Three games into the Big 12 conference basketball schedule, the Red Raiders have a 1-2 conference record. That may not sound promising, but don’t kid yourself, this Red Raider team is good, really good. In fact, this is the best Red Raider team since the Bob Knight years. Saturday night, the Red Raiders hung with the #1 Kansas Jayhawks for 38 minutes before the Jayhawks were able to pull away with a couple of minutes remaining in the game. Until that game, I questioned how good this team was. After watching them get the better of Kansas for a couple of long stretches, I am convinced they are good enough to get into the NCAA tournament. Prior to the season, I thought the NCAA tournament was a pipe dream and would have been satisfied with an NIT bid, but now I feel like an NIT bid would be a letdown.
That being said, getting into the NCAA tournament will not be easy for the Red Raiders. The Big 12 is the best conference in the nation. The Big 12 has 4 Big 12 teams in the top 20 (AP Poll) and the top 2 teams in the nation ( #1 Kansas & #2 Oklahoma). Historically, teams with less than a .500 conference record do not get invited to the tournament, so based on that the Red Raiders need 8 more wins to get a bid to the NCAA tourney. What is it going to take for the Red Raiders to get those wins?
- Consistent scoring: The team’s leading scorer, Devaugntah Williams, has gone cold the last two games. The Red Raiders offense isn’t good enough to win many games without him hitting double digits most games.
- The Temple of doom: Matt Temple has been a godsend, especially with Isiah Manderson deciding to transfer earlier this fall. He needs to continue to give the Red Raiders quality minutes behind Norense Odiase and stay out of foul trouble. Relying on Aaron Ross to provide minutes behind Zach Smith and Odiase isn’t a recipe for success for the Red Raiders, so Temple has to continue to improve and work to stay out of foul trouble.
- Steal some road games: The Red Raiders will have to get a few wins on the road. Having lost to Kansas at home and assuming they lose at least one more, they will have to figure out how to win a couple of road games. The most winnable road games appear to be Kansas State and TCU. Funny enough those are the next two road games with a home game versus Baylor sandwiched in between them. The Red Raiders need to win 2 of these 3 games to stay on pace for an NCAA tournament bid.
- Limiting/Forcing mistakes: As I mentioned above, this Red Raider team is not an offensive juggernaut. They typically get scoring through good offensive possessions with plenty of passes and someone getting a hot hand during the course of the game. They don’t have a superstar offensive player that can be leaned on every game. However they make up for their lack of raw scoring prowess by limiting turnovers and playing very solid defense leading to forced turnovers.
My midseason prediction: Ultimately, at the end of the regular season the Red Raiders will be a bubble team. Then an NCAA tournament bid hinges on their performance in the Big 12 tournament. If they can win at least two games in the Big 12 tournament, they will get to the Big Dance. I think they get it done. I don’t know why or how, but I just have a feeling about it. For the first time in a long time, it is really fun to watch a Red Raider basketball team….maybe that’s why I am inclined to think they get it done.
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