No. 7 Texas Tech hosts Iowa State

The second half of conference play in any league naturally creates different priorities for different teams. That’s certainly the case when No. 7 Texas Tech hosts Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Red Raiders, who were one of only three teams from the Big 12 not to be selected for either the NCAA Tournament or NIT last season, have ascended to a tie for first place with Kansas through 10 games of league action. In order for Texas Tech (19-4, 7-3 Big 12) to stay in the race for the Big 12 championship, it seems very likely it needs to win its remaining home games, especially against an unranked foe like the Cyclones.

Meanwhile, Iowa State (12-10, 3-7) needs to get hot in conference play very soon in order to have a chance at playing beyond the Big 12 Tournament in March. The Cyclones have quality wins by 18 over Texas Tech and 16 over West Virginia in Ames, Iowa, but they have struggled on the road all season. Iowa State is 0-6 in true road games and have mostly been thumped by double digits in those losses.

But the Cyclones could change their outlook very quickly by starting a winning streak. After playing at Texas Tech, Iowa State hosts No. 17 Oklahoma on Saturday and No. 10 Kansas early next week.

“We need to respond,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “We’ve got a great stretch of games coming up right here where, if you play well, you can do some great things.”

Iowa State will apparently have to start a potential run without point guard Nick Weiler-Babb in the lineup. Weiler-Babb missed both of the Cyclones’ games last week with tendinitis in his knee. Prohm targeted next week’s game against Kansas for the point guard’s return. Prohm said the Cyclones will also be without reserve forward Hans Brase, who is still shaking off lingering effects of knee and ankle injuries.

If neither Weiler-Babb nor Brase play against Texas Tech, the Cyclones will have limited depth to match the Red Raiders active rotation.

Point guard Keenan Evans has gained loads of attention with a streak of sparkling performances in which he earned back-to-back Big 12 Player of the Week honors. Last week, Evans, who averages 18.6 points, scored 55 with 9 assists as the Red Raiders defeated Texas and TCU.

But Evans hasn’t been carrying the offensive load by himself. In Texas Tech’s current four-game winning streak, freshman guard Jarrett Culver has averaged 14 points and six other Red Raiders have scored seven or more at least once.

“I think with us, we rely on a lot of different guys,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “Whenever that depth produces like it has been, we’re a pretty good team.”

The Red Raiders have strengthened their home-court advantage this season, often filling up the 15,000-seat United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. As a result, Texas Tech is 14-0 on its home court, a huge factor in helping it climb the national rankings.

Beard will be looking for the energy at home to help his Red Raiders earn a split versus Iowa State.

“In our first game against Iowa State, they kicked us pretty good,” Beard said. “Just beat us for 40 minutes. So from a competitor standpoint, this is a game we’ve been looking forward to the rematch.”