Texas Tech will end Kansas' Big 12 reign if it wins out in the regular season. That's a big deal, but the Red Raiders should have their sights set even higher.
Here's why Texas Tech is going to be one of the most dangerous teams on the NCAA tournament bracket.
They have the nation's best defense and a superstar
This is a tried and true winning college basketball formula. It's how Connecticut won national championships in 2011 and 2014 despite not being in the discussion for a 1 seed either year. The Huskies had Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier those seasons, and had better defenses than offenses. If you're not a powerhouse, this is the next best way to get in the title hunt.
Texas Tech fits that mold. It has the No. 1 defense in the country right now, per KenPom, and has been in the top five just about all year. The Red Raiders have an adjusted defensive rating of 85.7, which is a few decimal points stingier than Virginia. They rank in the top 10 in opposing 3-point percentage defense, 2-point percentage defense, and are 11th in turnover rate. Texas Tech is clearly national-championship caliber on one side of the floor.
We'll dive more in depth into the offense later, but the Red Raiders have a legitimate star in Jarrett Culver. He's a top 10 player in the country. Culver is averaging 17.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 48.6 percent shooting. He's the rare high volume, high efficiency scorer. Culver is an expert shot creator who can get Texas Tech an isolation bucket in a pinch.
This is a formula that is especially valuable in close games. Texas Tech is at its best when the game slows down, as it does in tight, late situations, because both teams are going up against a set defense. Good luck scoring on the Red Raiders when all five guys are set, and Culver is one of the best isolation scorers in the country.
Texas Tech is comfortable playing in situations that make some teams uncomfortable. That's a perk of having an elite defense and a star player.
What was once their weakness is rapidly becoming a strength
There was a time this season when Texas Tech ranked first in defense, but was outside of the top 100 in offense. It still won a lot of games. But you're not a serious national championship contender with that stark discrepancy. Tech is up to 37th in adjusted offensive efficiency as of this writing.
But the Red Raiders are scoring in bunches lately. They are averaging 85.5 points over their last four games. The opponents have been solid: Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State and TCU. And Tech topped 78 in two of the three games prior to that stretch. This offensive surge has been going on for a month.
It starts with Culver, who is back to playing like a star after a bit of a mid-season lull. But the improvement is really about the supporting cast, which has defended all season long but struggled to help with the scoring load previously. Davide Moretti's play stands out. He's averaging 15.8 points over his last four and has buried 12 3s in that span. Matt Mooney is a 3-and-D menace, and Tariq Owens has cracked double figures in his last five games. He's only averaging 8.9 points on the season.
Texas Tech doesn't have a true number two option, but on a given night, Moretti, Mooney or Owens can fill that role. Truthfully, they have three guys capable of being the third option on a great team, so when they play to their potential, that's more than enough help for Culver. We'll see if this strong play carries over into mid and late March.
This coincides with the previous point, but let's zoom out a bit.
Texas Tech started off the season firing. It was 15-1, the only loss coming to Duke on a neutral floor. The Red Raiders looked like one of the best teams in the land then.
Then they scuffled a bit. The Red Raiders were 5-4 in their first nine Big 12 games, which isn't bad, but also isn't terribly inspiring. Culver was off, and the defense — while good — wasn't mashing folks like it was early on.
Well, Texas Tech has returned to its mashing ways in the last month, and the offense looks even better than it did at the start of the year. The Red Raiders have won nine of their last 10, and the only loss was against Kansas at Phog Allen. They avenged it by beating the Jayhawks by 29 a few weeks later.
Kansas isn't alone. Tech has just been wrecking teams lately. It's beaten West Virginia by 31, Oklahoma by 12, Oklahoma State by 28, Baylor by 25 and TCU by 15 in the last month.
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That's why the 9-1 in their last 10 games stat actually sells the Red Raiders short. This team is on fire, has the best defense in the country, has an AP All-American candidate and sports a burgeoning supporting cast.
NCAA tournament teams: consider yourselves warned.