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Red Raiders Need To Count to 10 By New Year's Eve

Recent history tells us that Big 12 teams that win 10 games before Big 12 play begins are near-locks to reach the postseason.

Texas Tech’s 79-65 victory over Georgetown was significant because it helped the Big 12 even up the BIG EAST Battle at two wins each, along with TCU’s win over Providence.

But for the Red Raiders (5-2) the win provides carryover into December, which, whether you believe it or not, will be a critical stretch for Texas Tech and, frankly, the rest of the Big 12.

That sounds a little over the top when you consider the Red Raiders’ opponents ahead — Nicholls State, Eastern Washington, Jackson State, Houston Christian, and South Carolina State. That list of mid- and low-major opponents carries the Red Raiders into their Big 12 opener against TCU on New Year’s Eve.

If all goes well, the Red Raiders will be 10-2. There’s significance to that number if you play in the Big 12. If you want to play in the postseason — whether it be the NCAA Tournament or the NIT — getting to at least that number before conference action starts is a big help.

The more non-conference wins you have before you start league play, the more room for error you have. It gives you a head start before 18 games in the hardest conference in college basketball.

And history backs that up.

I looked at the last four Big 12 seasons not touched in some way by COVID-19 — the three seasons across 2016-2019 and the 2021-22 season. I eliminated the 2019-20 season because there was no postseason and 2020-21 because most Big 12 teams didn’t play a full November and December non-conference schedule, which is usually 12 games. I wanted to see if there was a correlation between reaching double-digit wins before Big 12 play began and reaching the postseason.

In those four seasons, 29 Big 12 teams reached 10 or more wins before Big 12 action began. Of those 29 teams, 27 went to either the NCAA Tournament (22) or the NIT (five).

That head start proved critical for those teams because the next critical benchmark is 20 wins for the season.

Every Big 12 team that won 20 or more games in those four seasons reached the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.

The math is simple — win 10, 11, or 12 games in November and December and you only need to win eight, nine, or 10 games in the Big 12. Why is that important? Because the Big 12 is an absolute gauntlet, and there’s no more telling number than the amount of losses the regular-season conference champion had in those four seasons:

Kansas and Baylor with four each last season;

Kansas State and Texas Tech with four each in 2018-19;

Kansas with five in 2017-18;

Kansas with two in 2016-17 (the next-best team had six losses).

So, each of these December games is important for Tech. Last year the Red Raiders lost six Big 12 games and ended up as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, in part because it went 10-2 in November and December.

Plus, in those four seasons, teams that failed to win 10 or more games before Big 12 play began suffered. There were 11 of them. Only three made the NCAA Tournament and one more made the NIT.

The numbers — and the history — are there for Texas Tech to return to the postseason, so long as they hold serve and continue to be the team we think they are.

But, two teams in that four-year sample proved that they were NOT what we thought they were going into Big 12 play.

One was West Virginia last season. The Mountaineers started 11-1 and finished 4-14 in Big 12 play, finishing the season 16-17.

The other? Texas Tech. Yep. Back in 2016-17, Chris Beard’s first season as coach, the Red Raiders went 11-1 in November and December but went 6-12 in Big 12 action. Texas Tech finished 18-14 and didn’t go to either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.

Numbers and history don’t lie. These next five games matter, and not just because the Red Raiders have things to work on.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.

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