Consecutive overtime losses have all but eliminated any chance of Texas Tech making the NCAA Tournament. The Red Raiders are now 2-6 over their last eight Big 12 games despite only being outscored by seven total points over that stretch. Stats back up how unlucky the team has been this season, as Kenpom.com uses box score data to measure a variety of things, including luck. Unsurprisingly, the Red Raiders come in near the bottom and are ranked 334 out of 351 teams nationally at the time of this writing. To have any shot at the Big Dance, the team would likely need to win out and reach at least the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament. For now, an NIT invitation appears more likely so we’ll focus on that tournament going forward.
The NIT has recently taken a backseat to the NCAA Tournament and many fans view it as nothing more than a consolation tournament. But for a first-year head coach and a returning nucleus, the NIT can be a great opportunity. Teams like Florida, Florida State, Creighton, and South Carolina have spent much of this season ranked in the top 25 after playing in the NIT last season. Other teams like Virginia Tech, Georgia and Georgia Tech have battled on the bubble all year after their 2016 NIT appearance.
Higher seeds in the NIT play their games at home during the first few rounds and the games are broadcast on the ESPN networks. If the Red Raiders are invited, they will likely be a 4-seed or higher and guaranteed at least one home game. The team could also use additional reps on the road, where they have struggled this season. And extra nationally televised games never hurt programs trying to push their way into the view of potential recruits down the road.
With Keenan Evans, Niem Stevenson, Justin Gray and Zach Smith all coming back next season, the team’s core can use all the practice it can get. Stevenson especially has exploded onto the scene since earning a starting spot and looks to be a key contributor next season. The NIT could also allow Shadell Millinghaus to get extra playing time. In any capacity, the current junior class will carry the team next season and can only benefit from playing with each other more. The motion offense coach Beard has installed relies on repetitions, familiarity and a feel for teammates’ tendencies that can only improve with live action.
The NIT wasn’t the goal for many fans prior to this season, but a stretch of unlucky finishes and a weak nonconference schedule have led us to this point. History has shown numerous times that programs can use the NIT to propel themselves into the Big Dance, and with a full offseason under this coaching staff, the Red Raiders can bounce back next season better than ever.