It’s been a strange season for Texas Tech. Last year, Mark Adams, a longtime assistant and first time coach, led Tech to a 12-6 record in conference play and a Sweet 16 appearance. Early this season, things like they were still going well for the Red Raiders, finishing the non-con at 11-2, with their only losses coming to a tournament team in Creighton, and an Ohio State team that had not yet collapsed. Then league play started and things got rough, losing EIGHT straight games, albeit dealing with some injuries to start their Big 12 campaign. Sitting at 10-10 overall and 0-8 in the conference, it looked like Tech was definitively the worst team in the conference, with zero shot at making the tournament.
To be clear, Tech is still very much a long shot to end up in the tournament field. They’ve just racked up too many losses, sitting at 16-13 for the year, and 5-11 in the Big 12. However, they’ve started playing well enough recently to get some attention, and if just a couple of recent close games had gone their way, they might well be on the right side of the bubble. After that 0-8 start against conference opponents, they reeled off five wins in seven games, including takedowns of Iowa State, Kansas State, and Texas. Aside from winning the Big 12 tournament, Tech’s slim chance at making the field will require a win in Lawrence on senior night tonight. Much like the West Virginia game, KU gets a team from the bottom of the league at home, but the level of competition in the Big 12 this year means it’s still not an easy game, especially with Tech knowing that winning this game is really their only way to get back into the Selection Sunday conversation.
The first time these teams played was all the way back on January 3rd. Kansas came away with the win in Lubbock, but it didn’t come easily. KU developed a somewhat comfortable lead late in the 2nd half, only to see Tech come to life and make it a game. KU won 75-72 in a game where these two teams shot a combined 47% from three.
It’s very unlikely that Tech would as well as they did in Lubbock again tonight. They rank 7th in the Big 12 by hitting 31.6% from deep in league play, and threes aren’t a staple of Mark Adams’ teams. They’ve been more consistent inside the arc, but still sit 4th in the Big 12 in hitting 50.4% of their twos. They have been a strong offensive rebounding team, which is cause for some alarm. For most of the West Virginia game, the Jayhawks couldn’t seem to stop them on the offensive glass and allowed them to rebound 41% of their misses, a number that was even higher earlier in the 2nd half. Tech isn’t as dominant on the offensive boards as the Mountaineers are, but KU’s struggles in that area Saturday is cause for at least a minor concern. There isn’t much offensively that Tech does particularly well, with KenPom rating their offense 61st nationally, and WV sitting one spot out of last place in points allowed per possession. They turn it over a bit too much, they don’t shoot threes very well, they don’t get to the line especially often, and they’re middle of the pack at the free throw line anyway. Things have been clicking a little more lately, but Tech’s offense is not intimidating.
Defense is 2nd year head coach Mark Adams’ calling card. With that said, KenPom ranks them even with their offense, 61st nationally, in adjusted defensive efficiency. Things haven’t gotten any better since starting conference play, as they rank 9th in defensive efficiency, they don’t force many turnovers, they allow opponents to shoot 52% from two, and they allow a lot of offensive rebounds.
To be fair, Tech has been dealing with injuries. 6’11 French center Daniel Batcho has been hurt off and on, and has now missed five straight games. There has yet to be a definitive announcement regarding tonight’s game, but it’s safe to say that even if he plays, he’ll likely be restricted in minutes and will not be 100%. Starting guard Pop Isaacs is back in the lineup, but he missed seven straight games earlier in Big 12 play. Had those injuries not occurred, Tech might be on the right side of the bubble and be rated higher than 51st by KenPom. Other names you’ll hear tonight include Tech’s leading scorer, 6’8 senior forward Kevin Obanor, who hits 61% of his twos, and can stretch the floor by hitting 34% from three. De’Vion Harmon is a transfer who’s played for both Oregon and Oklahoma, and though he isn’t a great shooter, he is a skilled playmaker while limiting turnovers and generating steals on the other end. One more name to keep an eye on is sophomore wing Jaylon Tyson. He isn’t a high volume three point shooter, but in 95 attempts he’s hitting 42% from deep, and is among the team’s top rebounders.
Typically, at the end of February, if Kansas is at the top of the Big 12 standings and they get a home game against the 9th place team, you would able to breathe easy and expect a somewhat comfortable win. But Texas Tech is no ordinary 9th place team, as injuries to two starters and rough stretch in January are likely pulling their numbers down from where they’d otherwise be. KenPom only rates them as the 51st team in the country, but they’ve now won four out of their last five, including games against some teams near the top of the standings. When you factor in that a win in Allen Fieldhouse is just about the only thing Tech can do to get into the bubble conversation, it would be a mistake to assume an easy victory tonight.
With that said, there isn’t much that Tech does that really scares me. They don’t go after and force a lot of turnovers, so Dajuan Harris and his injured foot won’t be battling a pressure defense. We saw in January that Tech can get hot from three, but it’s not particularly likely and not something I’m too concerned about. Tech’s path to winning is most likely through a dominant effort on the offensive glass (something that nearly cost Kansas dearly Saturday), and shooting above their average. I just don’t see it all coming together for them. They don’t draw a lot of fouls, so KU’s more foul-prone players shouldn’t find themselves in as much of a hole as they have in recent games. Even if Batcho plays, Tech doesn’t really have the personnel to exploit KJ Adams’ lack of height at center. There just isn’t a particular area of the game you can point to and call it a major advantage for the Red Raiders. Plus, it’s senior night, and KU has won 39(!) straight on senior night. I’ll take the Jayhawks, who will clinch at least a share of the Big 12 title if they do, in fact, win this one.
Kansas 82, Texas Tech 70