t’s time for the Texas Tech Red Raiders to grab a signature win.
The No. 15 Red Raiders (10-3, 3-2 Big 12) get two chances to pull it off, starting with Wednesday’s game with the No. 4 Texas Longhorns (10-1, 4-0) in Austin. Then, on Saturday, the Red Raiders host No. 2 Baylor (11-0, 4-0). The Bears won’t play during the week due to a COVID-19 pause at West Virginia. The belief is that Baylor will be ready to host Texas Tech.
But the Red Raiders can take care of that ‘signature’ win by besting the Longhorns, a team they’ve had great luck against in the past few seasons. While it’s just the fourth time the two teams will play each other as ranked teams, the Red Raiders have won five of the last six meetings, including the last two played in Austin (and this will be the Red Raiders’ last visit to the Frank Erwin Center, as the Longhorns get a new arena next season).
But, so far this year, the Red Raiders have failed to claim a Top 25 win in their only two opportunities.
In the season’s third game, the Red Raiders faced then No. 17 Houston in a neutral site game in Fort Worth, Texas, and lost, 64-53. Then, in mid-December, the Red Raiders had then-No. 5 Kansas at home and, despite chances to win that game down the stretch, fell, 58-57.
The Red Raiders’ only other loss was against Oklahoma State, an overtime loss in Big 12 action. A mental note — Texas Tech is 0-3 in games in which it is behind at halftime.
Otherwise, Texas Tech has won its other two Big 12 games and feasted on an array of Southland Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference schools in non-conference. Like most schools, the pandemic forced the Red Raiders to schedule .. and re-schedule … and re-schedule. So the stiffer tests that Beard typically schedules didn’t materialize, though the Red Raiders are ranked No. 13 in the KenPom rankings (Texas is No. 6).
Despite the relatively soft non-conference schedule, the Red Raiders have been a part of the AP Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls all season. But they’ve had trouble breaking into the Top 10.
A win over Texas or Baylor might just do it.
Like the past two years last year, Beard is trying to mix together an eclectic group of holdover talent (Kyler Edwards, Terrence Shannon Jr., Kevin McCullar), hot recruits (Micah Peavy, Tyreek Smith) and transfers (Mac McClung, Jamarius Burton and Marcos Santos-Silva). This year’s chemistry experiment is working better than last year’s, even with the departure of Nimari Burnett from the program last week. Burnett was the top player in Tech’s 2020 recruiting class, but he wasn’t playing that much.
Beard hasn’t been afraid to tinker with the lineup. After Edwards went scoreless against Kansas on Dec. 17, Beard slid him to the bench for Burton for a couple of games. Edwards earned that job back fast, and led the Red Raiders with 19 points in their last game against Iowa State.
The return of McCullar also impacted the lineup. The sophomore missed nine games with a high ankle sprain, and after he returned Beard started him on the bench and eventually put him in the starting lineup, flipping Terrence Shannon Jr. and Micah Peavy back and forth between the bench and starting lineup. McCullar is averaging 10.3 points after four games.
The change of scenery appears to be agreeing with Shannon, who is a potential early entry into the NBA Draft. He had 22 points off the bench against Kansas State last week. He then scored 11 points and dished out 6 assists against Iowa State. For the season he’s averaging 13.6 points per game.
If the starting lineup Beard played against Iowa State holds against Texas, he may have found the right mix. McClung is the team’s leading scorer (15.3), Santos-Silva is the team’s leading rebounder (6.2) and Edwards is the veteran leader and best passer (3.0 assists per game). McCullar and Peavy bring young energy to the starting lineup. Then, Shannon gives them a jolt of offense off the bench. Burton can provide quality defense. And Smith is starting to carve out a bench role as a frontcourt player.
It’s a quality mix of eight players that can be dangerous in the Big 12 Tournament and beyond.
Now, they have a chance to prove it against Texas.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard. Send him a tweet with your question to be included in this week’s Big 12 Basketball Mailbag, which appears each Friday during the conference season.