Red Raiders set to open Big 12 play with grueling stretch

Red Raider Nation

Eastern Washington’s Rylan Bergersen (11) looks to pass the ball around Texas Tech’s Davion Warren (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

LUBBOCK, Texas — Half of the Big 12’s 10 teams placed in The Associated Press’ Top 25 poll Monday, and the No. 25 Texas Tech Red Raiders’ first three games of conference play will be against the top three.

After their scheduled conference-opener against Oklahoma State was canceled due to COVID-19, the Red Raiders will instead begin Big 12 play at No. 11 Iowa State Wednesday. They will return home to play No. 6 Kansas Saturday before a showdown with No. 1 Baylor on January 11.

Texas Tech wrapped up nonconference play Tuesday with a 75-53 victory over Alabama State. They went 10-2 against non-Big 12 opponents, including a victory over No. 13 Tennessee. Both of their losses came to teams currently in the rankings: No. 4 Gonzaga and No. 16 Providence.

The Red Raiders boast some impressive stats. They’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 20 points per game, the 12th-best mark in the nation. They are also one of the best rebounding teams in college basketball.

Questions remain as well. Their strength of schedule ranks 291st out of 358 Division 1 teams. Many of the players in their rotation are transfers who have yet to experience the grind of a Big 12 schedule.

Texas Tech has forced turnovers at an impressive rate but has also given the ball up 14 times a game. The Big 12, with its abundance of long and athletic perimeter defenders, will not make life any easier on that front.

“You look at our Achilles heel — it’s been taking care of the basketball,” Adams said. “So, we’ve got to do a little bit of a better job as far as being patient and slowing down on offense.”

Perhaps a reason for the turnovers is that Texas Tech does not play a pure point guard. Adams called Kevin McCullar the team’s point guard, but McCullar is handling those duties for the first time after playing on the wing as a freshman and sophomore.

McCullar recorded a career-high seven assists in the victory over Alabama State. Adonis Arms and Clarence Nadolny had five each. Adams sees ball movement as critical to the team’s success, particularly when that ball movement results in 3-pointers.

“One of the reasons this team has taken a step forward is that we are sharing the ball,” the first-year head coach said. “When this team makes that easy pass, it really gives us a chance to get those 3-point shots off.”

Still, the Red Raider offense has struggled against good teams. It took overtime for them to muster 57 points in the victory over Tennessee, and they were held to 55 points by Gonzaga.

The second game was without Shannon, who Adams said will still be out for the Iowa State game. Shannon is the team’s leading scorer, and it will have to find ways to generate offense while he remains out of the lineup.

The Red Raiders will be tested immediately to see if their collection of transfers can score against elite defenses. Iowa State’s defense ranks No. 9 in scoring and is top-25 in turnovers forced and field goal percentage against. Eight days later, they play Baylor’s fierce defense.

Texas Tech has done well enough to stay in the AP Top 25 for the last four weeks, but their opponents have mostly not been the same caliber as what they’ll see in conference play. Over the next eight days, Adams will see what his team can do against college basketball’s best.

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