LUBBOCK, Texas — Coming off of three straight games against top 15 ranked teams, Texas Tech now has three in a row against squads that they share fourth place in the Big 12 with: Oklahoma, Texas and TCU.
While these upcoming opponents don’t have the name brand or talent of Kentucky or Kansas, Texas Tech needs to beat them to move up in the conference standings and solidify its spot as an NCAA Tournament team.
Last year’s Red Raider team was 5-4 midway through conference play, and this year’s edition could have the same record if it wins Tuesday night against Oklahoma.
“You don’t have to look far to see how important these games are,” Chris Beard said.
Like the Red Raiders, the Sooners are primarily a small-ball team. Their tallest starter, 6’9″ Brady Manek is more of a perimeter player.
This is a stark contrast from Texas Tech’s previous games, where Red Raider bigs had to battle brutes like Nick Richards, Oscar Tshiebwe and Udoka Azubuike.
Against Oklahoma, they will have to be airtight on the perimeter, as all five starters are capable outside shooters. Manek went off for seven 3-pointers in the Sooners’ last game.
“Oklahoma is a unique team, especially with their starting lineup,” Beard said. “Five guys that can dribble, pass and shoot. In my eyes their identity is their skilled offense.”
With the upcoming opponents having similar conference marks to Texas Tech, the games figure to be tight. Texas Tech has played in plenty of close games this season, but has had trouble closing them out. The team is 0-5 in games where the final margin of victory is five points or less, or the game goes to overtime.
The most recent example of this is Saturday at Kansas, when the Red Raiders fought their way back into a game that they trailed throughout, but could never tie it up and wound up losing by three.
In the past, Beard has been able to turn to stars like Keenan Evans or Jarrett Culver to make plays at the end of games. There is no undisputed star on this year’s roster, so it must be a group effort to close out opponents.
“You have to have finishers. And on this year’s team the finishers are all five guys on the court,” Beard said. “In past years we’d get the ball to Keenan Evans, give the ball to Jarrett Culver. This year’s team is a little bit different where everybody’s got to play their role and we’ve got to make some decisions in the last few minutes of the game.”
Now, Beard must hope that the experience his team has gathered in those losses helps guide it to wins.
“I think our team has learned a lot in all the close games we’ve played this year, but certainly the last week to 10 days have given us a lot of opportunities to try to learn,” Beard said. “Hopefully the next time we’re in that situation things go our way.”
The Red Raiders have gotten through the most grueling stretch of their schedule, but important games against solid opponents loom.
They’ve proven that they are talented enough to hang with the country’s best, but still have to show that they can win close games.
The next three games will prove whether they belong in a class with NCAA Tournament locks Kansas and West Virginia, or if they will be scrapping on the bubble with Oklahoma, Texas and TCU.