The Associated Press
LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech’s nonconference schedule last season didn’t work out the way Pat Knight had hoped, so he made some changes. After nine games last season, the Red Raiders were unbeaten and enjoying their best start in 80 years. Rising to No. 16 in the nation, the streak included beating then-No. 22 Washington, 99-92, at home in overtime.
The Red Raiders finished 12-2 in nonconference play and there was plenty of buzz around Lubbock — until Texas Tech won just four Big 12 games and finished 19-16. Knight said he toughened up the nonconference schedule this season and Texas Tech is 5-5.
After 10 days off for final exams, the Red Raiders carry a winless road record into Saturday night’s game at UTEP (7-2). Knight is hoping the Red Raiders can get to 10 wins before opening Big 12 play at home against No. 9 Baylor on Jan. 8. Three days later, they play host to No. 22 Texas.
“As well as we did in the preseason [last year] it didn’t get us ready for the Big 12,” Knight said. “I’d rather take my hits now and have some problems like we did than having everything go great in the preseason — when it really doesn’t mean anything — and get ready for the Big 12.”
Players and Knight say the team should be 8-2, pointing to losses at North Texas (93-82 in OT), to South Florida (64-61) and to TCU (81-77). All were lost in the final minute. “I think that we’re just a little frustrated that things just aren’t going our way,” said senior Mike Singletary, who is averaging 12.7 points. “You’ve got to be frustrated when you’re 5-5 and your expectations are a lot bigger than that. I don’t think it something that’s not fixable.”
Knight said the defense needs improvement. Texas Tech is allowing opponents to score 79 points, just below what the Raiders are scoring.
“They’ve shown they can play well but then they play bad,” said Knight, who is in his third full season after taking over when his father, Bob Knight, resigned in February 2008. “We just got to keep grinding it out. You can’t get upset as a staff, get negative. It does no good.”
Singletary said the team can play defense but has done so only in spurts. Also, players at times fail to help teammates defensively. “We just get out there and we just completely forget what we’re doing,” he said. “That’s not a lack of leadership. That’s just a lack of focus on some of our parts.”
Brad Reese, another senior, said nothing is gained by lamenting games they could have won. “We can’t go back in time,” said Reese, who’s averaging 12.8 points. “We’re 5-5 now so we just got to keep getting better.”
Some of Pat Knight’s frustration stems from having six seniors on the team, including Singletary and John Roberson, who is averaging 13.3 points. Knight thought the team would have started better with that kind of leadership, even with a tougher nonconference schedule. “But it is what it is,” he said. “You got to keep chugging along. I think eventually they’ll get it. They’ve gotten it in the past. It’s just we’re struggling right now.”
The games against the Bears and the Longhorns could show whether a tougher nonconference schedule worked in the Red Raiders’ favor. “You got to get things going here in the preseason,” Knight said. “Because you don’t want to go into that conference, especially when you play Baylor and Texas right off the bat, on a down note.”
He stands behind his prediction that Texas Tech will make it to the NCAA tournament this season. Before the first game was played, Knight said he shouldn’t be given a contract extension if he didn’t lead the Red Raiders to the tournament. “I think this team is good enough,” he said. “They’ve got talent. If it was a bad team I wouldn’t talk about it. I just keep telling them they’re a good team playing bad.”