Red Raiders sustaining momentum, defying experts

Red Raiders guard Jarrett Culver (23) drives around Oklahoma Sooners guard Christian James (0) in the first half at United Supermarkets Arena.Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech edge Oklahoma to reach 14-1, 3-0 in Big 12.

By defeating No. 23 Oklahoma on Tuesday night, Texas Tech notched its first win over a ranked opponent this season and boosted its record to 14-1.

The Red Raiders are guaranteed 32 basketball games this season, counting the 31 on the schedule and one in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. That means this campaign reaches its halfway point in Austin on Saturday.

These are all basic, obvious facts that don’t take a deep dive to discover. But they point to an interesting trend.

Going into this season, the Red Raiders had made the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years and most Texas Tech fans figured that run would continue. Sure, the Red Raiders lost a lot of talent off of the 2017-18 squad that reached the Elite Eight, but the program had undeniable momentum.

Even so, the outside perspective was that the Red Raiders were still a lower-echelon Big 12 program. Experts who picked Texas Tech seventh in the conference would have given the Red Raiders a chance to make the Big Dance, but they were a bubble team from the outside looking in when the season began.

Now, it’s January 9 and Chris Beard’s bunch is at the top of the Big 12 standings. Bracket projections are debating how high the Red Raiders will be seeded, so they’re a long way from the bubble.

Texas Tech reached this same stage of last season with an identical 14-1, 3-0 record. It finished the regular season by winning 10 and losing 8, including a four-game losing streak that started with Keenan Evans breaking a toe in a loss to Baylor in Waco. By the time the Big 12 Tournament started, the Red Raiders had the No. 2 seed in Kansas City, but they needed an extra day of rest worse than they needed to advance in the conference bracket.

The look back serves as a reminder of how tough the Big 12 schedule can be. But it also puts in perspective how well Texas Tech has positioned itself at the halfway point.

Jarrett Culver scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the victory over Oklahoma on Tuesday night. But just as important, the Red Raiders held a third-straight Big 12 opponent under 60 points and Brandone Francis and Davide Moretti hit big shots.

Those are the ingredients that have gotten Texas Tech this far and that recipe seems to be sustainable.

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