Texas Tech aims for turnaround after 2 losing seasons
After two straight losing seasons - the only two in Smith's 24-year career - the third-year coach said he wants his team to finish in the top half of the Big 12 and to play in a post-season tournament.
The biggest challenge is getting his players to believe they can turn around the program.
''When you've struggled so long to win, like we have at Texas Tech, just changing the mindset and culture,'' Smith said. ''We're on the right track. We have the right kids on board. It's just a matter of time and continuous improvement from the skill set.''
Texas Tech, which finished at the bottom of the league last season (13-19, 3-15 Big 12), lost three seniors - including starter Robert Turner - and two left the program. Last season's five freshman, led by leading scorer Devaugntah Williams, have a year under their belts. Five of Smith's top six scorers return.
Smith, who will receive the 2016 John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching award in April, believes the team's 4-0 record during a tour in Canada this summer will benefit the Red Raiders.
''Mentally we're there,'' senior guard Toddrick Gotcher said.
Eight of Texas Tech's 11 nonconference games this season are at home.
Here are some things to know about the Red Raiders, who open their season at home Nov. 13 against High Point, Smith's alma mater:
Jordan Jackson, the son of Texas Tech and WNBA standout Sheryl Swoopes, is part of the Red Raiders' youthful squad. He's eager to step out from his mother's shadow and contribute to the team. ''As a freshman, playing at this level, I just want to come in and get better, just better myself,'' the 6-3, 180-pounder said. Smith says Jackson's athleticism will benefit the team, and he'll be one of three off the bench to spell starters. ''He's ready to step up and play at this level,'' he said.
Turner handled the duties last season, but the Red Raiders averaged 13.8 turnovers per game. Junior college transfer Devon Thomas, who committed late, could vie for the spot with returner Keenan Evans. Thomas, who averaged 16.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals at Cloud County Community College in Kansas.
FOCUS ON DEFENSE
Smith wants the team to be defense-minded. ''He wants us to be more defensive aware because last year we tried to outplay people,'' Gotcher said. ''But if we get stops and just play defense, that's how we're going to get our wins this year.''
MEN IN THE MIDDLE
Sophomore centers Norense Odiase (6-9, averaged 7 points last season) and Isaiah Manderson (6-10, 4.4 points) could have some help inside going into conference play if eligibility issues get cleared up for 6-10 Matthew Temple and 6-11 Rokas Ulvydas.
Even if Texas Tech has a losing season in conference play, Smith said, the goal this year is to notch the program's first winning season since 2009-10. ''We have better depth, we are better athletically, so we should have a winning season,'' he said.