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Texas Tech draws its sword for the throne

Tied for second, the Red Raiders and Jayhawks battle again for rights to the realm.

Arguably the nationally-ranked showdown is set for primetime tomorrow night in Lubbock. No. 14 Texas Tech is hosting a red-wedding for No. 12 Kansas and the toast is at 7pm. College Gameday, although recently deciding to abstain from hosting Duke/Syracuse, will not be in Lubbock this time around. No matter. Texas Tech and Kansas both sit at 9-4 in the conference (one game behind Kansas State) and if either wants to have a real shot at the throne they must take the game Saturday.

The Red Raiders, after losing to Kansas in Lawrence, have taken an aggressive retaliation by beating three of their last four opponents by a margin of 25+ points. Oklahoma is the only exception, losing to Tech 66-54. Jarret Culver has been a sustained offensive piece for Texas Tech, but now we’re seeing better efficiency from players like Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, and Davide Moretti. Moretti, in particular, has created a lot of damage from the three-point line going for 13-26 in the past five games. He also leads the team with 15 assists in that span. Mooney’s consistency across the past four games has been sorely needed, and like Culver he has been making more efforts to draw fouls from opponents.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On the defensive side of the ball, Texas Tech is white hot in maintaining low-turnovers and dialing in (now) signature Tech defense. Tariq Owens has been exceptionally pronounced in his shot blocking ability and disruption beyond the arc; he’s one of the ten semifinalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award. Matt Mooney has also been noticeably more aggressive in pressuring ball handlers, most times leading to a significant number of steals. There have only been two teams that have scored 70 points on Texas Tech this year: Baylor and Kansas. Texas Tech put the sword to Baylor for that injustice and now will be looking to do the same to Kansas.

Contrarily, Kansas is looking to ensure its long-standing claim to the throne but Texas Tech is coming for them like Robb Stark to the Lannisters. In their last four-game stretch they’ve lost to Kansas State, handily beat Oklahoma State and West Virginia, and edged out an overtime thriller against TCU. The Oklahoma State and West Virginia games shouldn’t frighten anybody. The TCU game should illuminate a larger problem the Jayhawks have faced this year: away games. Their four conference losses have been on opponent’s home courts and it was nearly five had TCU not made poor late-game decisions.

The Jayhawks offense has been fully determined by Dedrick Lawson’s involvement. The junior is averaging a double-double this season with 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. In his first match up against Tech he had a 25-point, 10-rebound kind of game - so it’s no secret that the defense will have to key in on his threat. Ochai Agbaji has also been prolific for the Jayhawks along with freshmen Devon Dotson. All of that to say their stardom came in the absence of stud guard Marcus Garrett from an ankle injury. It’s been released that Garrett has been able to practice again, but may still be out for this weekend match up.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the next-man-up ability for Kansas’ offense, their defense has not been as impressive. KenPom has the Jayhawks ranked at 13th for adjusted defense, so they’re not a pushover by any means but they do have a track record of giving up near 70 point a game. That stat alone plays well into Texas Tech’s favor, who is averaging 71.5 points a game while only conceding about 57. The only team not able to score near 70 against Kansas recently was West Virginia - and that was more on the Mountaineers than it was on the Jayhawks.

Beyond the numbers the keys for Tech’s success lives and dies with these few items: how well Tech forces and resists turnovers, how well they keep Kansas from netting three-pointers, and by having consistent shooting. No droughts! As Coach Beard has mentioned in an interview, he expects “Kansas to be playing their best game of the season” with how close the conference championship race is. Ideally, the Red Raiders will hold serve and replicate their previous few games. Texas Tech has led at halftime by double-digits in five of the past six games: Baylor (+13), Oklahoma State (+19), Oklahoma (+11), West Virginia (+15) and TCU (+16). In those victories were the best glimpses of Texas Tech basketball all season. Until 7pm arrives all we will be able to repeat is the same warning since the last long-night:

“Winter is coming.”

And we will make ourselves ready.

Coach Beard previews Kansas:

Coach Self previews Texas Tech:

Texas Tech vs Kansas by the numbers: