At this point a month ago, Texas and Texas Tech were traveling down considerably different avenues. While the Longhorns were reeling from the loss of senior center Cameron Ridley and searching for a new identity after back-to-back losses, including their Big 12-opener against Texas Tech, the Red Raiders were 12-1 and playing with tremendous conference.
Oh, how things can change so drastically in four quick weeks in the daunting Big 12!
Texas has now won six of its last seven, including wins over No. 17 Iowa State, and knocked off No. 6 West Virginia and No. 15 Baylor on the road; the only loss came against Kansas in The Phog. Texas Tech, on the other hand, has dropped seven of its last nine since knocking Texas off to open conference play, consequently seeing its impressive 11-1 start fade into a mediocre 13-8. For both parties, Saturday's matchup has some significant value at stake. Texas can continue its winning ways before entering a grueling stretch, where Texas will see Oklahoma twice, along with rematches against Iowa State, West Virginia, Baylor, and Kansas, as well as a tough road test against Kansas State in Manhattan. For Texas Tech, Saturday's challenge in Austin provides an opportunity for a much-needed resume-building win before entering its own three-game gauntlet against Iowa State, Baylor on the road, and Oklahoma.
A look at the Red Raiders
An initial glance at Texas Tech's recent stretch of losses would reveal poor play, but that's not quite the case; it's just life in the Big 12. TTU's seven losses in the last nine efforts are as such: 79-76 loss to No. 13 Iowa State in Ames, 69-59 loss to No. 1 Kansas, 83-70 loss to K-State in hostile Manhattan, 63-60 loss to No. 22 Baylor, 80-76 loss to No. 6 West Virginia, 91-67 loss to No. 1 Oklahoma, and 75-68 OT loss on the road to a tough Arkansas team. Outside of Oklahoma, Texas Tech has been in the thick of each game, and fell just short against some considerably stiff competition. But also worth noting is Texas Tech's only two wins have come against the Big 12's two bottom-feeders: 10-12 TCU and 11-11 Oklahoma State.
While you could credit the Red Raiders' recent shortcoming to a multitude of factors, the most notable is consistent scoring across the board. Although Devaughtah Williams, Toddrick Gotcher, Zach Smith, and Aaron Ross can all fill the stat sheet up on any given night, it's not being done collectively at a high enough clip to hang with the Big 12's powers. And even when a cluster of the aforementioned get involved, there's been very little widespread production elsewhere.
To make things worse, Texas Tech will be tasked with trying to steal a road win against a Texas team that's looking like one of the hottest units in the country without sophomore center, Norense Odiase, whom went down after breaking his fourth metatarsal against TCU. Without Odiase, TTU's fourth leading scorer (9.0 ppg), second leading rebounder (4.4), and leading shot blocker (1.8), matchup up with the two-way interior force that's known as Prince Ibeh becomes a towering cause for concern.
How Texas can stay hot
It's no secret: This is far from the identity-less Longhorns that trotted onto the court in Lubbock before suffering a conference-opening loss. Texas has been playing with tremendous confidence and chemistry offensively, and a cohesion and tenacity defensively that indicates Shaka Smart's coaching style is slowly being etched into Texas' new identity. Hence, the Longhorns have held five of their last six opponents under 70 points, with Kansas being the lone exception.
Without Odiase down low, Ibeh is primed for another career night down low, and if Texas can replicate anything close to the top-to-bottom dominating and precise performance it put on display in Waco Monday night, which included a staggering 21 assists on 21 made field goals, the Longhorns should have no problems taking care of Texas Tech with relative ease. But for that to happen, the Longhorns perimeter oriented offense will need to see noteworthy contributions from any three or four of Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix, Kerwin Roach Jr., Kendal Yancy, Tevin Mack, Eric Davis Jr., and Connor Lammert, which I don't see being much of an issue.
Texas could continue it's hot play, and depending on how convincing of a performance we see, potentially crack the top 25 next week before heading to Norman to face the top-ranked Sooners.
Predicition: Texas-76, Texas Tech-63