No. 18 Baylor opens Big 12 play at No. 22 Texas Tech

Baylor and Texas Tech don’t have to wait any longer to find out how their nonconference schedules prepared them for the rigors of Big 12 play.

As the conference tips off on Friday, six Big 12 teams — more than half of the league — are ranked in the Top 25. That means Big 12 basketball fans get a pair of matchups between ranked teams on opening weekend, beginning with No. 18 Baylor (10-2) visiting No. 22 Texas Tech (11-1) on Friday night in Lubbock, Texas.

No. 10 TCU hosts No. 12 Oklahoma on Saturday.

The conference features a double round-robin regular-season slate, and the past seven weeks of basketball suggest it will be a challenging road, even for perennial champ Kansas, from here to the conference tournament in early March in Kansas City.

Any Big 12 members who experience a rough start can take solace in Oklahoma State’s run last season. The Cowboys lost their first six conference games, but rebounded to finish 20-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12, earning a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Even so, the Bears and Red Raiders will be seeking to charge out of the blocks when they meet at the United Supermarkets Arena.

“All 18 games are equally important,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “Just put it this way, on Saturday morning, you’re going to have me and you’re going to have Scott Drew and one of us is going to be feeling a little bit better than the other.”

Texas Tech will have the home-court advantage, though Baylor gets a chance to face the Red Raiders before their student section returns from semester break.

Texas Tech also has strength in numbers as it has used a 10-player rotation throughout nonconference play. Not only are 10 Red Raiders averaging more than 13 minutes, nine have scored in double figures at least once.

Point guard Keenan Evans leads the team at 16.5 points per game despite the fact that he didn’t score in the 103-69 victory over Savannah State.

The Red Raiders will try to make their depth a major factor against a Baylor team that has been thin this season. The Bears have been limited to eight scholarship players, and had as few as six in one game. Forward Terry Maston, who was averaging 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds before missing the last six games with a broken right hand, isn’t expected to return from injury until January.

However, Baylor’s strengths could mitigate its depth problems. The Bears have become well known for their stifling zone defense, which could help conserve energy and avoid foul trouble as well as frustrate Texas Tech’s motion offense.

Beard said he expects Baylor to mix different zone looks with a man-to-man defense.

“We can’t spend the whole game trying to figure out what they’re in,” Beard said. “We’ve got to spend the whole game trying to be aggressive and play our game.”

Baylor will have plenty of playing time for its perimeter scorers — guards Manu Lecomte and King McClure and forward Nuni Omot — to get into the flow of the game. That trio averages 6.9 made 3-pointers. But even more important than scoring from beyond the arc, Lecomte said the Bears need to control the ball long enough to get open shots.

“They play deep, a lot of players and they run a lot,” Lecomte said. “So we can’t just give them a chance like that, turn the ball over and give them a chance to run the floor. That’s what they want to do. So we’re going to have to take care of the ball.”