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December 3, 2009

Yeager: UW a barometer game for Raiders

Pat Knight's Red Raiders have a spotless 7-0 record and are receiving a few votes for inclusion in the nation's top 25. Prior to the season most observers expected neither of those facts to come to fruition. Thus Texas Tech's hoopsters, if they've accomplished nothing else, have done themselves a good turn by surprising the pundits. By any standard, this has been a fine beginning.

But to some extent this team remains a bit of a mystery. Sure they are undefeated, but the competition has been anything but murderous, and the Red Raiders have had to play only one game on the road, which they eked out by a mere two points. And the historical college basketball landscape is a veritable wasteland strewn with teams that feasted on weak competition during non-conference play, only to be exposed as tin-men once the heavy lifting began.

This is not to say that Coach Pat's club has played nothing but bantamweights. For instance, Texas Tech has already defeated a Pac-10 squad in Oregon State. The road win, moreover, came against a Stephen F. Austin program that is fresh off an NCAA tournament appearance. Still, no matter how one parses it, the Red Raiders' slate up to this point has been fairly soft.

That all comes to a screeching halt Thursday night when No. 12 Washington invade the United Spirit Arena.

Lorenzo Romar's outfit is 5-0 and is coming off a 63-59 victory over Montana. But truth be told, the Huskies are every bit as untested as their Thursday opponent. That win over the Grizzlies may be Washington's most impressive victory of the season, believe it or not. Aside from that W, the Huskies have survived the murderers' row of Wright State, Belmont, Portland State and San Jose State.

Both Texas Tech and Washington, therefore, don't really know what they've got under the hood at this point, and you can bet both teams are aching to find out.

But the Red Raiders may be curiouser.

Despite the blah nature of Washington's schedule up to this point, the Huskies can rest easy in the assurance that the experts have pegged them as one of the nation's top teams. Furthermore, in guard Isaiah Thomas and forward Quincy Pondexter, Washington boasts a pair of players who have caught the eyes of NBA scouts. The Huskies, in other words, are a talented outfit and you can be certain they know it. And that confidence will come to the fore if and when the Red Raiders challenge them.

Texas Tech, on the other hand, is a team battling for respect. The Red Raider basketball program has been on skid row for several seasons now, and is coming off a difficult 2008-09 season. What's more, most polls and publications have slotted them anywhere from 9th to 11th in the Big 12 this year.

The 7-0 start for Knight's squad is undoubtedly a sweet thumb in the eye of all the doubters out there who saw the Red Raiders as bottom feeders once again. But there remains that nagging question mark that will only be vanquished by a "signature win." As long as Texas Tech whips up only on the Sisters of the Poor, they will never be considered real players on the Big 12, let alone the national scene.

Washington, whatever the weakness of its own schedule so far, present a fat opportunity for the Red Raiders. By virtue of that No. 12 ranking, and the fact that the game will be played on ESPN2, Texas Tech can stake its claim to legitimacy with a victory. And if the Red Raiders can pull it off, it will be they, against all odds, who crash the national polls and make a splash on the national scene. The stakes are pretty doggone high.


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