Texas Tech basketball: Red Raiders enter NCAA Tournament discussion

Feb 18, 2023; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders forward Fardaws Aimaq (11) drives against West Virginia Mountaineers forward James Okonkwo (32) during the first half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2023; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders forward Fardaws Aimaq (11) drives against West Virginia Mountaineers forward James Okonkwo (32) during the first half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports /

Two weeks ago, had anyone told me that I’d be writing this piece, I’d have laughed in their face.  But yes Texas Tech basketball fans, it is fair to start to have dreams of an NCAA Tournament bid next month thanks to a completely unexpected pivot in this season’s direction, a swing that continued in a positive direction Saturday with a 78-72 win over West Virginia in Morgantown.

Now, it is true that Tech still sits at just 4-10 in the conference race, tied with the Mountaineers for 8th place and ahead of only Oklahoma, the Red Raiders’ next opponent.  However, whereas three games ago there appeared to be no path to the Big Dance for Mark Adams and his team, there is now not only a visible route to the postseason but there is also a manageable set of upcoming games to potentially help thrust Tech into the field of 68.

Tech’s next two games are at Oklahoma on Tuesday night and home against TCU on Saturday and both of those games are opportunities for continued resume enhancement.  Yes, Tech did lose to both teams earlier in the year but those two meetings took place in the first three games of the conference season which was a lifetime ago given how Tech has improved since then.

Remember that when Oklahoma beat the Red Raiders 68-63 in overtime at United Supermarkets Arena, Tech was without the services of Pop Isaacs, Fardaws Aimaq, and Daniel Batcho yet the game was there for Tech to win in the closing minute when the Red Raiders needed only one stop to hold on to the lead.

What’s more, since then, OU has won only three total games.  Now, keep in mind that two of those wins came against then-No. 2 Alabama and then-No. 12 Kansas State with each taking place in Norman.

Still, the Sooners are not a good team.  They’ve dropped five of their last six games and four of those losses came by 10 points or more.  This is a game that any team that wants to consider itself NCAA Tournament-worthy should absolutely expect to win.

So too should be the home tilt with TCU.  Despite being the best team of the Jamie Dixon era in Fort Worth, the Frogs are only 7-7 in league play and have lost four of their last five games.

On the other hand, they are coming off of an impressive 100-75 home win over Oklahoma State.  The key in that game was the return from a three-week absence of star guard Mike Miles who is the catalyst of everything the Frogs do.  With 15 points on Saturday, he looked no worse for the wear and his presence makes TCU a vastly different team.

Regardless, Tech should be confident when having the Frogs in the Hub City.  After all, when these teams met in the Big 12 opener in late December, the Red Raiders held the lead for virtually the entire game before surrendering it with 3:41 to play.

The main takeaway is that this week has the potential to be a 2-0 week for Tech with what should be the easiest road game the league has to offer this season and a game against a team that is nowhere near the caliber of Iowa State, Kansas State, or Texas, the last three teams that have fallen at the hands of the Red Raiders in Lubbock.

Next week, Tech will have to suffer through its yearly loss in Lawrence when they travel to face the Jayhawks in their final home game of the year, a game that KU almost always dominates regardless of the opponent.   But then, the regular season concludes with a visit from an Oklahoma State team that managed to beat Tech by only three points in Stillwater on a fluky last-second putback in a game that Tech was without Isaacs or Aimaq.

In all, a 3-1 close to the regular season would put Tech at 7-11 in Big 12 play.  While that’s not sterling by any means, it is a respectable enough mark given that virtually everyone in the college basketball world considers the Big 12 to be the elite conference in the nation.

Already, many college hoops experts are taking notice of Tech’s recent run.  For instance, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla believes a 3-1 close to the regular season and a win in the Big 12 Tournament would be enough to get the Red Raiders into the NCAA Tournament.

Similarly, Patrick Conn of USA Today Sports writes of Tech’s resurgence following the win on Saturday.  Meanwhile, ESPN’s bracket expert, Joe Lunardi has Tech now in the conversation for a place in the field after the Red Raiders were nowhere near his radar for most of 2023.  According to Lunardi’s latest projection, which lists the first four teams left out of the field as well as the next four teams after that, Tech has climbed into the latter category.

On Twitter, the college basketball media network “The Field of 68” points out that Tech could get to seven league wins, which is the same number that was good enough to get Iowa State into the field last season.

Of course, many will point out, and rightfully so, that there is still a ton of work for Adams and his team to do over the next three weeks.  But that will sort itself out in time.

What might be more pertinent right now is to just consider what has happened over the past seven games dating back to the win at LSU in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.  In that stretch, Tech has gone 5-2 and nearly resurrected its season thanks to four Quad-1 wins.

Perhaps just as important is the fact that the Red Raiders have given us a reason to remain engaged in this season.  They have prevented the fan base from completely checking out and that will play a large role in the final two home games.  Also, the talk among the fanbase has quickly shifted from debates over whether or not Adams would earn a third year at the helm to whether or not he can guide his team to what would be the most improbable NCAA Tournament birth in program history.

February is the worst month on the calendar.  But for the Texas Tech basketball team, it has been a month that has seen the program do its best impression of Lazarus while almost overnight rewriting the story of this season.

While that all can change with one poor showing on Tuesday night, the fact is that there is a renewed hope in Raiderland and that’s something that no one saw coming.  Now, it is up to the Red Raiders to put the finishing touches on what would be a truly remarkable in-season resurrection.