Much as the rise of the Virginia Cavaliers has made UVA’s games against Duke and North Carolina far bigger than they had been at the start of this decade, the rise of the Texas Tech Red Raiders invites the question: Will Texas Tech’s games against the Kansas Jayhawks become the next appointment television event of college basketball seasons?
Michigan State-Michigan games have become a big deal now that John Beilein has pushed the Wolverines toward Tom Izzo’s level of quality. Tennessee and Auburn becoming better has made their series and their other series against Kentucky more central to the story of SEC basketball.
Purdue-Indiana used to be a huge game under Gene Keady and Bob Knight. Arkansas-Kentucky used to be the SEC game of the year under Nolan Richardson and Rick Pitino. Arizona-UCLA hasn’t been able to maintain its status as the biggest Pac-12 game around, largely because the Pac-12 hasn’t maintained much of anything in recent years.
Yet, cycles run their course and new games capture the imagination of college basketball fans each year and each decade.
Could Texas Tech-Kansas be that next game? Now that Chris Beard has taken Texas Tech to a supreme height, the question doesn’t seem ludicrous at all.
Bill Self has a national title — won in his fifth season at Kansas — but Beard made the national championship game in his third season in Lubbock. If Beard stays on the job, the reality which defines the Big 12 conference would pivot from “The Streak” to “The Showdown,” a regular two-team fight for conference supremacy.
This game — the Red Raiders versus the Jayhawks — has contained importance the last two seasons. Kansas winning in Lubbock two years ago preserved The Streak for another season, but Texas Tech’s win this year made sure The Streak would die. Yet, this past season’s two TTU-KU games were wipeouts. Neither one was close, and even though Texas Tech made the Elite Eight a year ago, few thought the Red Raiders were likely to make the Final Four and transform their reputation this season. Kansas — felled by all sorts of bad breaks (injuries, attrition, personal problems) — wasn’t in position to be its best.
Ah, but next season, we might get the Real McCoy: Full-strength Kansas, motivated to start a new chapter of Big 12 dominance, versus Texas Tech, the new hot program in the Big 12, ready to show that 2019 was not an isolated incident.
Texas Tech-Kansas could become something special. If it does, college basketball will have a new must-see game to circle on the calendar every winter.
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