Texas Tech basketball: What has to happen for the Red Raiders to win in Austin

Nov 22, 2023; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS;  Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Darrion Williams (5) reacts
Nov 22, 2023; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Darrion Williams (5) reacts / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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Tonight in Austin, Texas Tech basketball head coach Grant McCasland gets his first opportunity to truly endear himself to his fan base. If the first-year Red Raider boss can knock off the No. 20 Texas Longhorns on their home court, it will do wonders for the vibe surrounding his program and set his current team up to get off to a positive start in Big 12 play, something that will be tough given that four of the first six conference opponents Tech faces are ranked in the top 20.

The good news is that Grant McCasland has a history of racking up road wins. For instance, last season at North Texas, he guided his team to a mark of 9-3 on the road. The year before, the Mean Green was 9-1 in true road tilts.

This is the Big 12, though. And McCasland won't have the benefit of coaching one of the two or three most talented teams in his conference this year as he did at UNT where he built a perennial conference contender.

Of course, Tech has faced only one road test thus far on another team's campus. That was in late November at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis when Tech fell to Butler in overtime, 103-95.

That night, the Red Raiders played a fantastic second half to own a one-score lead in the final minute only to have the Bulldogs send the game to OT late. In the extra five minutes, Tech ran out of gas allowing the home team to score on every possession.

Tonight, Tech will be tested in a similar fashion by the Horns. Texas is 9-0 on the year at the Moody Center however, none of those wins have come against teams from a major conference.

When it comes to playing teams from one of the power conferences, UT is 2-2 on the year with losses to a pair of top-10 teams in UCONN and Marquette and wins over two lackluster teams, Louisville and LSU. Of course, for what it's worth, Tech has dropped two of the three games it has played against major conference foes with losses to Butler and Villanova and a win over a bad Michigan squad.

This Texas team isn't unbeatable. Rather, it is a fringe top-25 squad that probably wouldn't be ranked if the name on its jerseys said something other than "Texas".

Still, this is an opportunity for Tech to pick up its first quad-1 win of the season and those carry tremendous weight come Selection Sunday. So let's look at what needs to happen for the Red Raiders to bring home their best win of the year thus far.

Texas Tech guard Pop Isaacs has to block out the noise

Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room. Friday, it was reported that starting guard Pop Isaacs was accused of sexually assaulting a minor female when Texas Tech played in the Bahamas in November.

The sophomore from Las Vegas is expected to play tonight and he has to find a way to block out the noise surrounding his off-court issues, if that's possible. Whether or not Isaacs should play is a matter of personal opinion that we won't litigate here. Tech has said that the school's Title IX office has cleared Isaacs to participate in athletic competitions for the university so that's what we will focus on.

This team isn't going to have enough firepower to hang with Texas in Austin if Isaacs is an inefficient player. But if he can use the court as a sanctuary and find a way to be an offensive force, he could be the type of player who could carry his team to a critical victory.

Isaacs has been playing his best basketball of the year of late. In his last four games, he's averaged 21.5 points and 3.8 assists while shooting over 40% from 3-point range.

Can that continue tonight against a tough team on the road and with all of the off-court distractions he is dealing with? Certainly, the fans in Austin are going to be vocal when Isaacs is on the floor given Friday's revelation and that could impact his performance to a degree.

However, Isaacs seems to be a mentally tough player. As a Red Raider, he has never backed down from a challenge and he has been a fearless competitor. He'll need to rely on those traits tonight in what could be the most challenging circumstances he's played through. If he can find a way to continue his hot play as of late and not let the off-court drama impact his game, then he could have a big night and help carry his team to a resume-building win.