*In all the years I’ve covered Big 12 basketball—dating to the 2004-05 season—the conference has never been more even, top to bottom. As always, Kansas will win the title of course, but it has been a struggle even for the Jayhawks. They have been taken to the wire again and again, by teams up and down the conference hierarchy. In terms of overall basketball ability, coaching and fan support, there’s just not a whole lot of difference between the best and worst teams. As a consequence, we have seen an unusually large number of very close basketball games.
Texas Tech would seem to be the poster-team for close games and overtime decisions. But you don’t get much credit for playing teams close. You get credit for winning. And unfortunately, this Red Raider team simply has not been good enough to win very often in one- and two-possession games, and overtimes.
Through Big 12 play thus far Texas Tech has played 10 games that meet the criteria in the previous sentence. Their record is 4-6. Kansas, on the other hand, is 8-1 in close Big 12 games. When all else is relatively equal, what really separates the champs and the contenders from the also-rans and the cellar-dwellers is coming through in the clutch and winning toss-up games.
With Tech’s 82-80 overtime loss to Iowa State it is probably too late to expect the Red Raiders to reverse the pattern of losing tight ballgames. And the three games remaining on the schedule—Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State—could all go down to the wire. However, it has become readily apparent what must be Chris Beard’s focus for next season: he must find some way to squeeze better performance from his team when it all gets real.
Is the problem mental? Is it a lack of leadership? Is it a slight dearth of talent? Is it poor execution? Is it subpar coaching? Opinions doubtless vary, but coach Beard is getting the big money to isolate the problem and solve it. And we won’t know until a year from now whether he has.
*One obvious—and fatal—problem for Texas Tech in this game was simply playing dumb basketball. The Red Raiders blew multiple scoring opportunities—and a few in fast break situations—by trying to get cute rather than making the solid, conventional, and correct basketball play. And honestly, this was the first time this season that I recall this problem arising. It sure picked one helluva time to rear its ugly head.
*A chief reason Texas Tech even got the game into overtime and had a chance to win, both at the end of regulation and the end of the overtime period was the play of Devon Thomas. With Keenan Evans struggling mightily, Thomas logged 26 minutes, scored six points on 3-of-4 shooting, dished out three assists, nabbed a pair of steals and committed no turnovers. But it was his defense on Monte’ Morris down the stretch that was special. At the 5:16 mark Morris, who was absolutely killing Tech will pull-up jumpers, drained a 3-ball to give the Cyclones a 68-60 lead. This was the biggest advantage either team enjoyed in the game, and with the Red Raiders seemingly unable to slow Morris and the ISU attack, the situation looked grim.
But from that point on, Thomas, with some help from Niem Stevenson, clamped down on the stellar point guard, holding him to four points on 1-of-5 shooting, with one turnover. Congrats to Thomas—it was as good a game as he’s played all season.
*The freaky stat of the night was Texas Tech turning the ball over only six times in an overtime game against the team that is leading the Big 12 in steals. Compounding the freakiness, the Red Raiders turned the ball over 20 times two days ago against West Virginia. There are obviously lots of ways to lose basketball games.
*Attendance for this game was a paltry 8,400. Many Red Raiders obviously checked out on this team at exactly the moment that the team needed them most. Disappointing. Very disappointing.
*In my opinion, for Texas Tech to have any chance of making the NCAA tournament, they will have to win out and then win two games in the Big 12 tournament. Frankly, this seems next to impossible. The Red Raiders would have to win five Big 12 games in a row after failing to win even two conference games consecutively this season. They would have to win two conference road games after going 0-fer to this point. And they would have to start all this off by going on the road and beating an Oklahoma State team that abused Texas Tech in Lubbock earlier this season, and has now won eight of its last nine games. A tall order, to put it mildly.
*Of the college basketball coaches I’ve seen in postgame press conferences, the two who take losses the hardest are Bob Huggins and Chris Beard.