Sometimes, the hardest thing for a team to do is to sustain success. That's what Texas Tech has the opportunity to do this week after Grant McCasland's team scored an emotional win over then-No. 20 Texas on Saturday night in Austin. However, that's not something this program has done well over the last season-plus.
Sure, you can throw out what happened in the dysfunctional 2022-23 season if you want. Given that over half of that roster is now playing elsewhere and that coaching staff is no longer in charge, many might be inclined to focus only on the current season.
However, key players such as Pop Isaacs, Kerwin Walton, Lamar Washington, and Robert Jennings were on that team and they carry with them the experiences of their inaugural season as Red Raiders. Additionally, a team doesn't just snap its fingers and become a consistent and reliable squad. That's something that must be earned and this week, with Oklahoma State and Kansas State coming to Lubbock on the heels of the win over the Longhorns, Tech can take a huge step forward in that process.
So far, this team has proven it can beat a decent but not great Texas team on the road. Now, it must also prove that it can play with the same intensity and hunger when heading into a pair of games in which it will be expected to pick up two home victories.
At this time, Tech sits at No. 36 in the NCAA NET rankings. Meanwhile, tonight's opponent, OSU, is just 126th and KSU is 78th. What's more, the Cowboys don't have a win yet this year over a major-conference team.
That doesn't mean that these two games aren't dangerous for the Red Raiders, though. The Cowboys are coming off of a home game in which they took then-No. 18 Baylor to overtime while the Wildcats have a win over Villanova this year, the team that handled Texas Tech in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Still, it is imperative that the Red Raiders pick up two wins this week given what lies on the horizon. The next three games on the schedule after Saturday's home tilt with the Cats will see Tech travel to No. 2 Houston, host No. 18 BYU, and travel to No. 9 Oklahoma. Taking it a step further, Tech will then travel to Fort Worth to face a tough TCU team for their third road game in four contests.
Last season, outside of one unexpected run in mid-February that saw Tech fire off five-straight wins, the Red Raiders couldn't find a way to build off of their successes in Big 12 play. (Not that there were many successes to begin with given that Tech won only one other conference game outside of that February winning streak.)
In fact, last year, the only times the Red Raiders followed up a win over a major-conference opponent outside of the February winning streak was when they beat a bad Georgetown team in Lubbock and then ran off five-straight wins over mid and low-major teams before dropping their Big 12 opener and then when they beat an awful LSU team on the road and came home to stun No. 13 Iowa State.
This year, Tech has a better team. There's no question about that. The returners from last season have more experience under their belt and the roster has been upgraded with veteran transfers who themselves have been around the block a time or two.
Of course, this team is also being coached by a more dedicated, engaged, and focused coaching staff. Though this year is not without its off-court drama, at least those distractions aren't coming from the coaching staff and that's a huge difference given that the coaches set the tone for the entire program.
The good news is that McCasland has proven that he can get his teams to stack success in conference play. For instance, over the past two seasons, his teams at North Texas had conference winning streaks of fifteen, eight, four, and three games. Of course, last year, UNT also rattled off five straight postseason games to win the N.I.T.
As always, though, when talking about McCasland, we have to acknowledge that he's never faced the type of challenge that coaching in the Big 12 presents. Even the best teams in the league have to be aware of being upset on any given night, even at home, as ranked teams Texas and BYU found out the hard way on the first day of conference action.
If Texas Tech wants to be one of the top teams in the best league in America, then success can't be a one-off occurence. Rather, it must be a building process that sees this program display the ability to handle the highs of the season properly.
This week, the Red Raiders have a golden opportunity to move to 3-0 to start Big 12 play. That would not only give them a cushion as they head into a rugged four-game stretch over the next two weeks but it would also show that this team and this program is turning the page under McCasland's watch. That's why tonight and Saturday are crucial early mile markers in the Big 12.