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Big 12 tournament begins for Texas Tech as they take on the hurt yet hopeful Longhorns

Will Bamba play or won’t he?

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The second place Texas Tech Red Raiders head to Kansas City, MO for this quarterfinal match-up against the seventh place Texas Longhorns. This game will be scheduled for a 6:00 PM tip in the Sprint Center in front of a neutral crowd.

Tech is coming of a big confidence building win against TCU. With Keenan Evans, Justin Gray, and Zach Smith all finally healthy and back in the lineup, Tech is now as healthy as they’ve been in two months.

Texas is sitting firmly on Joe Lunardi’s bubble as one of the “last four byes.” Right now, the Longhorns are barely in but a win tonight would allow them to breathe easier come Sunday. Shaka Smart’s group just escaped from what would have been a dream crushing loss to Iowa State in the opening round to keep their Big 12 and NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Texas Longhorns

The big question coming into this game is whether or not leading big man Mohamed Bamba will play. Bamba injured his toe against Oklahoma State and has been out for the last three contests. Early reports showed that he was unlikely to play in th tournament, however recent developments have now made him a game-time decision.

Having Bamba play for the Longhorns is huge as he has been their third leading scorer and leading rebounder, while being an impenetrable force in the middle. He is second in the country in blocks per game and the last time these two teams played Bamba had seven.

Texas has been successful even without their big man as they’ve won their last two games without him. Led by Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski, they’ve found a way to truly play a fast paced style.

Osetkowski was especially big for the Longhorns in their opening round victory putting up 20 points and five rebounds, while freshman Jericho Sims stepped into Bamba’s role picking up 15 boards.

Coach Shaka Smart has found a way to make it work without Bamba allowing Osetkowski to bring defenders out and opening up the lanes, but at the end of the day this is still a shooting team. Texas attempted 31 three-pointers against Iowa State and even though only eight of them went in, this spread the Cyclones out and eventually the Longhorns shots went in when it was needed most.

The Game

Bamba’s status could be the difference between a win or loss for Texas. The longhorns have matched up well against Tech previously but that was mostly because Tech didn’t have an answer for Bamba who put up 27 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 blocks in the two meetings combined. If he indeed plays, Texas gets their best player back and the guy who’s given Tech fits.

On the other hand, Texas is yet to play against Zach Smith yet. Texas Tech had just lost their defensive anchor the first time these two teams played, which would help explain Bamba’s 15 points and Osetkowski’s 12 points. Having Smith in this game is big because Osetkowski won’t have the mismatch he usually has in games. Without Zach Smith, Coach Chris Beard was forced to throw Zhaire Smith and Tommy Hamilton at him, now there is an inside defender who can stretch out to the perimeter with zero problem.

With this being a neutral game in Kansas City, I do not expect much fanfare. This plays well into the veteran Red Raiders hands as they’ve played well in neutral sites this season.

On offense, Tech will once again need Keenan Evans to show up in this game. Against TCU he looked like the Evans we’ve seen all season and if the same player comes out tonight, then Red Raider fans will be all smiles. I would also like to see Jarrett Culver get going. When Culver is confident in his offensive ability, he’s one of the most dynamic scorers in the entire conference. When he’s not, he is a shell of himself. I would like to see Culver not hesitate on his shot and take any opportunity he sees confidently. A tag team of Evans and Culver will spell doom for the Longhorns.

The Red Raiders stand much to gain in this game as well. Not only would a win here move Tech closer to their sixth conference tournament title, but it would help move Tech up the three seed in the NCAA tournament bracket. Tech likely needs a three seed or better in order to play the first two rounds in Dallas, which would be virtual home games for the Red Raiders.

The Big 12 tournament is finally here. Texas Tech has never won the Big 12 tournament and hasn’t won a conference tournament since 1996. We’ve speculated whether or not this is the best Tech team in program history, well it is now time for them to prove it.


If Bamba plays: Tech 72, Texas 70

If Bamba doesn’t play: Tech 78, Texas 66