After another nice-if not quite name-brand glamorous-win, it’s time to ask: what to make of Texas Tech this year?
Before digging into the subject, it should be noted that just the presence of this question in the first place is a compliment to the Red Raiders. For the years since Bob Knight left Lubbock have been tough; it’s going on nine years now since Tech made the NCAA Tournament, and in fact there has been just one tourney appearance of any kind (2010 NIT) since a first-round loss in the 2007 NCAAs.
The Red Raiders are now a very nice 10-1 after an impressive 85-70 win over Richmond on Tuesday. Tubby Smith’s team dominated, leading by as many as 20 and by double digits for the game’s final 31 minutes. The Red Raiders dominated the glass (43-20), had four in double figures and defeated a team that already this year has beaten Wake Forest, California and Northern Iowa. Good stuff all around.
Texas Tech has now piled up a nice stack of wins that some may scoff at but that could pay off in March. The win over the Spiders adds to a resume that includes victories over Hawaii and South Dakota State, plus the first blemish on Arkansas-Little Rock’s mark this year. Every one of those teams could easily be in the NCAA tourney and could have at least outside shots at at-large bids if they do well in their conferences.
On the other hand, Texas Tech has played exactly zero true road games so far this season. The closest were three neutral site games at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which brought a loss to Utah before wins over Mississippi State and Minnesota. Tech won’t play a road game until traveling to Iowa State on Jan. 6, and if that ultimately is the decider costing it an NCAA bid in March, it will be hard to mount much of a complaint. And while there are a lot of top 50-75ish wins right now, it’s also a fact that the Red Raiders are still looking for a win over a real marquee, glitzy name team.
The guess here? Don’t be surprised if Texas Tech hangs around for more than a little while. Seven players are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Devaugnta Williams (14.5 points per game). The Red Raiders are athletic, get to the line a lot and are good defensively, with a 38.5% defensive field goal percentage. Springy 6-8 forward Zach Smith helped Tech shut down Richmond star Terry Allen, keeping the Spiders’ top player scoreless well into the second half.
This shouldn’t be a repeat of TCU last year, when the Horned Frogs started off 13-0 against a low-rated schedule before going 4-14 in rugged Big 12 play. Don’t be surprised if the Red Raiders pick off some of the conference’s biggies at home. And as teams like Texas last year and Oklahoma State the last two years have shown, eight Big 12 wins can be enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.
- Normally a No. 1-ranked team getting beaten would be huge news. But Michigan State is obviously missing Denzel Valentine, as the Spartans barely defeated Oakland in overtime in their last game. That made their 83-70 loss at Iowa almost predictable. Mike Gesell scored 25 for the Hawkeyes, while MSU got a combined 38 points from Eron Harris and Matt Costello but just 14 from the other three starters and no more than seven from any other player.
- Also in the Big Ten, Purdue won at Wisconsin 61-55. A.J. Hammons carried the Boilermakers with 24 points off the bench.
- American Athletic Conference play opened with some road teams showing muscle. SMU stayed undefeated with a clutch 81-69 win at Tulsa. Also illustrating the new beginnings that conference play provides teams, Temple earned a good road win by defeating Cincinnati 77-70. The oft poor-shooting Owls made 50% from the field, which had Cincy coach Mick Cronin pretty peeved afterwards.
- Another AAC team scored a big non-conference road win, as Connecticut toppled Texas 71-66 behind 18 from Rodney Purvis. Important win for the Huskies-who missed some big out-of-conference chances early, and for the AAC when it comes time for at-large comparisons.
- Several ACC teams had close shaves before surviving. Most importantly, Florida State won at Florida 73-71 as Dwayne Bacon capped off a 24-point night with the go-ahead shot with under five seconds left. Big win for the Seminoles. Also: Miami (Fla.) led Princeton by just four with two minutes left before wrapping it up at the foul line for a deceiving 76-64 win, and Cat Barber (29 points) rescued North Carolina State again in a 72-66 win over Northeastern.
- Wake Forest won at LSU 77-71. Contrary to the prevailing hot take, if one has watched them play they realize the truth-the Tigers are not underachieving nearly as much as they are simply a flawed, very average college basketball team. Doesn’t matter that LSU has a projected NBA star or X number of McDonald’s All-Americans; two of the great things about college basketball are 1) high school domination does not automatically translate to college supremacy and 2) it takes more than one or two or even three players to make a team.
- Tennessee-Chatttanooga is now 11-2 after an 80-56 blowout of Lipscomb. Don’t lose track of the Mocs over the next two months.
- McNeese State’s home game against NAIA member Jarvis Christian (Texas) was postponed due to travel issues for the visiting team.
- The Big East opens league play with a doubleheader: Seton Hall at Marquette (7 p.m. EST, FS1) in what might be the game of the day, plus Georgetown taking on DePaul (9 p.m., FS1).
- In a stroll down memory lane, Syracuse and Pittsburgh face off now as ACC opponents (9 p.m., ESPN2).
- The Missouri Valley also tips off its conference double round-robin. The best of four games have Indiana State going to Evansville plus surprising Southern Illinois at Loyola (Ill.).
- Another conference opening play is the Sun Belt, which includes a good one with Georgia State at Texas-Arlington.
- After almost toppling Michigan State last week, Oakland now goes to Virginia to take on the Cavaliers.
- A Little 3 rivalry game in western New York has Niagara at St. Bonaventure in the teams’ 156th meeting.
- Finally, a good one to close the evening as Fresno State is at UNLV (11 p.m., ESPNU) in both teams’ Mountain West opener.
Enjoy your Wednesday, the sixth day of Christmas.