Show of hands here: If I asked you before the women's college basketball season tipped off what team would be the final unbeaten school in Division I, who would have said Texas Tech?
I'm guessing the answer isn't many of y'all based on this informal poll I did on Twitter:
But the Lady Raiders have outlasted all the other teams. They're 8-0, already over halfway to their win total from last season's 14-17 campaign and ahead of their win total from two years ago when they went 7-23.
Now, a 8-0 start isn't a guarantee of anything when it comes to success once the Big 12 season gets here. This is a team that was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Big 12 preseason poll, and haven't faced too many tough tests yet on their schedule.
In fact, they've just squeaked by a few teams whose records suggest the Lady Raiders should have beaten a little more soundly. A four point win over 4-5 San Diego. An eight-point win over 2-5 Houston Baptist.
But they've also looked dominant at times. They won by 36 over an Ole Miss team that's currently over .500. They beat the first four teams on their schedule by at least 30 points in each game, including a season-opening 42-point victory over Sam Houston State.
All in all, it's kind of hard to get a read on the Lady Raiders. You don't luck into a 8-0 start. You don't luck into blowing out an SEC opponent, even if that SEC opponent isn't at the top of the conference. It's become clear that this isn't the team that was picked to be a cellar dweller in the conference, but...well, what is this team? And can they get off to an 11-0 start before conference play arrives?
Let's dive into some things.
What Texas Tech does well
So, what are the Lady Raiders doing right this year? As I said, you don't luck into a 8-0 start, so we should be able to identify some key things the team's doing right.
Let's start with senior forward Brittany Brewer.
Brewer is Texas Tech's leading scorer, posting 17.4 points per game while also adding 11.3 rebounds and 5.6 blocks per contest.
Wait, 5.6 blocks? Did I type that right?
Brewer is the NCAA leader in blocks per game, tied with Merrimack's Denia Davis-Stewart. After them, it's a decent drop to third, where UConn's Olivia Nelson-Ododa sits with 4.1.
Last year, Brewer was 29th in the country in blocks per game, while Rice's Nancy Mulkey led with 3.9. Per the NCAA's record book, Brewer likely isn't going to threaten for the single-season record for blocks per game, which former Baylor Lady Bears star and current Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner holds at 6.4 per game, but hey! ?— that Brewer's being mentioned in the same sentence as Griner when it comes to defensive impact is already wild.
Brewer ranks in the 89th percentile defensively in points allowed per possession when guarding post ups, which is a big part of why Tech is 16th in the country in opponent field goal percentage and 23rd in opponent 2-point field goal percentage.
One interesting note on Brewer is that she's basically gone back to ignoring the three-point game this year. Through her first two seasons, Brewer had attempted a combined zero threes, but last year she reinvented herself as a stretchier big, taking 99 threes and connecting on 34.3 percent if them, a number that isn't necessarily good, but is impressive when you consider that she hadn't been a 3-point shooter before last year.
This year, though, she's taken just six threes and has yet to connect on one. It's a weird little nugget when thinking about this Tech team: Brewer stopped trying to be that stretch big, and it's made the team perform better offensively. That's not really how basketball in 2019 is supposed to go, as teams try more and more to get their bigs outside.
Part of why it's working is that the Lady Raiders are getting those threes elsewhere.
Three players on this team are taking at least four threes per game ?— Sydney Goodson (4.9), Jo'Nah Johnson (4.3), and Chrislyn Carr (4.1). Carr's taking about half as many threes as she did per game last year, which so far has been a huge boost for her effiency. Goodson remains the team's most consistent shooter, while Johnson ?— a JuCo transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M ?— has been a welcome addition offensively.
And speaking of welcome additions, Andrayah Adams sat out last season after transferring from St. Johns, but she's added to the long-range shooting off the bench, making 46.7 percent of her threes this year.
All of this, and I haven't even mentioned Alexis Tucker. Tucker averages 16 points per contest on 66.1% shooting, the 21st-best mark in the country. She's 25th in points per scoring attempt. Solid shooters plus a great interior big in Brewer AND they have a guard in Tucker who can get inside and score? It's no wonder Tech is 13th in the country in scoring and 23rd in effective field goal percentage. So far in 2019, this has been an offense that's been nearly impossible to stop, and with Brewer hanging out to block shots and a top-50 mark in steals per game as well? Yeah, this is a good basketball team.
Looking ahead at the rest of non-conference play and beyond
So, here's the interesting thing about Texas Tech: they could very easily be 11-0 when Big 12 play gets here.
Their upcoming schedule is pretty easy on paper. All three games are at home, and the Lady Raiders face Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-8), Louisiana-Monroe (1-7), and UTSA (1-6). Those teams all have Her Hoop Stats ratings near the bottom of the league. The best team they probably had to face in the final four-game stretch before Big 12 play was Prairie View, but the Lady Raiders beat them 82-48.
No matter how you slice it, Texas Tech is about to hit the easiest part of their schedule. And it's hard to really imagine a non-injury scenario in which they drop any of these games, right?
That's not some "gotcha" question. It's really hard for me to see Tech losing any of those four games. I'd be shocked if it happens, and yes, I know they are coming off a close one over Houston Baptist.
The better question for me is this: what does an 11-0 Tech team look like once they start conference play.
The Big 12 has some solid teams this year, though it's certainly a top heavy conference. Baylor is the seventh ranked team in the latest AP poll. West Virginia sits at No. 22, while TCU and Kansas received votes but missed the poll. The second level of the Big 12 certainly feels wide open this year, and the Lady Raiders are playing like a team that can come in and challenge the non-Baylor teams.
But that would also require this team to sustain a level of play that might be starting to show some cracks. The Houston Baptist game in particular is a tough one to judge, because Tech should have scored more than 59 points against a Huskies team that allows 75.6 per game, ranking 323rd in the country.
Still, this should wind up as Texas Tech's most successful season since the Kristy Curry era and the team's 21-11 finish in 2012-2013. Maybe they don't win 21 games, but they should easily surpass last year's 14-win mark as Marlene Stollings works to build something in Lubbock.