Kansas continues what is shaping up to be a brutal conference schedule with a visit from a red-hot Texas Tech Red Raiders team that just upset West Virginia earlier I the week. To help prepare us for what we are about to see tonight, I touched base with Kyle Jacobson from Viva The Matadors. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: After losing Tubby Smith to Memphis, what kind of expectations did the Texas Tech fan base for this season?
VTM: Expectations remained about the same as where they left off last season. We certainly don’t have top tier talent like Kansas, but we’re good enough to win enough games to earn an NCAA tournament invite. Even with a new coach, we returned a lot of key players and brought in Chris Beard as our new head coach, who took Arkansas Little Rock to the tournament as a 12 seed and won in the first round last March. So that’s pretty much our realistic hope/expectation for this season: earn an NCAA tournament birth. Anything beyond that is gravy.
RCT: Prior to the game against West Virginia, it was fair to say that the Red Raiders had failed to play anyone, given the fact that they literally have the worst nonconference strength of schedule in division 1 basketball, according to KenPom. How did that victory change (or validate) your opinion of this team?
VTM: We got a good road test against Iowa State last weekend, which was easily the best team on our schedule to that point. We blew a 14 point lead in the second half so there were positives and negatives to take away from it. It was awesome that we had such a lead but perhaps is a testament to our lack of experience closing against good teams that we didn’t close it out. There was a lot uncertainty before the Iowa State and West Virginia games, so playing step for step with each of them validated that we can compete with the gauntlet that is the Big 12.
RCT: How much has this team changed since last year? Who are the main contributors?
VTM: I think the greatest change has been in personnel. Chris Beard brought in a handful of transfers who could play right away, so the makeup of the roster was immediately infused with new faces. Our main contributors are Anthony Livingston (one of the aforementioned transfers), Zach Smith (a freakishly athletic forward who makes a name by swatting shots and nearly breaking the rim) and our point guard Keenan Evans, who has emerged as a reliable scorer. However, no one individual truly sticks out among the rest. The team is very balanced and there’s not much of a drop off between the first unit and the bench players who rotate in. Our best big man, Norense Odiase, is questionable to play against Kansas due to injury.
RCT: Which matchup is key for this game?
VTM: I think the key matchup is actually between the two coaches. Let’s face it, Texas Tech is not as talented as Kansas and has no business strolling into Lawrence and getting a win. If we’re going to pull off the upset (or even keep it close, really), it’s going to take a great game plan and excellent game management from Chris Beard. So far, I’m skeptical of him in close games. Like I said, we blew a 14 point lead against Iowa State (which isn’t all on the coach, but still) and didn’t call a timeout with a few second left in regulation against West Virginia that could have been used to draw something up and avoid overtime.
RCT: Let's say that Texas Tech pulls what would be a fairly significant upset. Recap the main things that happened to make that possible.
VTM: It starts with building off two of our strengths, improving a weakness, and a little bit of scheduling luck. Tech has a high 3-point field goal percentage so far, and getting hot from behind the arc is always a huge bonus. We also limited turnovers against “Press Virginia.” We’ll need every possession possible to match the Jayhawks. That leads to a weakness from the West Virginia game, which was that we didn’t rebound well enough and gave the Mountaineers a bunch of second chance points. You simply can’t get away with that against good teams. Lastly, Tech will surely benefit at least somewhat from a less-rowdy-than-usual atmosphere in Lawrence, with many students still gone from campus before the spring semester. If all that goes right, we just might pull it off.
RCT: Prediction Time! What do you expect to actually happen? Who will be the high scorer?
VTM: I’m predicting somewhere in between a blowout and a close loss, maybe a 12 or 15 point win for Kansas. I think we’re good enough to avoid a total meltdown (knock on wood) but also don’t see us being competitive for 40 minutes against Kansas on the road. I’ll say somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-65 in favor of the Jayhawks.
RCT: Bonus - Help us settle a big debate. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Defend your position.
VTM: No, I don’t think so. Sandwiches typically have sliced or shredded meat in between the bread (i.e. hamburger patty, sliced ham or turkey, bacon stips, sloppy joes, pulled pork). A hot dog obviously doesn’t meet this criteria. However, I have eaten a hot dog sandwich before, which is sliced hot dog franks put on sliced bread. That does qualify as a sandwich.
A big thanks to Kyle for helping us out. Don't forget to check out the questions I answered for him as well.