Texas Tech Red Raiders that must step up against NC State

These three Red Raiders have to lead the way for the Texas Tech basketball team to beat NC State on Thursday night.

Texas v Texas Tech
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Game day has arrived for the Texas Tech basketball team. This is what the entire season has pointed toward, a March Madness date with NC State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

It's been quite the journey to get to this point for the Red Raiders. Starting the offseason with a new head coach and coaching staff, the program had to completely rebuild after the disaster that was the Mark Adams era, brief as it may have been.

Then, in December, just eight games into the season, the Red Raiders lost starting forward Devan Cambridge. Remember, at the time he went down, the 6-foot-6 wing was playing significant minutes each game as the backup big man when Warren Washington was not on the floor.

Without Cambridge, Tech would have to turn to little-used reserves such as Kerwin Walton and Robert Jennings to pick up the slack. Of course, in the middle of Big 12 play, just as the conference race was heating up, Washington would be lost for at least a month with a foot injury. In fact, we still don't know if he'll be available for the NCAA Tournament.

Off the court, Tech also had to deal with the distraction of Pop Isaacs' legal issues, the mid-season departure of freshman guard Drew Steffe, and the drama surrounding forward Kye'Ron Lindsay and guard D'Maurion Williams, both of whom are no longer traveling with the team and appear headed for the transfer portal.

Through it all, though, head coach Grant McCasland has kept a steady hand on the wheel. It's a testament to the job that he's done to get Tech to 11-7 in Big 12 play and 23-10 overall in his first year on the job.

McCasland has experience in the NCAA Tournament as well. In 2021, he led No. 13 seed North Texas to an upset of No. 4 seed Purdue in the first round.

Today, his team is the favorite (at least according to the oddsmakers) and the higher seed. But for Texas Tech to advance and give McCasland his second NCAA Tournament win, these three Red Raiders will have to come up big.

Robert Jennings must play big

Regardless of whether or not Warren Washington is able to play, Robert Jennings has to be a huge factor for the Red Raiders tonight. Fortunately, he's been playing his best basketball of the year lately.

In the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals, he posted 10 points and 7 rebounds, and against Houston in the semifinals, he posted six and five. What's more, since being inserted into the starting lineup in Washington's place, he's averaging 6.8 points and 5.6 rebounds.

Jennings has matured as a player since becoming a starter. Earlier this year, he could hardly get onto the court and he looked timid and confused when he did see action.

Now, though, he's playing with confidence and aggression. What's more, he's showing that he can be a solid defender even against taller and bigger players.

NC State features 6-foot-9, 275-pound forward DJ Burns. He will likely be matched up with Jennings quite a bit in this game and Jennings must not only try to slow the nimble Wolfpack big man but he will have to do so without getting into foul trouble.

If Jennings can stay on the floor and can neutralize Burns, it will do wonders for the Red Raiders' chances. However, if Jennings doesn't step up and give Tech some solid play in the paint, it will be hard to envision Tech pulling this game out.