Panthers hit road, take on Texas Tech

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Texas Tech has not exactly been a powerhouse in basketball, but the Red Raiders did have some success under the direction of coach Bobby Knight from 2001-2008.

Knight took the Red Raiders to four NCAA tournaments in eight years, or the same number of tournament appearances they had in the 27 years prior to his arrival.

But since Knight retired, the program has fallen back to hard times, has not been to the NCAA tournament and worse, has had four head coaches since the start of the 2010-11 season.

The fourth is Tubby Smith, who has made a career of turning around tough situations and the school's administration is betting that he has one more reclamation project in him before he retires.

Scouting report
 
Matchup: Pitt (4-0) vs. Texas Tech (4-1), 7:30 p.m. today, Progressive Legend's Classic semifinal, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

TV, Radio: ESPN2; KDKA-FM (93.7).

Pitt: Is 1-0 vs. Texas Tech. ... Is playing first game away from Petersen Events Center. ... F Durand Johnson is coming off a career-high 15 points in win vs. Lehigh. ... Is 4-0 for the 15th time in 16 seasons. ... Has four players from the New York area.

Texas Tech: Is on two-game winning streak. ... Long-time coach Tubby Smith is in his first year with the Red Raiders. ... Smith has a record of 515-227 in just over 22 seasons and led Kentucky to the 1998 national championship. ... Leading player is F Jordan Torbert (14.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg).

Hidden stat: Pitt is 42-20 in games played in the New York area since 2000-01.

Smith, 62, has won 515 games and successfully rebuilt programs at Tulsa, Georgia and Minnesota and won a national championship as coach of the Kentucky Wildcats. Texas Tech hired him in April.

The Red Raiders are off to a 4-1 start this season and tonight they will play Pitt (4-0) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in the first game of a doubleheader in the Progressive Legend's Classic.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he has never faced a team coached by Smith, but he knows Smith's reputation and expects Texas Tech to give the Panthers a stiff challenge.

"I anticipate them playing some zone, but we will prepare for everything," Dixon said. "I never really played against one of Tubby Smith's teams, but I've always heard to expect a lot of man-to-man defense, physical hard-nosed defense and unselfish play from his teams.

"And the times I have watched Texas Tech this year they have been a physical team with good size, good strength and some older guys. I think [he has put his stamp] on that program, the way they are playing hard-nosed defense and they seem to be sharing the ball and running his sets."

The Red Raiders, like Pitt, have four wins against inferior competition. Unlike the Panthers, they have been tested once as they played on the road against Alabama Nov. 14 as part of the Big 12-SEC challenge. Alabama won, 76-64.

This will be the Panthers' first game of the season outside of Petersen Events Center and also their first game against an opponent from a major conference.

Pitt guard Cameron Wright said that although the team would obviously prefer playing at home, they are looking forward to this challenge of playing in a different arena against a good opponent.

"I've been to Brooklyn before, it is a great place, a great atmosphere and I love New York City so we are looking forward to get back there," Wright said. "We are definitely looking forward to playing better competition, but we approach every game the same way. We still have a game plan, we prepare every game as we are playing the greatest team ever."

Although Smith inherited a struggling program and is the fourth coach in as many years (after Bob Knight, the Red Raiders were led by his son Pat Knight, then Billy Gillispie and Chris Walker), he didn't get a total mess. The Red Raiders have four returning starters, including Jaye Crockett, who led the team in scoring in 2012-13.

Crockett, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, is second on the team in scoring (12.8 ppg) and he is also second in rebounding (6.4 rpg) and assists (1.8 apg).

Junior forward Jordan Tolbert has been the Red Raiders' top player as he leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg). He also is shooting 67 percent from the floor (33 of 49).

Smith was fired after in the spring by Minnesota despite leading the Gophers to five 20-win seasons, a record of 124-81 and three NCAA tournament berths in six years.

He has an overall record of 515-227 (.694) in a little more than 22 seasons as a coach and has been to the NCAA tournament 17 times, including leading the Kentucky Wildcats to a 35-4 record and the 1998 national title.

The winner of the Pitt-Texas Tech game will play Tuesday in the championship game at the Barclays Center against the winner of the other game in the doubleheader, Houston (5-0) vs. Stanford (4-1). The losers of the two games will meet in a consolation game.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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