It’s been hard to take my eyes off of the Big-12 since conference play started. The ACC, Big East and Big Ten all have at least one representative ranked higher than any from the Big-12, whether you’re looking at the AP, Coaches Poll or KenPom (the AP actually has Arizona State ranked ahead of any Big-12 team). But no other conference has more legitimate Sweet Sixteen hopefuls. And that could be the only thing that holds back any one of the very best teams in the nation’s top conference from ascending too high in the national ranks.
Even among strong Big-12 Conferences in recent seasons, Texas Tech has always been a bottom-feeder. It’s been a different story this season. The #18 Red Raiders are 13–1 and are set to take a huge jump up in the rankings with a win against Kansas State this evening after winning at Phog Allen Fieldhouse earlier this week. People have noticed and Texas Tech is approaching double-digits as a favorite in Lubbock.
According to KenPom, Tech is the best in the Big-12. That’s hardly surprising, considering the results through 14 games, in which the Raiders have been nearly flawless.
Their one loss came by ten points at Madison Square Garden against Seton Hall and they have wins over Boston College, Northwestern, Nevada, Baylor and at Kansas. Only Nevada kept it within single-digits and the Northwestern win was by 36.
Tech’s defense is fourth in the country, also per KenPom. It is both physical and athletic and aided by great depth, which is the strength of the team. Ten Raiders played in the win over Kansas this week and all got at least one rebound, which helps explain Tech’s +15 rebounding domination over the Jayhawks.
The offense will call on Keenan Evans when it needs a bucket. He likes to catch and shoot, but he’ll make a quick move off the dribble and nail a step-back. He’s got an efficient game that doesn’t waste dribbles or body movement, which makes him easy to play with within a balanced offense that stresses ball movement, like Tech’s.
But this team isn’t sneaking up on anybody anymore. It’s not that I don’t believe the Raiders are legit, but they will no longer be overlooked: by the opponent, oddsmakers, or the public. In fact, now they are darlings, and a target. They are giving away 9.5 points this evening in a let-down spot after such an emotionally high victory just a few days ago and a trip to Oklahoma looming next week. Meanwhile, Kansas State is coming off a loss at home to West Virginia and no team likes a win-less week.
The Wildcats can play a little, too. They have the athletes to match Texas Tech and, like the Raiders, look to run. Tech’s best chance to win this game going away is to slow things down and make Kansas State play defense. It will take a disciplined approach that I haven’t seen from them yet. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but while most of college basketball praises Texas Tech, I’m keen to remain a skeptical and take the points in such a spot that presents value for going against the public, if for no other reason.
Free Pick: Kansas State +9.5