Tomorrow at noon, the South Carolina Gamecocks return to Columbia to take on the No. 14 Texas Tech Red Raiders as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. This is one of the biggest games of the season so far for South Carolina, and a win could catapult the Gamecocks not just into the Top 25 but also NCAA Tournament consideration.
Apart from that, the Big 12/SEC Challenge is just plain fun, because it pairs teams that would otherwise never play each other unless they happened to meet in a postseason tournament. It also serves as a way to exercise some conference pride, for fans who are into that kind of thing.
Since we’re not exactly Big 12 experts, we sat down with Zach Mason from Viva The Matadors, who was kind enough to bring us up to speed on what’s going on in the Southwest and with the Red Raiders.
The Big 12 is having a big year so far, garnering a lot of national attention and praise. What role has Texas Tech played in that?
I think Tech is one of those teams, along with TCU and Kansas State, that wasn’t supposed to cause any legitimate problems for anyone in the conference, at least not to the extent that they are right now. When teams projected to finish in the bottom half of the conference are taking down basketball powers like Kansas, it justifiably inflates the national perception of the league.
Aside from the usual Kansas hype machine and Oklahoma’s Trae Young showing up on SportsCenter every 30 seconds, what are some other Big 12 story lines outsiders may not be aware of?
I think people should pay attention to West Virginia. They’re well coached, they force an ungodly amount of turnovers on even the most cautious teams, and they have strong guard play with veteran leadership. Of all the teams in a vastly deep Big 12, I think the Mountaineers have the most Final Four potential of any, including Kansas.
What’s this I hear about Tech giving out a rebound chain?
It’s one of the three gimmicky things Tech uses to motivate its players, although, to the credit of Chris Beard and his coaching staff, it’s worked out pretty well. They hand out a rebounding chain for whoever collects the most boards in a game and they also have a “deflection belt” that’s awarded to whomever tips the most passes. The coaches also keep a running tally of the number of charges each player takes, which has proven to be thoroughly effective. The Red Raiders force copious turnovers from offensive fouls.
Texas Tech, much like South Carolina, looks like a defense-oriented squad. Is it fair to say that’s this team’s strength?
Definitely. Tech has some long, athletic guards that can guard really any position and that’s caused problems for opposing offenses. Unfortunately, senior forward Zach Smith suffered a broken foot and is likely out for the year, and he played a big role both defensively and offensively. Without Smith, Tech has given up 70 points per game, as opposed to just 61 when he’s in the lineup.
Which players should South Carolina fans be worried about?
Jarrett Culver is looking like a potential Big 12 freshman of the year. The Lubbock native actually wanted to play for Texas, but Shaka Smart went another direction. Culver is really settling in, averaging 11 points per game on the season and 17 points per game over his last three contests, including a 25-point outing in a comeback win against Oklahoma State on Tuesday. He can shoot, penetrate and play defense, and he’s the type of player who doesn’t shy away from big moments.
What’s one thing Tech just can’t afford to do in this matchup?
Miss shots. Tech’s lost three of its last five, and in those three losses have averaged just 58 points per game. They’ve got to find a rhythm offensively. The other thing they can’t do is let the crowd get in their heads. Seriously, there are two different Red Raider basketball teams, one that plays at home and dominates, and the other that plays fearfully on the road and struggles. They absolutely must break the habit of only winning in the comfort of their own arena.
OK, so this isn’t basketball related, but why are y’all the Red Raiders specifically?
Well, originally it was the Texas Tech Matadors (hence Viva the Matadors) but it was shortly renamed because some bro sportswriter like you and I was impressed by the red uniforms the team was wearing and started calling them the Red Raiders, and I guess the name kind of stuck.
Last but not least — who wins this game, and who wins the Big 12/SEC Challenge?
I respect the hell out of Frank Martin and South Carolina, I think he took what made his K-State teams successful and applied it at SC. I think Tech is the better basketball team, but they’ve been shooting so poorly and underperforming so severely on the road, it’s hard to pick them without at least some level of hesitation. With the momentum the Gamecocks have, winning two out of their last three against ranked opponents, I’m going to reluctantly pick South Carolina in this one. However, I do think the Big 12 will win the challenge, maybe seven games to three.
Thanks again to Zach and Viva The Matadors.
Now go flame their USC trash talking post.