The Texas Tech Red Raiders are riding high.
Fresh off a historic victory against Kansas — their first ever at Allen Fieldhouse — the Raiders are 2-0 in Big 12 play for the first time in a decade. They’re 13-1, ranked 18th nationally and should crack the top 15 next week if they don’t stumble Saturday in Lubbock against Kansas State.
Yet second-year coach Chris Beard isn’t doing cartwheels.
“It’s a nice start, but that’s all it is, a start,” Beard said Thursday. “We have a little momentum. The crowds are building at home. Things are going in the right direction.”
But coach, you just whipped the 13-time defending league champs by double digits, ending a 16-game losing streak to the Jayhawks and winning for the first time in 18 tries in Lawrence. And you are ahead of KU in the standings. Doesn’t that count for something?
“I don’t know if we have an edge on Kansas in anything,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s 85-73 win. “We have Whataburger in Texas. I don’t think y’all do. That’s an advantage.”
Tech isn’t exactly chopped liver these days.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Arizona State and Kentucky, but they could be the best team we’ve played this season,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the Raiders.
Last year Tech went 6-12 in the Big 12 and 18-14 overall, not making any postseason tournament. What happened?
Point guard Keenan Evans and four other seniors bought into Beard’s share-one, share-all system. Evans, the leading scorer at 16.5 per game, has emerged as one of the best players in the league. Big man Norense Odiase is healthy. Ten players average 14 minutes or more.
“You had a coach taking over with a new system, and older players were a little bit jilted when Tubby (Smith) left right after making the NCAA Tournament,” said Kansas State coach Bruce Webe. “It took a little time to adjust.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew saw the adjustment up close last week when his nationally ranked Bears were pummeled 77-53 by Tech.
“They returned a lot of experience and added some new impact players. It’s a deep and dangerous combination,” Drew said.
Tech’s underrated freshman class was listed as 40th in the 247Sports composite rankings. Three-star guards Zhaire Smith of Lakeview Centennial and Jarrett Culver, a local from Lubbock Coronado, were both top-25 state players who caught on quickly. Each averages 10.7 points, about four rebounds and two assists. Smith is shooting .629 from the field and Culver .520.
“Those two freshmen have great motors,” Weber said. “They give them such energy. The defense is drastically improved. They do not let you get anything easy. They have long, athletic guys that make it tough to score.”
“Tech is so sound defensively,” Self said. “Yet what impressed me the most was how good and how hard they crash the offensive glass. If we had 70 possessions, they had 80. They keep the ball alive, get to the rim, they can attack from all five spots.”
Beard acknowledged Tech has changed its style some from last year, getting more aggressive. The Red Raiders outrebounded the Jayhawks 44-29, including 18 offensive boards.
“They’re all capable shooters,” Self said, “and I like how together they were. They had so many straight-line drives, where you put your head down and go. That’s what Frank (Mason) did so well for us last year.”
Despite the rave reviews, Beard said the Raiders will not get too full of themselves.
“We have a lot of issues trying to compete in this league, but being overconfident is not one of them,” he said. “We’ve only been to the NCAA Tournament once in the last decade. So what have we done?
“I worry about a lot of things, but I really don’t worry about our guys being ready to play.”
BIG 12 POWER POLL
Rnk (prv) Team;W-L (conf.);Next opponent;Comment
1. (1) West Virginia;13-1 (2-0);vs. Oklahoma (12-1), Sat.;Already ranked 6th in nation, Mountaineers now regain services of Esa Ahmad, team’s No. 2 scorer last year.
2. (2) Oklahoma;12-1 (2-0);at West Virginia (13-1), Sat.;Race has just begun, but we’ll tune in to ESPN2 at 6:15 to see who grabs Big 12’s early pole position.
3. (6) Texas Tech;13-1 (2-0);vs. Kansas State (11-3), Sat.;Venture into the Phog and come away with decisive victory, and we’re just about sold on Red Raiders.
4. (3) TCU;13-1 (1-1);vs. Kansas (11-3), Sat.;Jamie Dixon earned his chops coaching defense, but Frogs are 13th in NCAA in scoring at 87.1 ppg.
5. (4) Kansas;11-3 (1-1);at TCU (13-1), Sat.;If Beakers lose in Fort Worth, prayer vigils may pop up in Lawrence for that 14th straight Big 12 title.
6. (7) Texas;10-4 (1-1);at Baylor (10-4), Sat.;Unless your name is Kansas, there’s no shame being middle of the pack in this conference.
7. (10) Kansas State;11-3 (1-1);at Texas Tech (13-1), Sat.;A team that’s 18th in NCAA in turnover margin and 36th in steals could be sneaky good.
8. (5) Baylor;10-4 (0-2);vs. Texas (10-4), Sat.;Too early for ‘must wins’? Bears simply cannot afford 0-3 Big 12 start with 2 home losses.
9. (8) Oklahoma State;10-4 (0-2);vs. Iowa State (9-4), Sat.;Computers favor Cowboys in matchup that will begin to determine who’s the worst of the best league.
10. (9) Iowa State;9-4 (0-2);at Oklahoma State (10-4), Sat.;Rebuilding Cyclones will have some moments, but this could be long, cold, bleak winter in Ames.