When Missouri visits Texas Tech at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock tonight, it might find something familiar.
If the Tigers squint hard enough, they might see themselves reflected in the Red Raiders. When Texas Tech hosts Missouri at 6:30 p.m., both teams will fight to earn a game that is vital to their postseason hopes.
The Tigers’ and Red Raiders’ seasons have become the inverse of each other in the past month. While Missouri stumbled to a 9-10 start, the Red Raiders were red hot, winning 16 of their first 18.
After climbing as high as No. 13, the Red Raiders have struggled since, going 3-7, including a stunning 72-44 loss at Nebraska on Feb. 24. That stretch has turned Texas Tech from one of the strongest teams in the Big 12 Conference to one on the bubble to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri, meanwhile, has won its past six, overcoming its nonconference difficulties to move into a tie for fourth in the Big 12.
The result? Missouri (15-10, 9-5) stands two games ahead of Texas Tech (19-9, 7-7) in the league standings, with both teams positioning for a bye in the Big 12 Tournament. Because Baylor is ineligible for postseason competition, there will be five first-round byes.
Missouri, tied for fourth with Colorado, can secure a bye with a win against the Red Raiders. If Texas Tech wins tonight, beats Iowa State on Saturday and the Tigers fall to Kansas on Sunday, the Red Raiders will earn a bye.
If that is not enough, Missouri coach Quin Snyder will go for his 100th win. In his fifth season, Snyder is 99-59 and has won at least 18 games in each of his first four years.
Texas Tech coach Bob Knight, meanwhile, is 828-320 in 38 seasons and most recently failed to win 18 games in 1976-77, when Snyder was 11.
Despite its recent struggles, Texas Tech remains incredibly strong at home, where it is 13-1, with the loss coming against Texas in overtime. The Tigers are 5-5 on the road, but have won their past two road contests.
Snyder said he would need to prepare his players for the Red Raiders’ powerful home-court advantage.
“That’s just a tough, tough place to play,” Snyder said. “We’re walking into the eye of the hurricane.”
Knight, though, suggested teams play better at home because of how often the media and fans emphasize it.
“Everyone’s talking about home-field advantage,” he said. “I think it’s gotten to the point where the players just simply think it’s more difficult to win on the road.”
The Red Raiders defeated Missouri 91-68 in the Tigers’ most recent visit to Lubbock on Feb. 20, 2002. Missouri notched an 82-73 win at Hearnes Center last season, but the Red Raider squad the Tigers face tonight will look much different.
Three of the Red Raiders’ starters return from last year’s 22-13 squad, most notably senior guard Andre Emmett, who scored 34 points against the Tigers last season and leads the conference in scoring, at 21 points per game, this year. Freshman guard Jarrius Jackson, at 10.8 points, is the only other Red Raider scoring in double digits.
Knight said Monday he had yet to study video of the Tigers but suggested the reason for their turnaround was likely obvious.
“I would imagine they’re simply playing better,” Knight said. “They got beat by some teams earlier that they just shouldn’t have lost to.”
The Red Raiders find themselves in that situation. Without a win against the Tigers, Texas Tech will likely need a win or two in the Big 12 Tournament to feel secure about its NCAA chances.
The Tigers are more concerned with closing the regular season the way they have their past six games: with wins.
“I’m thinking about making a strong finish and then going down to Dallas and making some noise,” center Arthur Johnson said.
“If everything falls right for us, all the better. I’m just worried about the end of the Big 12 season.”