Texas Tech basketball: Analyzing Red Raiders path through Big 12 Tournament

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) /

The Big 12 Tournament gets underway tonight.  Let’s take a closer look at the path the Texas Tech basketball team will have to travel in order to earn an automatic bid the the Big Dance.

For the first time since 2004, neither of the top two seeds at the Big 12 Conference Tournament will be the Kansas Jayhawks.  Instead, it’s the Red Raiders and Kansas State Wildcats that enter as the favorites.  With the Texas Tech basketball team playing its best ball going into the tournament, who do they need to be worried about this weekend?

Quarterfinal: Oklahoma/West Virginia

By the end of Wednesday, we will know who Tech will face tomorrow at 6 p.m.  The first round game between the No 10. seeded West Virginia and No. 7 Oklahoma will provide Texas Tech with their quarterfinal opponent.

West Virginia has been horrible this season after three straight second-place finishes in the Big 12 Tournament.  Injuries, suspensions and general chaos has been the dominant storyline for the Montaineers resulting in a 4-14 conference record.  But since going to a youth movement, Bob Huggins has finally seen his team begin to play hard and they have gone 2-2 in their last four games.

Meanwhile, the Sooners lost five straight Big 12 games at one point this season to sit squarely on the bubble.  But OU has pulled it together to win four of its last six games, including a home win over Kansas, to likely do enough to earn a NCAA Tournament bid.

This game will come down to guard play.  If the Sooners get the kind of play that they did against Kansas, they should come out ahead.  But they could be hurt by the health of center Jamuni McNeace, who is still dealing with a tender ankle that has bothered him all season after he initially sprained it way back in November.  That could be good news for West Virginia’s emerging star freshman forward Derek Culver.

The Red Raiders swept both teams in the regular season.  They’re more likely to face the Sooners who averaged 71 points in all games this season but couldn’t crack 60 against Tech in either meeting.  The first round bye should be a huge advantage for Tech over either OU or West Virginia and allow them to advance to the semifinals.

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Semifinal: Kansas/Texas

The Jayhawks are 22-8 and nationally ranked again this season.  But they started 10-0 and have been decidedly average since then.  Most notable in their recent swoon is the loss of senior guard Lagerald Vick who left the team for personal reasons.

While managing to have a perfect home record this year,  a mark of just 5-8 away from Lawrence snapped KU’s streak of regular season titles.  The X-factor this week could be how well the Jayhawk faithful can energize their team in Kansas City.  Will the Sprint Center be enough of a home court advantage to allow KU to play as well as they do at Allen Fieldhouse or will their struggles away from Lawrence continue despite being just 48 miles from home?

The Longhorns almost beat Kansas on the road and then did beat them in Austin.  However, life has been rocky for Shaka Smart and his team in recent days.

Texas was blown out by the Red Raiders in Lubbock last Monday and followed that up with a bad loss against TCU at home to conclude the regular season.  Now, many are speculating that the end of Shaka’s time in Austin is drawing near.  Will that be a distraction for his team or motivate them to put their best effort forward?  Also, will the return from suspension of leading scorer Kerwin Roach give the Horns enough juice to put together a run in K.C.?

Even though the Longhorns are the sixth seed, they sit 16-15 and need to beat Kansas and probably Texas Tech to solidify their NCAA Tournament hopes.  They are certainly the team with the most to play for in this matchup.  Neither one of these teams is playing very well right now and either one of them would be a favorable match-up for the Red Raiders in the semifinals.

Expect to see Tech face Kansas in the semifinals, which would be only fitting.  If the Red Raiders want to stake their claim to the Big 12, it only seems appropriate for them to do so by going though the Jayhawks.

Big 12 Championship: Kansas State/Baylor/Iowa State

The other side of the bracket should be entertaining.  And unless Oklahoma State or TCU make an improbable run to win three games in-a-row, Tech will likely have to face a team in the finals that has already defeated the Red Raiders this season.

The Wildcats started their Big 12 conference schedule 0-2 but have gone 14-2 since then to put themselves at the top of the standings with Tech and they enter as the No.1 seed.  Four of their starters are averaging double digits led by 6’3″ junior guard Barry Brown Jr’s 15 ppg.

Tech and KSU each won on their home floor this season.  You would imagine there will be a few more Wildcat fans in Kansas City, but with both teams playing well, this would be a great game for basketball fans.  However, if All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade does not play because of a nagging foot injury, it is hard to imagine KSU getting all the way to the finals.

The Bears are 18-11 and ten of those wins are by double digits.  That’s not too strange for a team that shoots as many three-pointers as they do – about 40% of their attempts.  When they get going from out there, they can score in bunches.  But if not, it’s a real struggle.

For the Red Raiders, defending the three-point line is something they do especially well.  Still, Baylor managed to shoot better than 35% in both games with Tech.  In a one and done format, the ability to hit three-pointers the way the Bears do makes them a dangerous team to face.  But their leading scorer, Makai Mason (a lethal 3-point shooter) is dealing with is own foot injury an though he will play, it is hard to imagine Scott Drew pushing him to play big minutes in three-straight games.

Iowa State has been a really solid team this year and has proven they can play with anyone.  They split against top seed Kansas State and just barely lost twice to Baylor.  However, they’ve lost six of their last eight.

They are solidly in the NCAA Tournament but I don’t see them advancing to the Big 12 Championship.  It feels like ISU unloaded all of their bullets Saturday against Tech.  Perhaps they found their missing sense of cohesion against the Red Raiders but it is hard to envision a team that has had two altercations among its roster in the last two weeks being able to fight all the way though the bracket.

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I find it hard to see anyone but Texas Tech and Kansas State meeting in the Big 12 Championship.  Of course, I’m giving the edge to Tech here but not just because this is a Red Raiders blog.  Tech enters fully healthy while Kansas State does not know what they will get from Wade and guard Cartier Diarra (who is questionable with a hand injury).  Additionally, the Red Raiders are playing their best basketball of the season and they should extend their win streak to 12 in Kansas City.