Texas Tech basketball: Kansas State much better than last meeting

LUBBOCK, TX - JANUARY 05: Jarrett Culver #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders handles the ball against Xavier Sneed #20 of the Kansas State Wildcats during the first half of the game on January 5, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - JANUARY 05: Jarrett Culver #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders handles the ball against Xavier Sneed #20 of the Kansas State Wildcats during the first half of the game on January 5, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

Tonight, the Texas Tech basketball team travels to Manhattan, Kansas to take on a Kansas State team that is playing much better basketball than when the two teams met in Lubbock earlier this month.

In the ultra competitive Big 12, seventeen days can feel like an eternity.   That reality will be on display tonight when the Texas Tech basketball team faces Kansas State for the second time in two-and-a-half weeks.

On January 5th, Tech handed the Wildcats a 63-57 loss in Lubbock dropping them to 0-2 in the Big 12.  But in the time since, KSU has rattled off four-consecutive wins and is arguably the hottest team in the conference.

In their first game after their trip to Lubbock, the Cats served last place West Virginia a 71-69 loss  before knocking off a pair of ranked teams on the road in Iowa State and Oklahoma (both of which were ranked No. 20 at the time).  This past Saturday, Bruce Weber’s team dispatched TCU 65-55 at home to move into a first place tie with Tech and Kansas at 4-2 in the league (though Kansas now sits at 5-2 after Monday night’s win over Iowa State).

So what has changed for the Wildcats?  To put it simply; their best player has returned with a vengeance.

After missing six games with a foot injury, including the first three conference games of the year, preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Dean Wade is back on the court and causing problems.  The versatile 6-foot-8 forward has averaged 18 points per game in his last two contests giving what was one of the worst offenses in the league in his absence a much-needed scoring threat.

In the January 5th meeting, Kansas State went the first 7:29 without scoring and the first 10:47 without a made field goal falling behind 17-3.  Though they would fight back in the second half to pull to within four points, they finished the game just 19-57 from the field and 4-23 from 3-point range.

But Texas Tech fans should not expect a similar showing from KSU on their home court.  And if the Red Raiders hope to prevail, they will not only have to slow Wade, they will have to do a better job on the speedy Wildcat guards.

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Earlier this month, KSU’s staring guard tandem of Barry Brown Jr. and Cartier Diarra combined for 27 points as their ability to get into the paint caused problems for the Red Raiders in the second half.  Tech is coming off a game Saturday against Baylor that saw the Bears also break down the Red Raider defense with dribble penetration, which is concerning heading into tonight’s game.

Leading the Wildcats with 15.4 points per game, Brown is a handful for any team.  Prior to Saturday’s game with TCU, he had three-consecutive 20-point games averaging 25.6 points during that span.  In Lubbock he had 16 points and it will be imperative that Tech keeps him out of the lane.

Two wildcards for the home team tonight will be forward Xavier Sneed and guard Kamau Stokes.  The former is averaging 10.4 points per game and had 18 on Saturday but managed just four in Lubbock.  Meanwhile, Stokes has eleven double-digit games this year and has seen his productivity increase in the past two weeks as he also works his way back from a foot injury.

On the other end of the court, Tech simply must be more efficient.  That begins with taking care of the basketball.  In the first meeting this year, the Red Raiders committed 19 turnovers and unfortunately, that has continued to be an issue for Chris Beard’s team which gave the ball away 17 times in Waco Saturday night.

Getting quality shots is tough against a Kansas State team that is allowing the fewest points of any team in the Big 12 during conference play.  KSU has given up just 62 p.p.g. and with Wade back on the court, they are even better defensively than they were in Lubbock when they held Tech to just 63 points (29 in the second half).

CBS Sports basketball insider John Rothstein points out that Wade’s presence has resulted in a decrease of 8.6 points per game for KSU’s opponents since his return.  That is troubling for a Red Raider team that has been very limited offensively this year.

Two areas to watch closely tonight will be rebounds and free throws.  KSU ranks just eighth in rebound margin in conference games and Tech is right behind at ninth so if one team has a decided advantage in that area tonight, it could tilt the scales.  Again, Wade could be a huge factor here as he leads KSU with 6.8 boards per game.

At the charity stripe, Tech may have an advantage.  The Red Raiders are second in the Big 12 at 74% overall in league play (though memories of the 6-15 nightmare against Iowa State are still fresh)  while KSU is shooting 67.6%.  Thus far, Tech’s averaging 20.5 foul shots in league play while KSU is shooting just 17, second-fewest in the conference.

But the home team usually gets the benefit of the doubt from the officials. In Lubbock, that was the case as Tech attempted 31 free throws while KSU shot 24.  It will be imperative for the Red Raiders to be aggressive offensively and drive to the basket putting the onus on the officials to make calls in what will almost certainly be a classic Big 12 brawl.

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Trying to break a two-game losing streak at Bramlage Coliseum will be extremely difficult.  But we have seen Texas Tech fall victim to a desperate team in the same situation last week when Iowa State came to the United Spirit Arena and stopped their own two-game tumble.  But if Tech is to do the same tonight, they will have to earn it because Kansas State is fully healthy and playing as well as any team in the conference.