If Texas Tech wants to steal the Big 12 title away from Kansas, it needs to win Games like this one. Conversely, Iowa State already gave up its golden chance to take charge in the Conference having lost its last two Games since beating the Jayhawks by 17 points. With no truly easy Games in the conference, it’s important to not lose home Games and that’s why Tech gets the initial nod in this matchup.
That’s exactly how last year’s Games went as Tech won the first meeting 70-52 at home and then ISU bounced back with a 76-58 win in Ames. It’s hard to see the same thing happening mainly because these teams have been in close Games. The Red Raiders are undefeated in the Big 12, yet none of their wins are by more than seven points. As for the Cyclones, they easily beat Kansas, but lost their last two by a combined Four points and won at OK State by six. Given those results and how Texas Tech plays, this should be close throughout.
Tech is a solid team, but not one that’s going to blow away opposition, having not surpassed 71 points in its last six Games. The Red Raiders go as their defense goes, which ranks at the top of the charts in terms of adjusted efficiency, three-point percentage and two-point percentage allowed. Those are reliable stats and nothing to overlook since this team was neck and neck with Duke a few weeks ago and stopped the Blue Devils to one of their worst offensive outputs.
The Cyclones have a balanced offense, but are coming off a brutal 57-point home performance against K State. The numbers are good, but this team is still learning to work together with last year’s leading scorer Lindell Wigginton coming off the bench having played only six Games because of injury. They’ve been better because transfers Marial Shayok (19.4 ppg) and Michael Jacobson (13.6 ppg) have become a force offensively, while players from last year’s squad like Wigginton and Nick Babb have taken more of a backseat role. The downside is that freshman Talen Horton-Tucker has hit a bit of a wall in Conference play, scoring just 28 points in the last five Games after hitting double digits in nine of the first 11 Games. The options are there, but as seen in the K State loss, the players are still figuring things out and that’s not how you beat Texas Tech. If Shayok and Wigginton decide to go into hero-ball mode, that will likely result in another troubling offensive outing.
Still, Tech isn’t the easiest team to bet on no matter where the Game is because of an offense that has only one great option. Sophomore Jarrett Culver (18.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.1 apg) does everything for the Raiders, shooting almost 50 more times than the next highest player, but also averaging the most assists. Iowa State at least has numerous bodies to throw at him from Shayok and Horton-Tucker to Tyrese Haliburton and Terrence Lewis off the bench. However, the Red Raiders got their most recent win at Texas with the help of Matt Mooney, who dropped a season-high 22 points. He’s the only other player that averages double digits on the team (11.4), though Davide Moretti (9.8 ppg) isn’t far behind and has hit double digits in the last Four.
Still, Tech’s offense is limited and that’s why it isn’t blowing out teams in Conference play. Iowa State has done a good job of not fouling this season, while that’s been a main sOurce of scoring for Tech with a 45.4% free throw rate in the Big 12, and that could be key. The Red Raiders should win this Game with defense, but it’s hard to see them winning big like in last year’s matchup.
Our Pick – Iowa State +5