It was, and remains, a fair question, one that Red Raider fans have been asking since McCasland was introduced last April. There is a baseline for what records the team could reach to feel confident about their March Madness hopes.
McCasland, though, took it a different direction. He said he doesn’t want to worry about what the baseline is.
“Let’s not look at minimums,” he told the crowd at Rudy’s BBQ. “Let’s look at maximums.”
Texas Tech has already reached the bare minimum of what can constitute a turnaround season. With the team’s 66-59 win over UCF on Saturday, the Red Raiders (17-6, 6-4) have exceeded last year’s win totals. They’re guaranteed a winning record regardless of what happens the rest of the way.
Fans have picked up on the rejuvenated program in McCasland’s first year. By selling out the United Supermarkets Arena for games against BYU and Cincinnati, Tech already has more sellouts than all of last season (one). The first five Big 12 Conference games under McCasland brought in an average of 1,700 more fans than the same period a year ago.
Winning makes those things possible. Success also helps the minimums seem like easy bars to clear. McCasland wants to look at maximums, what the team can still accomplish the rest of the way. Doing that will be a lot easier with a win on Monday.
Kansas is coming to town for an 8 p.m. showdown on ESPN. It’s Texas Tech’s only Big Monday appearance of the season while the Jayhawks are always on the flagship channel of the World Wide Leader’s network. For the Red Raiders to make more noise than they already have this season, they need to take the opportunities presented and firmly grasp them.
There’s no bigger opportunity than taking down the Jayhawks on your home floor. It’s also possible Kansas isn’t at 100% — something Texas Tech certainly won’t have sympathy of after the week of illness that took hold of the team.
Kevin McCullar, the former Red Raider, missed Kansas’ win over Baylor on Saturday. Coach Bill Self told local media afterward, “I can’t imagine Kevin being a lot better on Monday if he can’t hardly move on Saturday.”
As much as Kansas’ operation funnels through 7-foot-2 center Hunter Dickinson, McCullar has had an all-American-like season himself, averaging a team-high 19.5 points with 6.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game and being a 36% shooter from 3-point range.
With or without McCullar on the floor, the Red Raiders have a golden opportunity in front of them. Texas Tech doesn’t have to make the return trip to Allen Fieldhouse this season. Nabbing the lone matchup with Kansas looks good on any resume, and the Jayhawks are a very different team on the road, where they’ve lost four of their five Big 12 games to the likes of UCF, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas State.
Eight games remain in the regular season. Before Big 12 play began, I noted that history states Texas Tech should feel comfortable with its NCAA Tournament odds if it reached .500 in league play (nine wins) and achieved a 20-win campaign. Doing that would require going just 3-5 the rest of the way.
But that’s where McCasland is correct in not looking at the minimums. There’s much more out there to be attained.
Let’s look at it this way. Of Tech’s last eight regular-season games, four are at home and four are on the road. Winning on the road is a challenge, sure, but three of Tech’s road games are also against teams currently tied for 11th (UCF), 13th (West Virginia) and 14th (Oklahoma State) in the conference standings, and the Red Raiders already have wins over the Knights and Cowboys.
The home games are where the money is. Coming through Lubbock is Kansas on Monday, TCU on Feb. 20, Texas on Feb. 27 and Baylor on March 9. The toughest opponents left have to play on Tech’s home floor, the ideal setting for any team.
McCasland has said from the beginning that taking care of business at home was the first step to a successful campaign. That dampened a bit with the loss to Cincinnati, a byproduct of a brutal portion of the schedule more than any indicator of a team in trouble. With the team back to being as healthy as can be at this stage of the season, home is where the Red Raiders can really get the most impressive work done.
Beating the Jayhawks could be just the ticket to unlocking the maximums McCasland seeks. It would also go a long way in keeping the Red Raiders in contention for a Big 12 title.
Opportunity’s knocking. Will the Red Raiders answer the door?
Big 12 Men’s Basketball
No. 4 Kansas at No. 23 Texas Tech
When: Monday, 8 p.m.
Where: United Supermarkets Arena
Records: Texas Tech 17-6, 6-4; Kansas 19-5, 6-4
Notable: The Jayhawks have won eight of the last 10 meetings with Texas Tech, including three wins in the last four trips to United Supermarkets Arena.
Big 12 Standings
Team Overall Conference
Houston 21-3 8-3
Iowa State 18-5 7-3
Kansas 19-5 7-4
Baylor 17-6 6-4
Texas Tech 17-6 6-4
Oklahoma 18-6 6-5
BYU 17-6 5-5
TCU 16-7 5-5
Texas 16-8 5-6
Kansas State 15-9 5-6
Cincinnati 15-8 4-6
UCF 13-9 4-6
West Virginia 8-15 3-7
Oklahoma State 10-14 2-9