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Basketball Preview: We’re Talking Texas Tech Pt. 1

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Iowa State opens its conference slate against the surprising Red Raiders

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Well the time has finally come. There can be no more “maybe this team turns it on come conference play” excuses. Conference play is here, and if Iowa State is to make its 6th straight NCAA Tournament, the run starts tonight against Texas Tech. While I still believe it’s too early to use terminology like “must win,” I wouldn’t fault any fan that chose to do so. I don’t envision a good, old-fashioned beat down, but the fan base could sure use a taste of just such a win.

Last Time Out

It’s been a while, but if you need a refresher on where we left off, Iowa State pulled away from Mississippi Valley State in the second half last Tuesday. As for the Red Raiders, they pounded Longwood 91-60 and wrapped up their non-conference slate at 11-1. Pretty good start under first-year coach Chris Beard.

While the record may look gaudy, Texas Tech has played just one Kenpom top-100 opponent, Auburn, and lost that game 67-65. Their best win to date is a road game at Richmond (131st).

About Texas Tech

Texas Tech is probably both better than you think and not as good as some of the advanced analytics would show. The Red Raiders are ranked 27th in Kenpom, 26th in adjusted offense and 41st in adjusted defense. That sounds great, but it’s against the 4th-easiest schedule to date. They play at one of the slowest tempos at 66 possessions per game and are the nation’s best team at limiting offensive rebounds. If Iowa State is going to play at Tech’s tempo, their shot selection will have to be impeccable, because they’re not going to get second chances.

The Red Raiders get twice as many minutes from guys bigger than 6’5” than Iowa State does which is why I keep mentioning tempo. If this game is going to be as slow as the Gonzaga/Cincinnati games, Cyclone fans might be leaving Hilton Coliseum extremely unsatisfied. Texas Tech’s season high is 74 possessions in a game, whereas Iowa State has met or surpassed that number five times — all wins. Each of Iowa State’s three losses have been in 72 possession games or less. For Iowa State to be at its best, it has to play quickly.

Players to Watch

Texas Tech has five players averaging double digits so far this season and any of them could go off at any time if Iowa State doesn’t lock down defensively. Both Keenan Evans and Anthony Livingston can beat ISU inside and out, and both shoot better than 46% from deep. Closeouts will have to be quick and under control.

Inside, Zach Smith will look to use his length and athleticism to crash the boards and look for lob opportunities on the weak side with guard penetration. Iowa State’s bigs will have their hands full with Smith and Livingston.

What to Expect

To be perfectly honest, I’m expecting something awfully similar to the Mississippi Valley State game. Odd start time on a Friday night with no students after a long layoff is almost certainly grounds for a sloppy and frustrating first half. I expect Iowa State to come out and push the tempo and find their footing a bit more before pulling away late.

Unfortunately, Tech is much better than MVSU, and I don’t foresee this game being more than a double-digit lead for either team at any point. Iowa State will have its hands full and it’s going to need to execute on both ends of the floor to pull out a victory in this spot. I fully expect Tech to try and limit possessions and tempo, and I expect Iowa State will get frustrated trying to force the tempo at times. It’s always easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up, and whichever team can impart their will should come out victorious.

Pick 3

  1. Neither team gains a double-digit advantage at any point
  2. Iowa State gets outscored on second-chance points
  3. Iowa State shoots more than 20 3’s

Iowa State 77; Texas Tech 71

Game Notes

Game Time: Friday Dec. 30th, 5 p.m. CST

Line Open: Iowa State (-6); O/U (136.5)

The Foe: Viva the Matadors

TV/Webcast: ESPNews (Dave Armstrong, Kevin Lehman)

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network/TuneIn Radio App (John Walters, Eric Heft)

Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here