will return from a three-game suspension Saturday when the Cowboys host Texas Tech at 12:30 p.m. in Stillwater, Okla.
OSU coach Travis Ford said Smart has handled the ordeal well and has led the scout team during practice.
“I’ve been proud how he’s handled it,” Ford said. “He’s played probably his best practices he’s had all year long.
“His attitude has been good. We’ve continued to talk to him, mentor him and counsel him during this whole situation.”