Tonight, the Texas Tech basketball team will face no. 4 Texas in Austin and these individual matchups will be key.
If the Texas Tech basketball team is going to be a serious contender for a top-4 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, it is going to have to reverse a surprising recent trend. It is going to have to stop losing to ranked teams.
Dating back to last season, Chris Beard’s program has dropped eight of its last ten games against top-25 teams. That includes matchups this season with then no. 17 Houston and then no. 6 Kansas.
Tonight brings another opportunity for Tech to get back to being the hunter rather than being the hunted as the no. 15 Red Raiders get their shot at taking down no. 4 Texas in Austin. But toppling Shaka Smart’s veteran team on their home floor will not be easy.
The Horns are 10-1 overall and 4-0 in Big 12 play. Already this season they have secured victories over Indiana, North Carolina, Kansas, and West Virginia to create a strong resume.
But there have been quite a few close calls for UT. In the second game of the year, they squeaked by Davidson 78-76. Likewise, their victory over the Tarheels was just a two-point affair 69-67. Just prior to Christmas, they won a one-score game against Oklahoma State 77-74. And last week, they hit a shot in the final five seconds to secure a come-from-behind win over West Virginia in Morgantown 72-70.
So while their 84-59 thrashing of Kansas in Lawrence is what opened most eyes around the nation and vaulted them into the top 5, they have not steamrolled through their schedule the way teams like Baylor, Michigan, and Gonzaga have.
How you interpret all of Texas’ close wins is up to you. On one hand, one could deduce that they are ripe for the picking as their propensity for living on the edge may soon bite them in the rear. However, some may see it as a sign that when it comes to crunch time, the Horns are steeled enough to make the type of plays that are required to pull out tight contests.
What makes Texas such a tough team in those close games is their experience. Of the ten players on their roster averaging at least ten minutes per game, six are either juniors or seniors and all of those upperclassmen have been in the program for multiple years. By contrast, Tech is relying on only four upperclassmen and of that group, the only one with multiple years of experience playing for Beard is Kyler Edwards. Advantage Texas.
This is a game that most expect to be close. The ESPN.com matchup predictor gives the Red Raiders a 50.6% chance at emerging victorious but with a margin that small, it’s likely that this game is going to be a coin flip.
So let’s go inside the individual matchups and take a look at which Red Raiders will need to step up tonight. And we will begin by looking at two guards that can take over any game.