Just two seasons ago, Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the Big 12 Conference regular-season title, ending Kansas’ run of 14 straight years of winning or sharing the conference crown.
In the time since, the programs have gone in opposite directions as they head into a Saturday matchup in Manhattan, Kan.
Texas Tech advanced to the national championship game that season, falling 85-77 in overtime to Virginia. Kansas State lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to UC Irvine.
Last season, the Red Raiders finished in a four-way tie for third in the Big 12, while Kansas State brought up the rear. This season, the 13th-ranked Red Raiders (13-5, 5-4 Big 12) are in sixth place in the conference, but they’re just a half-game behind second-place Texas and West Virginia coming into Saturday’s game.
The Wildcats (5-14, 1-9) have lost nine straight games and appear headed for their worst record since 1945-46, when they went 4-20.
Kansas State being a “very young team” is wearing thin, even though it’s true. The Wildcats have the second-most starts by true freshmen in the country (behind only Kentucky), and injuries and COVID have depleted the roster. But it’s time for a change.
“We’re just not in sync on offense right now,” said senior guard Mike McGuirl, the lone remaining player from the 2019 conference championship team, following Tuesday’s 74-51 loss at Kansas. “I don’t know what the biggest thing is that’s holding us back. We’ve got some soul-searching to do, myself included.
“I love my teammates. Their hearts are in the right place. It’s new to a lot of them, and they’re figuring it out. I’m with them every step of the way to try to help them figure it out. We’re going to go back, learn from it and I’m going to try to help them in any way I can,” McGuirl said.
One thing that would help is consistency on offense. Nijel Pack, who scored 26 points against Texas A&M in his first game back after missing four games with COVID, had just 10 against the Jayhawks.
The Wildcats have had a handful of players lead the team in scoring during the season, which normally is a good thing, but in their case it represents hot-and-cold nights for their entire roster.
Texas Tech has struggled with consistency as well, though not as badly. The Red Raiders have not won more than four straight games all season.
They are coming off a 57-52 victory on their home court, defeating No. 9 Oklahoma to stop the Sooners’ five-game winning streak.
“Obviously, it was a defensive battle that was ugly in some ways but beautiful in others,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “It was two teams defending at a high level. Shots weren’t falling for either team, but you have to give both defensive units a lot of credit.
“I thought our guys did a good job in the second half not settling and getting to the free-throw line,” Beard said. “I think that was the difference in the game.”
Mac McClung leads Tech with 16.8 points per game, followed byTerrence Shannon (13.6) and Kevin McCullar (10.2).
–Field Level Media