The Big 12 has proven to be the top-to-bottom, best league in the country. By this point in the season, the narrative has developed and you'd be hard-pressed to find any talking head that isn't touting the superiority and depth of the conference. Between having the top rated RPI and receiving the most bids in Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology, you could argue that the strength of the Big 12 as a basketball conference has never been better.
That leads us to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have won three in a row, sit at 7th in the conference standings and only one game back of Iowa State. Tubby Smith's team has gotten better throughout the season and is coming off a surprising upset of Oklahoma on Wednesday night.
With an ugly 25-point loss at West Virginia still on their minds, this certainly isn't the bottom-feeder that Iowa State was hoping for upon their return home to Ames. That being said, Texas Tech's string of recent good fortune ends (at least temporarily) on Saturday in Hilton Coliseum and I'll tell you why.
1. Texas Tech Is Not Elite
Okay, we all know that and nobody is going to make the argument that a team that's 13-11 overall is elite, so why does it matter? To answer my own question, it matters because only elite teams can come into Hilton Coliseum and win. Over the last three seasons, Iowa State is 20-3 at home in Big 12 play, losing only to #9 Missouri in 2012, #6 Kansas in 2013 and then #15 Kansas (now #7) earlier this year. Texas Tech might be playing better basketball, but let's not kid ourselves here.
2. On the Radar
Perhaps lost in the Marcus Smart aftermath, was that Texas Tech played a brilliant defensive game en route to beating Oklahoma State last weekend. Tech forced 15 turnovers and after falling down by 8 with 14 minutes left, put the clamps to the Cowboys and held Travis Ford's team to just over a point per minute for the rest of the game (that's not very good in case you couldn't tell).
In fact, Texas Tech seems to have found their pace of play recently and "Tubbyball" appears to be in full effect. Often criticized for his style of play at Kentucky and Minnesota, Tubby Smith's system may not be popular, but it can be an effective equalizer for a less talented team. In their last four games, the most points Tech has given up has been 66 at Kansas State, mainly because they've been able to slow the pace, grind out possessions and make their opponents work for shots.
But with success, comes an even bigger challenge; sustaining that success. A win here or there will make opponents take notice, but when you beat Oklahoma State and then go on the road and beat a good Oklahoma team in back-to-back outings, you're going to get your next opponent's full attention and that just so happens to be a pissed off Iowa State team who's oh by the way, playing at home.
3. Restoring Some Pride
Iowa State got their collective asses kicked on Monday night in Morgantown. There's no way to spin a 25-point butt-trouncing like that. West Virginia was red-hot and the crowd rattled the Cyclones and the end result was one that we'd all prefer to forget.
The good news is that Fred Hoiberg has been able to rally his teams following losses like this in the past (I suppose the glass half empty side of this is that there's unfortunately been a loss like this to compare to and support a trend). Two years ago, Iowa State went to Waco and was destroyed by #9 Baylor, 79-64. Iowa State responded by winning three in a row, including a tournament-clinching road win at Kansas State. Last year, the Cyclones carried a controversial loss to Kansas with them down I-35 to Norman and were blasted by the Sooners, 86-69. Again, Iowa State bounced back by winning three in a row.
In Monday's recap, I guaranteed that Iowa State would win their next four games and I'm not backing away from that at all. The Cyclones host Texas Tech on Saturday, Texas on Tuesday, go to TCU on the 22nd and then return home to exact their revenge on West Virginia on the 26th. That's not exactly a murderer's row, but it's going to be far from an easy stretch. Still, with seniors like Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane and a locker room leader like Georges Niang, Fred Hoiberg shouldn't have any worries about another letdown effort on the horizon.
Back on January 4th when Iowa State opened up conference play in Lubbock, the Cyclones got out to a dominant start, leading 44-29 at the break. There's two schools of thought about what happened next: 1) Iowa State eased up and allowed Texas Tech to go on a 21-6 run and tie the game at 50, or 2) The Red Raiders just got hot and played themselves back into the game.
As is the case with most things, there's probably some truth to both of those statements. Regardless, the Cyclones woke up and went on to win 73-62 and moved to 13-0.
Ken Pomeroy has an interesting way of breaking down the college game, doing so in quarters, similar to the pro game. I often look at these because I think it can give a better glimpse as to how the game played out than simply looking at stats by half. What's interesting about the game in Lubbock was how Iowa State controlled 3/4 of that contest and save for one bad stretch, nearly walked out of United Spirit Arena with a blowout win. From kenpom.com ($):
On Saturday, Texas Tech might be able to slow the pace for stretches, but it doesn't change the fact that Iowa State is just plain and simply better than the Red Raiders. I think we'll see a major turn around from Monday night and Tubby Smith's team will leave Ames with a humbling loss.
Iowa State 85 - Texas Tech 67
Tip: 12:45 PM CST
TV: Big 12 Network with Brad Sham and Stephen Howard on the call
Radio: You should know where to find John and Eric
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Texas Tech's SBN Site: Viva the Matadors