No. 7 Texas Tech takes on hot Baylor

WACO, Texas — It’s the time of year when every college basketball game sparks conversation about NCAA Tournament credentials – whether a team is a lock, looks good or is surfing on the bubble.

When No. 7 Texas Tech travels to Baylor for a Saturday evening clash, it looks like the Red Raiders are a lock and the Bears will be trying to improve their position on the bubble.

But wait a minute. Texas Tech coach Chris Beard doesn’t want to concede that his team is a lock. During media availability on Thursday, a reporter suggested to Red Raider forward Justin Gray that his team is almost a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s not a lock,” Beard interjected.

Gray smiled and agreed with his coach saying, “It’s never a lock.”

Maybe that’s because Texas Tech (22-4, 10-3 Big 12) was shut out of postseason play a year ago despite winning 18 games. Whatever the reason, the Red Raiders have been extremely focused and poised during their current seven-game winning streak.

“As coaches, we’re never satisfied,” Beard said. “I think that we can play a lot better. I understand that we’re winning some games right now and we’ve got some individual players playing well. But what I sit around thinking about is, ‘Can we get everybody going?'”

Guard Keenan Evans leads the Red Raiders in scoring at 18.7 points per game, and he scored 26 points in Tuesday’s 88-78 victory over Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, even a Baylor team that has won four straight can look at Texas Tech and envy its position.

“We’ll switch records with them and I’ll tell you we’re a lock,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said, joking with media members at his own availability on Friday. “You win nine (in Big 12 play), you’re sleeping fine. In fact they don’t have to win again. They can just rest, make sure they don’t get anyone injured. In all sincerity, our league has enough respect, pretty much everyone knows nationwide, you win nine or 10 games, you’re not having discussions.”

Baylor (16-10, 6-7) struggled through the first half of conference play, but the Bears have won four straight games and played their way back into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Baylor defeated then-No. 10 Kansas last Saturday in Waco and have a chance to make a strong impression if they can post a victory at home over a top-10 opponent for the second straight Saturday.

Texas Tech defeated Baylor by 24 points on December 29 in both teams’ Big 12 opener. However, the Bears played without 7-foot forward Jo Lual-Acuil in that game, while fellow forward Terry Maston was in his first game back from an injury to his shooting hand.

Beard knows his team will have a much more difficult task defeating Baylor on the Bears’ home floor with Lual-Acuil in the game.

“It’s a big difference,” Beard said. “(Lual-Acuil) anchors their defense. He’s a double-double guy in the Big 12. Those numbers alone make you an NBA prospect. He’s a great shot-blocker, one of the top three or four in the league. Offensively he can score facing the basket, back to the basket or get an offensive rebound put back.”

Lual-Acuil is averaging 14.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks this season, and he had 19 points in the win over Kansas.

NCAA Tournament projections aside, the matchup between Texas Tech and Baylor is one in which both teams know their identity and have been successful lately.

“Should be a great game and after that someone is going to have to work on their confidence again and get their swag back, and the other team’s feeling pretty good,” Drew said.