Lost in the web of many juicy Big 12 storylines has been the surge of Texas Tech, which has won three consecutive games and five of its last eight, most recently a 68-60 win at Oklahoma.
Tubby Smith's Red Raiders, at 13-11 overall, have a tough climb ahead and aren't realistic NCAA tournament hopefuls — not with road trips to Ames, Stillwater, Waco and Stillwater, and with Kansas, Kansas State and Texas coming to Lubbock. But it's still better than anyone figured from Tech, which went 11-20 a year ago.
The Red Raiders give the Big 12 nine of 10 teams in the top 75 kenpom.com rankings. They've ensured TCU is the only "gimme" game in the conference. Thanks to a much-improved offense — 46th in adjusted efficiency, 22nd in offensive rebounding percentage, 52nd in two-point percentage — Texas Tech, even in a loss, is a big challenge: the Red Raiders haven't suffered a double-digit defeat since Jan. 4 to Iowa State. Tech is 5-6 in the Big 12, but its point differential, 751 to 752, is a true indicator that a little luck here, a few made shots there, and this could be a team playing for an at-large bid in the NCAA tourney.
Texas Tech hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2007, Bob Knight's final full year. Since then, Pat Knight strung together a 50-61 record, Billy Gillispie had an awful, controversial 8-23 season in 2011-12 and interim Chris Walker went 11-20 a year ago, the best he could probably do. Smith understood it'd be a rebuild when he accepted the job, but he's accelerated the process.
"A lot of things scare me about Texas Tech right now," ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said in advance of the Cyclones' game against TTU on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum (12:45). "That was as good a performance I've seen in our league all year, to go into Oklahoma and have them down by 20 points early in the second half and withstand their run and make big plays down the stretch.
"They're playing so hard, they're playing as hard as any team. They rebound the basketball at a very high clip and it's a team that's clicking on all cylinders right now. They've won three in a row and they're coming in here with a lot of confidence."
Key ISU Issue
It feels like the No. 11 Cyclones are getting every team's best (shooting) shot. West Virginia made 59.1 percent of its three-pointers in the 102-77 win Monday while TCU shot 39 percent the game before. Five times total in the Big 12 schedule have the Cyclones seen an opponent exceed a 40 percent mark from downtown, conference opponents shooting a cumulative 39.2 percent — which gives Iowa State the worst defensive mark in the conference.
Certainly most of this can be attributed to bad luck, but where are the Cyclones erring defensively?
"We try to play a team defense where we're al in there and all five on the same page. When you have one guy out of position, it's gonna affect your defense," Hoiberg said. "That's what we try to do, get all five guys on the same page out there. All it takes is one person out of position for them to expose you. Teams have been doing that against us. When we do it right, we're pretty good. But when we have that one guy out of position, we normally get exposed."
Said Georges Niang: "We need to work on staying with our concepts. In the West Virginia game we got out of our concepts defensively and they exposed us. They did a great job of knocking down open shots. If we stuck to our principles they wouldn't have gotten those shots."
Basically, if one man gets lost on a defensive rotation, the Cyclones haven't been recovering quickly enough on the perimeter.
The Red Raiders are shooting 32.9 percent from the perimeter, the No. 237 mark in the nation, and only draw 20 percent of their total points from three-pointers (compare that last mark to 30.5 for Iowa State).
Last Time Out
On Jan. 4, Iowa State boosted its record to 13-0 with a 73-62 win over Texas Tech at the United Spirit Arena, the conference opener for both teams. Senior forward Jaye Crockett scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while TTU's Dusty Hannahs drilled three of seven three-pointers en route to scoring 16 points. Iowa State's trifecta of Georges Niang, Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane each scored 15 or more points while Dustin Hogue scored four points and grabbed seven rebounds (he wasn't feeling well). Monté Morris had a breakout game of sorts, scoring 11 points, aided by a perfect 5-for-5 performance from the charity stripe, with three assists.
Iowa State went 5-for-19 from three-point range while Texas Tech went 6-for-20.
Below is the shot chart for each team … IOWA STATE is on the left, TEXAS TECH is on the right. Green is a make, red is a miss. Info per CBS.
The overarching theme of yesterday's media availability was ISU being ready to get the sour taste out of its mouth — "embarrassing," Dustin Hogue said — and by all accounts the Cyclones had a good practice Wednesday to help rebound from the shellacking at WVU.
"As a competitor, you obviously don't want anything like that to ever happen," Hoiberg said. "But it did happen, so now you have to make the necessary steps to ensure it won't again."
Iowa State is still in the midst of the comfiest stretch of its conference schedule, home games against Texas Tech and Texas on the horizon, then a trip to lowly TCU, then a home game against West Virginia. Those home games are against good opponents, but well, they're at home, and they're game the Cyclones need to win. ISU is No. 6 in the Big 12 with a great shot to jump a few spots in the next couple weeks — Texas is No. 2, KSU is No. 3 and West Virginia is No. 5.
Projected Starting Lineups (ht, yr, ppg, rpg, fg %)
Texas Tech (13-11, 5-6)
Iowa State (18-5, 6-5)
* denotes assists per game.
Kenpom.com prediction: ISU 79, TTU 69, with the Cyclones possessing an 82 percent chance of winning.