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It’s Starting to Feel Like 2019 In Raiderland

Photo CC: Brad Tollefson/ A-J Media

Welcome to the Big 12, Mark Adams!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably already know that the Red Raiders are on a bit of a hot streak. Following a tightly contested loss to No. 11 Iowa State a couple of weeks ago, the No. 18 Red Raiders have now beaten No. 6 Kansas, No. 1 Baylor, unranked Oklahoma State, and No. 15 Iowa State in a five-game span. Needless to say, that revenge game against Iowa State feels particularly sweet at the moment.

For most Tech fans, the home win over the Jayhawks probably would have been enough to call it a strong start to conference play, but this team has continued to rise up to the occasion and impress the entire 806 with their 4-2 start to Big 12 competition.

It is fair to say that the Red Raiders’ win in Waco was the biggest win they have had since they defeated No. 4 Michigan State in the Final Four back in 2019. Other big wins include beating No. 1 Louisville at Madison Square Garden in December of 2019, Mac McClung’s game-winner on No. 4 Texas in January of 2021, and even the upset win over No. 14 Tennessee just last month. But to beat an undefeated conference rival who happens to be the reigning National Champion on their home court? Well, that was something else.

The Red Raiders now sit 14-4 overall and 4-2 in Big 12 play and are starting to feel like the kind of nitty-gritty squad that we saw make it all the way to the National Championship game a few seasons ago. And, somehow, they’ve done it in large part without their leading scorer in Terrence Shannon Jr.

Shannon has only appeared in eight games this season for Tech and was absent for both the Kansas and Baylor games. He was averaging 14.3 points per game on 48/36/85 shooting splits before going down with a back injury. Since returning, he has logged a measly six points in two games. When 100%, he is, without a doubt, the most prolific scorer the Red Raiders have on their roster. But that does not seem to be the case. Clearly, he still needs time to reacclimate to the speed and intensity of conference play. So how has Tech remained so competitive without his contributions? Well, the credit for that has to go to Coach Mark Adams (A Big 12 veteran if you were wondering) and his staff for putting together such a deep and talented roster.

Throughout the season, an abundance of different guys has come up in big spots for the Red Raiders. For instance, Shannon’s 18 points and 12 boards in addition to fan-favorite Daniel Batcho’s 11 boards and 2 blocks, helped power Tech to their first upset of the season against the Vols. Then at the USA against Kansas, it was Bryson Williams and Clarence Nadolny who lit it up with 22 and 17 points, respectively. And Tuesday against Baylor, it was Adonis Arms who came alive with a tremendous 14-9-5 statline, including a highlight dunk in the waning minutes of the contest that put the Red Raiders up two scores.

The versatility of this Red Raider lineup has been its biggest strength. Currently, 10 players on the roster have been averaging 11 minutes per game or more. Say what you will about these players individually, but their next-man-up mentality has kept them overachieving as no Tech team has since that magical run in 2019.

If you don’t believe me, let’s look closer at those Red Raider losses. Their first loss of the season came in an incredibly close road game to an unranked Providence team that has now been ranked in all of the last four weeks, even going as high as No. 16 in that span. They then were defeated in Phoenix by future NBA lottery pick Chet Holmgren and the No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Those same Gonzaga Bulldogs were playing for the National Championship 11 months ago and were ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first three weeks of this season. Their two conference losses both came on the road against No. 11 Iowa State and unranked Kansas State. The Kansas State game may seem on the surface like the lone outlier in an otherwise impressive list, but that same Wildcat team turned around after their win over the Red Raiders and beat No. 23 Texas on the road. Clearly, there’s a bit more to that team than we all had previously thought. Nevertheless, Tech is 4-2 against top-15 opponents. Only two of those six games took place in the USA, where the Red Raiders are currently undefeated.

This is yet another way that this year’s team is comparable to the 2018-2019 squad. That Jarrett Culver-led team was 11-1 heading into conference play, with their one loss coming at MSG to a No. 2 Duke team that sported a starting five that included Zion Williamson (No. 1 overall pick), R.J. Barrett (No. 3 overall pick), and Cam Reddish (No. 10 overall pick). They had their fair share of struggles against top-tier opponents, but they were rarely out of games and came up with more big wins than big losses. That team went on to finish with a 31-7 record heading into the tournament.

Now, will this 14-4 team go on to finish with less than seven losses? Probably not. Conference play is a whole different animal because no teams know you better than your conference rivals. That can work in Tech’s favor (Kansas and Baylor) or out of Tech’s favor (See Tech’s three straight losses in January of 2019). But that’s sports. You have to be good, and you have to be lucky.

Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, this has been a particularly nice time of optimism for Tech fans. Yet another win for the Red Raiders came two Sundays ago when former Texas wing Jaylon Tyson announced his intention to transfer to Texas Tech. Most Tech fans got a pretty good kick out of the Red Raiders stealing back the former four-star recruit from Chris Beard’s Longhorns, but besides that, Tyson is an incredibly talented player who can help solve Tech’s most glaring weakness the second he steps onto the hardwood.

That glaring weakness would be the team’s three-point shooting. Through 18 games the team has shot a measly 32.5% from downtown, per Tech Athletics. Much of those team struggles are a result of sharpshooter Kevin Obanor struggling to find consistency in his shot so far and Shannon’s recent absences. On the bright side, Williams and Arms have both been putting up career-high percentages from deep, with the pair shooting 40.5% and 36.4% respectively. Furthermore, there is optimism that as Obanor’s sample size on the season grows larger, his shooting percentage will rise.

That being said, the fact of the matter is that regardless of their three-point percentage, the Red Raiders are still finding ways to win games. Be it Batcho and Williams dominating the paint, Nadolny catching fire, or any other random impactful outburst, they seem to find exactly what they need to get by game-to-game right now. This Tech team looks like as tough an opponent as any in an already stacked Big 12, even with the loss of Sardaar Calhoun to the transfer portal.

The best part of this whirlwind start to the season is that it has the Red Raider faithful out in full force. The USA was rocking against Oklahoma State on Thursday following their win over Baylor, and then again against Iowa State on Tuesday night. Suddenly Arms and Batcho now each have their own separate fan accounts on Twitter. Again, just a good time to be a Red Raider. I guess the real question is who will get a Twitter page dedicated to the next? Odds for the most likely Red Raiders that are not already stars (McCullar & Shannon) or do not already have known fan pages (Arms & Batcho) are as follows: Kevin Obanor, -350; Bryson Williams, -100; Mark Adams, even; Clarence Nadolny, +750; Marcus Santos-Silva, +1,000; Davion Warren, +1,000; Mylik Wilson, +1,500; K.J. Allen, +7,500, Jaylon Tyson, +10,000.

Personally, my money is on Obanor, but if you think I’m not putting some serious cash on Nadolny right now, you’re crazy!

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