ISO Spotlight: Is Texas Tech good this year?

Texas Tech is 12-1, a record that includes an ongoing 11-game winning streak. The team's only loss came Nov. 15, when they lost 69-63 to Jackson State.

12-1's a good record. Last year, the team only won 11 total games, so they've already surpassed that mark without even playing a Big 12 game yet.

But last year's Red Raiders team looked pretty good before conference play, going 7-5 before a 4-14 mark in conference play doomed the team's season. But despite winning just 22.2 percent of their non-conference games, last year's team was feisty. They beat Texas and Oklahoma on the road. They beat a ranked Kansas State team 64-45. They held their own against Baylor. It's hard to say there's a such thing as a "good" 4-14 record, but if there was, Texas Tech would be the owners of a pretty decent 4-14 conference mark.

Now, a year later, the team just had an even better non-conference schedule. Can the Red Raiders challenge in the Big 12 this year?

Strength of schedule

Let's get the obvious issue out of the way first. Texas Tech didn't play a very tough non-conference schedule. Per Her Hoop Stats, the team has faced one of the easiest schedules in college basketball this year. The team's opponents have an average winning percentage of just 30.4 percent, which ranks 358th out of 361 teams in Division I.

Now, to be fair to the Red Raiders, that number may not be as bad as it looks. All 13 of the team's opponents have been Division I teams, and the data that HHS uses filters out non-Division I teams. So yes, their opponents have struggled, but they haven't padded the resume with wins over Division II schools or anything like that.

And, their opponents have also played tough schedules. Take a deep breath before you read this next sentence: Texas Tech's opponent's opponent's average winning percentage is 60.4 percent, which is second among all Division I schools. I'm not sure how much to read into that, and it's also skewed by all 13 of those teams having faced the 12-1 Red Raiders, but seems like a data point that's worth mentioning.

Anyway, that's the (maybe) bad stuff when it comes to Texas Tech. They've played some teams that aren't very good, and they've defeated them. The team's average margin is 14.7 points, which ranks in the top 50 nationally, and the team has held its opponents to 57.0 points per game, which ranks as the 38th-best mark in the country. Sure, those opponents have struggled, but wins are wins, right?

What Tech's doing right

Now, let's dig into some actual things that Texas Tech's doing.

CBB Analytics—which doesn't have Tuesday's game against Mississippi Valley factored in—shows that one thing Tech's done really well is shoot outside the paint. The team is at 35.8 percent on above the break threes, 5.2 percent above average, and 54.3 percent on corner threes, 21.3 percent above average. Tech's got some shooters...but also the team ranks 277th in three-point attempt rate, so you'd like to see them let those shooters shoot more.

For example, Rhyle McKinney is shooting 46.9 percent from three on 3.8 attempts per game, and Bryn Gerlich is at 41.9 percent on 2.4 attempts per game. Great efficiency from those two, but not on a huge volume. Can they scale that up in conference play, when they'll likely need to take more threes to keep up with the stronger offenses that they'll face?

Speaking of McKinney, the former Argyle star has really taken a step forward. Last year, she averaged 7.8 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting for Texas Tech. This year, she's up to 12.3 points per game on 53.8 percent shooting. Anyone who saw McKinney play in high school knew she had this potential, and in her third collegiate season, she's delivering. (Note: her first college season at SMU lasted six games before the team ended its season early during the pandemic, so hard to really count that one.)

Another small school player, freshman Bailey Maupin from Gruver, has also been key this year for the team. Maupin is averaging 11.9 points per game on 40.5% shooting in her first college season, and is connecting on 35 percent of her threes. Her turnovers are a little high—she ranks in just the 32nd percentile in assist/turnover ratio—but it's been a good debut for Maupin. 

Digging into some lineup data, you can see how important Maupin has been. The Red Raiders have a +23.0 net rating per CBB Analytics with her on the floor, vs. a +17.3 net rating when she sits. The team's still good without her on the floor, but her presence really boosts the offensem with is 7.3 points per 100 possessions better when Maupin plays.

Can Tech keep this up in the Big 12?

Texas Tech has a problem, and it's called "playing in the Big 12." This year, the conference is stacked. You have Texas, Baylor and Iowa State like always, but Oklahoma, Kansas and Kansas State are all making some big runs.

In fact, despite Tech's record, the team's only eighth in the conference right now in net rating. And while the Red Raiders only have one loss, Kansas and Oklahoma are also one-loss teams, and every team in the conference is at least four games over .500 except for TCU, which sits at 6-5.

The Big 12, minus TCU, is going to be a gauntlet. And while Texas Tech's on the right track, this team's probably not quite ready to make a run for a top spot in the conference. Maybe if there was still a Vivian Gray-type to bring it all together, and maybe next year Maupin will have developed into that kind of player who can dominate a game, but Texas Tech's probably still a year away.

But look: that's a good thing! In a post-Gray world, Tech could have crumbled. The roster has a lot of good players on it, but if you looked at this roster in preseason, you probably wouldn't have guessed they'd be where they are now.

The conference's offical preseason poll picked Texas Tech to finish seventh, and I think the 7-9 range is still the likeliest spot where they end up. But the Big 12 also has nine teams that can go out there every night and beat anyone. Tech's one of those nine teams. Everything is moving in the right direction for Krista Gerlich's bunch. They're going to upset some ranked teams in conference play, and while I don't think they quite get to the record needed for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, I think a WNIT spot is definitely in play. The team hasn't appeared in a postseason tournament since the 2012-13 season, but I can see that changing in 2023. 

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