There was no holiday hangover for the Texas Tech basketball team on Wednesday in Lubbock as the Red Raiders crushed South Carolina State 110-71. The game was the final tuneup before Saturday’s Big 12 opener at TCU and Tech appears to be playing its best basketball of the season thus far.
Kevin Obanor got off to a torrid start scoring 17 of his game-high 24 points in the first half thanks to five 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Daniel Batcho added 17 points and 7 rebounds in just 23 minutes on a night when every Red Raider starter had at least 13 points. Here are some quick thoughts on the final regular season game that Tech will play against an opponent from outside of a major conference.
Cupcake parade is over
Now that the Red Raiders are moving on to the Big 12 portion of the schedule, this year’s seemingly endless parade of cupcake opponents has come to an end. While that’s great for fan interest, one must wonder if that is going to be good news for Mark Adams’ team in the long run.
There is no way to sugarcoat the fact that this year’s non-conference schedule has been abysmal. Tech has faced only one ranked team and has yet to set foot in an opposing team’s home arena. In fact, all ten of the Red Raiders’ wins this year fall into the Quadrant-4 category (the weakest category that wins can fall into when being evaluated as part of the NET ranking system).
Again, the good news for fans is that Tech will now play 13 games against teams that fall in Quadrant-1 and six against teams in Quadrant-2. That should make for much more interesting basketball. However, given that Tech has yet to beat a team ranked higher than No. 164 in the NET rankings, no one knows how prepared this squad is for the gauntlet that is conference play.
Starting next year, Tech simply can’t afford to continue to set up its schedule this way One might be able to understand how there was a hesitancy to put this year’s young team into too many non-conference wars but that strategy has left the Red Raiders with tons of work to do in conference play. If Tech is going to get into the NCAA Tournament, it will have to do so by having a winning Big 12 campaign this year, something that is going to be a big ask of such a young and untested team.
Obanor stepping forward at the right time
This team features only one super-senior, Kevin Obanor. As the team’s most experienced player, the forward is going to have to be a consistent and calming presence for this team as the competition stiffens.
Fortunately, the Houston native is playing some of the best basketball of his career as the calendar flies toward 2023. Averaging 21.4 points per game in his last five outings, he’s topped the 20-point mark in all but one of those games.
While that type of scoring punch is unlikely to continue in Big 12 play, he does need to continue to be a reliable scorer for a team that starts two freshmen and has little in the way of offensive punch on the bench.
After hitting 5 of 8 shots from beyond the arc on Tuesday, he’s now shooting 39.5% from 3-point range this year. That includes multiple makes from long distance in four of his last five games, the stretch that coincides with his uptick in scoring. For Tech to reach its goals this year and make noise in March, that’s the type of Kevin Obanor that must be the norm for the rest of the season.
Who is Batcho’s backup?
One development that I’ve been keeping an eye on is who has received the bulk of the minutes as Daniel Batcho’s backup, at least until Fardaws Aimaq is ready to make his season debut. On Tuesday, that role went to undersized forward K.J. Allen who got 14 minutes off the bench scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds.
The other viable option to give Batcho some relief, true freshman Robert Jennings, saw 10 minutes of time scoring five points and pulling down six rebounds. But what was most telling was that that duo played only five total minutes in the first half when the game was relatively competitive.
What one truly has to wonder though is if either is a true option in Big 12 play. Or, will Adams try to go to a small-ball lineup with 6-foot-8 Obanor as the team’s biggest player on the floor when Batcho needs a breather or is in foul trouble?
Saturday, TCU will feature the very active 6-foot-11, Eddie Lampkin Jr., in the paint and he will be the toughest post player the Red Raiders have faced all season. Should Batcho find himself saddled with fouls or on the bench for any other reason, it could be a long day for the Red Raiders and that’s because, through 12 games, there still isn’t any indication that this team has a healthy backup for Batcho.
Isaacs under control
Remember early in the season when freshman guard Pop Isaacs was giving the ball away as if he were Santa Claus handing out presents on Christmas Eve? In his first three games, he gave the ball up 13 times as the game seemed to be moving a bit too fast for him.
Fortunately, that is an area in which he has greatly improved. In fact, in his last four games, he’s had only five total turnovers with three of those games seeing him lose the ball just once.
Now, the defensive pressure that Isaacs will see in conference play will be far greater than what he’s experienced in recent weeks. There’s no question of that.
However, it is an encouraging sign to see that this young player is starting to learn how to value the ball. That’s because, he is going to be one of the biggest X-factors for the Red Raiders for the rest of the season and as perhaps this team’s most gifted creator, he’s going to have the ball in his hands in some pressure-packed situations.