Happy Valentine's Day to Texas Tech and Texas A&M — one of the beleaguered teams will be leaving the United Spirit Arena as winners.
Billy Gillispie will face his old team for the last time as the Aggies square off against the Red Raiders tonight in Lubbock. Texas Tech has lots of reasons to feel the love today. They finally — finally! — won a conference game, toppling Oklahoma by 18 points last Saturday. Javarez Willis scored a career-high 21 points and Robert Lewandowski was roused from his season-long stupor long enough to score 16 points and net 6 rebounds.
Jordan Tolbert seems to be getting the hang of conference play. After a phenomenal December (where he averaged 19.3 points per game, including two 27-point career highs), the freshman went quiet in January, averaging just 7.7 points per game. Against Oklahoma, Tolbert had 9 points, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and 6 rebounds.
There's no doubt that Texas Tech is still a work in progress (they've had 12 different starting line ups so far this season), but there's a lot to be excited about. I think there's a good chance that the Raiders can count on the momentum from Saturday to carry them tonight.
If Texas Tech is ascending, then Texas A&M is decidedly descending. At this point, the Aggies' troubles have been well documented. You know the story: a team picked to win the conference in the preseason inexplicably plummets off the ranking charts. Texas A&M is coming off a four game losing streak and I'm not sure they can expect a repeat of January's 67-54 victory over Tech tonight.
Elston Turner and David Loubeau have been trying to keep the Aggies afloat, averaging 14.5 and 11.1 points per game respectively. Khris Middleton is back again, but only contributed 5 points to the Aggies' 23-point loss to Iowa State on Saturday.
There's no reason a team with an NBA prospect like Middleton should lose — or even worry about losing— to a team like Texas Tech. But you can bet the Aggies are worried. One of the reasons I love college hoops so much is that the mental game really matters. And I think that's what tonight will come down to.
Both teams have been losing. A lot. How much of a difference does it make that Texas Tech was expecting a season like this and that Texas A&M wasn't? How much of a difference does coaching or playing at home or coming off a hard-won, unexpected victory make?
Make your game predictions — and help play armchair psychiatrist — in the comments. The game is at 8:00 CST and airs on ESPN2.