Texas Tech basketball: Red Raiders’ downward spiral leads to big-picture questions

MANHATTAN, KS - JANUARY 21: Keyontae Johnson #11 of the Kansas State Wildcats drives to the basket against Daniel Batcho #12 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first half at Bramlage Coliseum on January 21, 2023 in Manhattan, Kansas. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, KS - JANUARY 21: Keyontae Johnson #11 of the Kansas State Wildcats drives to the basket against Daniel Batcho #12 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first half at Bramlage Coliseum on January 21, 2023 in Manhattan, Kansas. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /

Saturday in Manhattan, Kansas, the Texas Tech basketball team continued its season from hell with yet another Big 12 loss, this time to No. 13 Kansas State.  The 68-58 defeat dropped Tech to 0-7 in league games, 0-10 in games against teams in the top 60 of the RPI, and just 10-9 overall.

It’s tough to find something new to say about this team.  That’s because this team refuses to give us anything in the way of new results.  It’s as if we are living in a nightmare that reoccurs twice a week, one that we can’t seem to wake from.

It doesn’t matter what type of game that the Red Raiders find themselves in, at least one aspect of the game seems destined to doom them.  This past week was a perfect example.

Tuesday, Mark Adams’ team put forth its best offensive showing of Big 12 play by shooting 50.9% from the floor and hitting 12 shots from 3-point range en route to 74 points against Baylor.  But the defense was nowhere to be found as the Bears shot 48.3% and turned the ball over just three times as they cruised to 81 points.

Then, on Saturday, Tech was actually able to slow down a high-powered Kansas State team and hold the Wildcats to 68 points.  However, The Red Raiders couldn’t muster enough scoring to come out on top in what was a classic Big 12 rock fight as they shot just 32.4% overall and a dreadful 5-12 at the free-throw line.

Shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, it doesn’t matter.  This team can’t find a way to pull out a win against a team in a major conference.

It’s apparent that this roster simply isn’t going to figure out what it takes to put a decent product on the court with any consistency this season.  In fact, if the Red Raiders can’t find a way to beat a West Virginia team that will come to Lubbock on Tuesday with a 1-6 Big 12 record, then it is more than possible that a winless Big 12 season could be in the cards.

That still seems a bit far-fetched though.  This team has enough individual talent on it to somehow scratch out at least one conference win.  After all, even the worst Texas Tech team in the Big 12 era, the 2011-2012 team, managed to stumble its way to one win in Billie Gillespie’s one and only season on the job.

Of course, just praying for one Big 12 win is a huge step in the wrong direction for a program that played for the National Title just four years ago and has reached the last four NCAA Tournaments.

That run is about to end in two months’ time.  But there won’t be a lack of offseason drama for Tech this spring.

However, this year’s postseason intrigue is likely to play out away from the court.  That’s where athletic director Kirby Hocutt and the powers that be (i.e. well-connected donors) will have to make a decision that could impact the near and long-term future of the program.  Should Adams be retained?

On one hand, it feels strange to be grappling with that question in just his second season at the helm.  However, recent Texas Tech history shows us that two seasons may be all we need to figure out if a head coach has what it takes to lead a program.

After two years of the Matt Wells disaster, Texas Tech football fans knew that a change was needed and after the 2020 season, Wells only narrowly escaped getting the ax.  As it were, he would find himself unemployed by the middle of his third season proving that the conclusions that were drawn about him after just two years were accurate.

It is a bit less clear-cut when it comes to Adams though.  Unlike Wells, who won only four games in his debut season, Adams had a wildly successful debut campaign.  Leading Tech to a 23-8 record and a trip to the Sweet 16, Adams won Big 12 Coach of the Year and seemed to prove the national doubters wrong.

However, this year has taken all the shine off of Adams.  His team’s struggles have led to criticisms of not his ability to build a roster but also his ability to maintain a program’s success.

Wells’ retention for the start of the 2021 season was not a program-killing move.  But that’s because, at that time, Tech football was essentially on life support.  The program had not had a winning season since 2015 and, to be honest, there was very little life left for Wells to extinguish in the first place.

Adams was handed a vastly different program to shepherd.  In fact, he was asked to keep alive the golden age of Tech hoops.

While he kept the fire burning last season, he’s essentially urinated all over it this season; perhaps not enough to put it all the way out but at least enough to lessen the flames and make the entire campsite smell rotten enough to drive people away, even if for only a temporary time.

Entering this season, Tech basketball had some serious momentum that it wanted to maintain and massive expectations from the fan base.  Now, after another humbling loss to a Big 12 program that has surpassed the Red Raiders in the Big 12 hierarchy (at least for now), the questions we must ask are starting to shift away from any thoughts about what might happen on the court and toward bigger, program-altering questions; the answers to which will determine whether Texas Tech basketball can maintain the place on the national scene that it fought so long and so hard to reach.