Texas Tech basketball: Pop Isaacs is breaking out at just the right time

Omaha v Texas Tech
Omaha v Texas Tech / John E. Moore III/GettyImages

All offseason, Texas Tech basketball fans looked forward to the sophomore campaign of sharp-shooting guard Pop Isaacs. However, since the start of the season, there has been something off in his game. Fortunately, on Thursday night, the Las Vegas, Nevada native had the type of breakout performance that we've been expecting to see and it couldn't have come at a better time in the season.

No, Texas Tech didn't need all of Isaacs' career-high 28 points to down a bad Sam Houston team. In the 96-60 win, the Red Raiders controlled the action almost from the opening tip. Grant McCasland's team jumped out to a 19-point second-half lead and never looked back in what might have been his team's most complete effort of the season.

However, Tech has bigger fish to fry than the Bearkats. Big 12 play begins one week from Saturday and it will be the toughest gauntlet the players on this roster have ever experienced.

Thus, with only one more non-conference tuneup remaining (New Year's Day against North Alabama), it is time for Tech to start firing on all cylinders. And perhaps the biggest cylinder that drives this team is Isaacs.

There is no player on this roster with a higher ceiling. Isaacs has All-Big 12 talent and he is a player who could make this team a legitimate contender for the NCAA Tournament.

When Isaacs is at his best, he's an elite scorer who is fearless and supremely confident in his abilities. When he's off his game, though, he's an inefficient scorer who requires far too many shots to get his points.

For most of this season, the latter version of Isaacs has been what we've seen. His overall field goal percentage has dropped from 36.8% last season to 34.7% this season. Also, his 3-point shooting has fallen from 37.8% to 27.2%.

Despite those dips, Isaacs has not been timid on offense. He's actually taking 1.2 more shots per 40 minutes played than he did a year ago. That includes 0.5 more 3-point attempts per 40 minutes as well.

Yes, Isaacs is scoring a respectable 15.4 points per game this year, up from 11.2 a season ago. However, if he remains as inefficient as he's been for most of 2023-24, Tech is going to struggle in Big 12 play.

That's why Thursday's effort was so encouraging. Not only was it his third-straight game with at least 18 points but it was also his most efficient night of the year.

It was the first time this year that he's shot over 50% from the floor (52.6% to be exact). What's more, his 5-11 showing from beyond the 3-point arc was his best shooting night of the season from deep.

Over the past three games, Isaacs has begun to resemble the player every Texas Tech fan hoped he would be as a sophomore. He's shot 43.4% overall and 37% from downtown. Also, his free-throw shooting has improved to 81.8% (up from his season average of 75.4% prior to this three-game run).

Now, the question is whether or not this uptick in performance can continue into Big 12 play. After all, the level of competition that Isaacs will see when conference action kicks off will be like nothing he's seen thus far in his sophomore year.

The good news for Texas Tech fans is that last year, Isaacs actually increased his overall scoring average from 11.5 points per game to 12.4 points per game in conference games. Though his 3-point shooting did dip a bit in conference play, he still shot over 35% in his first march through the Big 12.

Of course, it isn't all about scoring with Isaacs. Taking care of the ball and getting others involved is also something he is asked to do.

This season, his assists per 40 minutes played are up to 4.5 from 3.7 a season ago. Now, it is going to be imperative that his turnovers remain under control, though.

This year, his turnovers are up from 2.3 to 2.7 per game. That's likely due, though, to the fact that he's playing two more minutes per game and being asked to facilitate more of the offense this year. When it comes to turnovers per 40 minutes, his numbers this year are essentially the same as last season.

Overall, Isaacs is trending in the right direction at just the right time on the calendar. He's scored in double figures in eight of the last nine games and he has been finding ways to impact the game even when the 3-point shot hasn't been falling for him.

Now, that part of his game might be rounding back into form and that could make him one of the most difficult players in the Big 12 to contain. An elite scorer is what the Red Raiders need to compete in league play and Isaacs might be the only player on the roster capable of wearing that superhero's cape. That's why his recent uptick in play has been a welcome sight on the South Plains.