Oct 18, Kansas City, MO, USA; Texas Tech head coach Grant McCasland answers questions at the Big 12 Mens Basketball Tipoff at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: Kylie Graham-USA TODAY Sports
Tonight, the Texas Tech basketball program is set to open its 99th season when Texas A&M-Commerce comes calling. While the Red Raiders will be heavy favorites, what we’ve already seen early in this college basketball season should be a cautionary tale for major-conference schools when facing teams from mid or low-major leagues.
Since the season began on Monday, several big-time programs have dropped buy games on their home court. Of course, the most famous instance was No. 4 Michigan State losing to James Madison 79-76 at home.
The same fate befell a Big 12 rival, Oklahoma State. Monday night, the Cowboys lost at home to Abilene Christian 64-59.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt (a future Texas Tech opponent) lost at home to Presbyterian and DePaul lost a buy game to Purdue-Fort Wayne. In other words, Tech has to be on guard tonight.
Now, the Lions of Texas A&M-Commerce aren’t necessarily the fiercest of opponents. Last season, they were just 13-20 overall and 9-9 in the Southland Conference.
However, they are accustomed to playing big-time programs. Last year, they faced Texas while this season, they have already taken on A&M (a lopsided 78-46 loss). What’s more, on Friday, they will play at Kentucky.
That means that tonight’s opponent for the Red Raiders will have one game of experience under its belt. That gives the Lions a small advantage after having an opportunity to work through some of the expected early-season kinks that every team must navigate.
Additionally, this could be a classic trap game for the Red Raiders. It’s hard to imagine the season opener being classified as such but given that the last time Grant McCasland’s team competed against another school, it picked up a win in a highly-publicized exhibition against No. 15 Texas A&M.
That was over a week ago and since then, the hype train for this year’s team has picked up significant steam. Now, it will be imperative that McCasland and his coaching staff keep the Red Raiders humble and focused not on their win over the Aggies but on taking care of business against four mid-major programs to open the year before heading to the Bahamas and the Battle 4 Atlantis where Tech will face Villanova in the opening game.
No one quite knows what to expect of this year’s team given the coaching change and the nine new faces on the roster. That’s what makes this season so intriguing, though.
The win over A&M, albeit in a scrimmage, has shown that the talent is there for the Red Raiders to be a dangerous team but there will certainly be some bumps in the road as the players learn to play the McCasland way. How long will that process take before becoming a way of life for this team? What does the McCasland way really look like, especially in a major conference? Which newcomers will be spark plugs and which will be afterthoughts come January?
The answers to those questions will be fascinating to find out and we will begin to learn about this team tonight. So as we prepare for another season of Texas Tech basketball with all its ups and downs on the way to March, here are some predictions as to what we will see this season.
What’s more, the program is coming off of a terrible season defined by chaos and dysfunction. Also, the returning players from last year are not all-conference honorees or NBA Lottery picks.
You won’t find any Red Raiders on the Big 12 preseason all-conference teams. No one is predicting a Red Raider to be player of the year. Few are even giving McCasland a chance to be one of the better coaches in the conference.
However, this year, Texas Tech will be the surprise team of the Big 12. That’s because the whole of the Red Raiders will be greater than the sum of their parts.
Tech has put together a fantastic collection of role players, talents who have come from programs that have asked them to take a bit of a back seat rather than be the focal point. Players like WVU transfer Joe Toussaint, Cambridge, and Warren Washington (also an Arizona State transfer) were all held back a bit at their previous programs with Toussaint even coming off the bench for the Mountaineers.
This year, that trio will show that they are ready to be big-time performers in expanded opportunities. They will show that they are capable of being difference-makers and McCasland will get the most out of them. After all, he has a history of mining every bit of talent possible out of his players at North Texas, players who were not considered superstars in the sport.
Though these new Red Raiders don’t have huge reputations in the sport, they will be some of the best players in the Big 12 and that’s one reason why Tech will surpass expectations. Also, the Big 12, while deep, isn’t going to be as top-heavy as usual.
Kansas is going to win the conference unless something shocking happens. But Houston will find out that life in the Big 12 is much rougher than what the Cougars have been accustomed to in recent years. Baylor returns only one starter and will be relying on some very young players to be key factors.
Texas could be a handful with most of last year’s Elite 8 team returning but is Rodney Terry ready to be a program builder at the highest level of the sport after replacing Chris Beard in mid-season last year? The point is that, outside of Kansas, every Big 12 team has major question marks.
K-State lost its two best players from last year. The Oklahoma schools both have coaches on the hot seat. Iowa State’s best player will be a true freshman. TCU will be without star guard Mike Miles Jr.
The opportunity is there for a well-rounded Tech team to make waves. Will it be easy? Of course not. But This Red Raider team is deep and talented, especially at the guard position and on the wings and that’s where the college game is often decided. So buckle up Red Raiders because basketball season is here and this team could be one of the most intriguing in the country this fall as they make another run to the NCAA Tournament.