Jan 28, 2023; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders forward Kevin Obanor (0) dunks the ball against the LSU Tigers during the second half at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
Location: Lubbock, Texas
Time: 8 p.m.
KenPom Prediction: 66-64, Iowa State
1 – Tale of two seasons
These two teams going head-to-head in Lubbock on Monday couldn’t be on more opposite trajectories heading into the regular season’s final month.
Iowa State has won eight of its last 11 games, currently finds itself in a tie atop the Big 12 standings and the metrics project them to be in the regular season title race until the season’s final weeks.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech has lost eight of its last nine games, including a 0-8 start to Big 12 play, and is currently listed as an underdog in every game remaining on its schedule by KenPom.
The Red Raiders did pick up their first win in January on Saturday by beating LSU, 76-68, on the road, and they did so in impressive fashion without several of their top players while shooting a season-high 61.1 percent from 3-point range at an 11-of-18 clip.
This is the type of game Iowa State absolutely has to win if they have any hope of remaining in the Big 12 title race over the next several weeks.
You can’t afford to drop games against teams looking for the first conference win in late January if you want to win a conference title, especially when you’ve still got road trips to visit several of the league’s other top teams left on the schedule.
Texas Tech will be a desperate team, though, as they’re now facing a 10-game sprint to try and salvage whatever NCAA Tournament chances might still exist, however slim those chances may be. They’ve surely got some confidence, too, after Saturday’s win in Baton Rouge.
This game could go a long way toward setting a tone for each of these teams as they head into the second half of the league schedule.
2 – Who will be available?
You could put a pretty darn good little squad together just with the players from these teams who have been battling injuries in recent weeks.
Iowa State was without senior guard Caleb Grill in Saturday’s loss to Missouri, and the Cyclones were hurt significantly by the sharpshooter’s absence. There has been no word as to Grill’s availability in Lubbock, but you’d have to assume the decision to hold him out on Saturday was made in the hopes he’ll feel healthy enough to play this week.
We will have to wait and see.
The Cyclones will still be without senior forward Aljaz Kunc, who has missed the last month with an injury to his non-shooting hand. This could be Iowa State’s last game without one of their most consistent weapons and team leaders, though.
The original timeline for Kunc’s injury included the goal of a return for Iowa State’s game against Kansas at Hilton Coliseum. That’s the next game on the Cyclone schedule after Monday night.
There will surely be some clarity as this week progresses, but reinserting Kunc into the rotation will be a significant addition as the stretch run toward March approaches.
On the Texas Tech side, freshman guard Pop Isaacs, the team’s leading scorer this season, missed the game against LSU after suffering an ankle injury in the Red Raiders’ loss to West Virginia last Wednesday in Morgantown.
Isaacs was joined on the injury report by senior center Fardaws Aimaq, who made his Texas Tech debut earlier this month after sitting out the season’s first 16 games due to an injury, played in three Big 12 contests, averaging 10.0 points and 6.7 rebounds, then missed each of the last two games with a bruised foot.
Texas Tech listed both of those players as day-to-day leading into Monday’s game and left the possibility open that both players could be available to play against the Cyclones.
Having those two players available will be important if the Red Raiders hope to pull an upset. Tech’s odds of doing that improve significantly if Grill is not available again for Iowa State.
3 – Stepped up
With two of the team’s top players on the bench with injuries, the Red Raiders needed someone to step up against LSU, and a trio of players answered that call in a big way.
Senior forward Kevin Obanor tallied 22 points and connected on 3-of-6 shots from deep to lead the team. The 6-foot-8 former transfer from Oral Roberts is second on the squad in scoring in league play, averaging 12.4 points, and is third on the team snagging 6.4 rebounds per game.
De’Vion Harmon added 14 points, knocked down both of his attempted 3-pointers and dished eight assists while handling the bulk of the ball-handling duties in Isaacs’ absence. Despite hitting both his shots from deep against LSU, Harmon has struggled significantly from downtown in Big 12 play, connecting on just 22.7 percent of his shots from deep against league competition.
The biggest surprise of the afternoon for Texas Tech was junior guard Kerwin Walton, who earned the start in Isaacs’ place, and took advantage by knocking down 5-of-6 shots from deep on his way to a 17-point performance. Walton is 9-of-13 from deep against Big 12 teams so far and has connected on 50 percent of his 3-pointers this season.
The Red Raiders will likely need all three of those players to step up in similar fashions and shoot the ball well again if they’re going to upset Iowa State. They’ll also need strong contributions from freshman center Daniel Batcho, especially if Aimaq is not available for the third straight game.
It is hard to really know what we’re going to get from these two teams as they work their way through the dog days of the college basketball season. Those dog days are even tougher when you’ve got a two-day turnaround after both teams played hard-fought games on Saturday.
Both of these teams have a lot on the line as the calendar prepares to flip to February. Both of these teams need a win for completely different reasons.
Iowa State hopes to stay in league title contention. Texas Tech hopes to avoid going winless in the conference season’s first half and start the long climb out of the league’s basement.
Monday night is simply the start. College basketball’s stretch run is here.