Texas Tech hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2007, the second-to-last season of Bobby Knight’s tenure. That could change in 2016 if the Red Raiders continue to play like this.
Tubby Smith’s group knocked off Texas 82-74 on Saturday and is off to an 11-1 start. Their non-conference wasn’t exactly loaded with cupcakes either — the win over the Longhorns is the Red Raiders’ sixth over a top-100 opponent this year according to KenPom — only matched by Oklahoma and Kansas in the Big 12. Their only loss came to what is currently the No. 21 team in the country in Utah (although the Utes will fall out of the Top 25 on Monday following Friday’s loss to Stanford).
In the Big 12 opener for both teams, Texas Tech used solid play inside to defeat a Texas team that is ailing in the paint. Without Cameron Ridley — who is out with a fractured foot — the Longhorns just don’t have anyone they can turn to in order to score. The Red Raiders’ forwards outscored their forwards 35-8, as Zach Smith and Norense Odiase combined for 23 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Devaugntah Williams was also strong for the Red Raiders, scoring 23 points himself.
The Longhorns played a majority of the game small, and Isaiah Taylor was terrific in scoring 35 points and dishing out six assists versus only one turnover. But the defense, especially inside, was just never enough. Ridley was the key to what they were doing on that end of the floor, as the Longhorns had only allowed teams to shoot 40 percent from 2-point range prior to his injury. Without him around the last two games, Connecticut and Texas Tech have combined to shoot 52 percent. That’s not good enough for Texas, which needs to rely on its defense under coach Shaka Smart.
“You can’t give up 82 points and expect to win,” Smart said after the game, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Texas (8-5) will need to turn things around quickly if it wants to make a run to the NCAA Tournament in Smart’s first year at the helm. But the story here is Texas Tech, which looks like a bit of a rejuvenated program under Smith. The Red Raiders only need two more wins to surpass last year’s total of 13, and it’s happening with a relatively young team that features only Williams and Pat Knight holdover Todrick Gotcher as seniors. It’s going to be interesting to see whether or not the Red Raiders can make some noise in the Big 12 this year. We’ll find out soon if that’s a possibility, as they face off against Kansas and Iowa State this coming week.