Texas Tech basketball: Best dynamic duos in Red Raider history

LUBBOCK, TX - FEBRUARY 04: The Texas Tech Red Raiders mascot "Raider Red" cheers with the student section before the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers on February 04, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - FEBRUARY 04: The Texas Tech Red Raiders mascot "Raider Red" cheers with the student section before the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers on February 04, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /
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These top duos in Texas Tech basketball history helped carry their teams to March, and in some cases, they became part of teams that we still discuss to this day.

Basketball is all about star power.  With only five players on the floor per team, one or two individuals can have a greater impact on the game than individuals in football or baseball.  And when you have a pair of stars, you often have the makings of greatness.  Texas Tech basketball fans have seen their share of dynamic duos over the years but in recent weeks, we’ve been reminded of the greatest tandem to ever take the court together.

The recently aired ESPN documentary The Last Dance about the 1998 Chicago Bulls brought Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen back into the spotlight of American sports.  And it reminded us just how special that pairing of legends was.

Together, Jordan and Pippen led the Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s.  What’s remarkable is that during those six championship seasons, the Bulls had just one losing month.  They went 7-8 in January of 1993.

Another amazing fact is that only twice were Jordan and Pippen pushed to a Game 7 during their six championship seasons.  The first was in the 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks and the second was in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.  When they had a chance to put a team away, the did so with cold-blooded tenacity.

The list of their combined accomplishments is impressive.  Between them are 6 championships, 6 Finals MVPs, 5 MVPs, 15 All-NBA Teams, 1 Defensive Player of the Year, 17 All-Defensive Teams, and 15 All-Star Teams.

They also played in an era when it seemed like having just two superstars was the magic formula that teams believed would carry them to the top.  Today, NBA teams try to create rosters with three, four, or even five all-stars and that’s made the game less competitive and far less interesting.

But in the Jordan/Pippen days, they went head to head with some of the best duos in the history of the NBA.  Most notable was the Utah Jazz tandem of Karl Malone and John Stockton who hold the NBA record for most wins as teammates with 906.  Twice they tried to topple Jordan and Pippen in the finals (1997 and 1998) and both times, they fell in six games.

Before there was Shaq and Kobe, there was Shaq and Penny.  Though the Orlando Magic’s run was brief because of injuries to guard Penny Hardaway and the loss of Shaquille O’Neal to the Lakers in free agency, they were once thought to be the duo that would end the Jordan/Pippen dynasty.  They did take down the Bulls in the 1995 playoffs, the year that Jordan only played a month of games in the regular season after spending two seasons playing baseball, but they were then unceremoniously swept out of the 1996 playoffs by a revenge-fueled Bull’s team.

The team that gave the Bulls the most fits in the 90s was the Knicks, who featured Patrick Ewing an John Starks.  That duo checks in at No. 29 on Bleacher Report’s list of the greatest duos in NBA history.  The Bulls and Knicks met six times in the playoffs from 1989-1996 with Jordan and Pippen getting the upper hand five times.

Other all-time duos that couldn’t stop Jordan and Pippen included Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns (No. 23 on the Bleacher Report list) who lost to the Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals, Gary Peyton and Sean Kemp (No. 17 on the BR list) of the Seattle Supersonics, who lost to the Bulls in the 1996 Finals, and Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars (No. 7 on the BR list) of the Detroit Pistons, who did beat the Bulls in the playoffs only to be overtaken atop the NBA hierarchy by Jordan and Pippen in 1991 when the greatest duo in history reached their peak.

It was beyond enjoyable for children of the 1990s such as myself to revisit the Jordan/Pippen majesty during The Last Dance.  So let’s do the same with Texas Tech basketball and look back at some of the best Red Raider dynamic duos of all time because, after all, we have nothing better to do when it comes to sports these days.

The difference in the college game though is that star duos often play together for only a season as one or both typically head to the professional ranks after their big season.  It’s for that reason that duos aren’t as celebrated in the college game.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll look at the best one-season duos that Texas Tech basketball has ever produced.  We will also give preference to the tandems that were clearly the two best players on that year’s squad.  So, for instance, we won’t have any from the Chris Beard era because his teams have never had a clear-cut second-best player on the team.  Instead, Keenan Evans got about the exact same support from Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, and a year later, Culver was the man while Matt Mooney and Davide Moretti had similar seasons to help carry the load.

We will also focus only on seasons in which Tech made it to the NCAA Tournament.  So with that said, let’s dive into our list of the best duos in Texas Tech basketball history.  And we will begin with a year in which Tech got to the NCAA Tournament almost entirely on the backs of two players.