Texas Tech is set to play Gonzaga in the Jerry Colangelo Classic on Saturday, December 18th, 2021 at the Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. The Red Raiders and the Bulldogs will headline the event that features a quadruple-header with three other games.

The Gonzaga vs Texas Tech matchup will feature college basketball's last two National Championship game participation ribbon winners; Texas Tech lost to Virginia in 2019, while Gonzaga fell to Baylor earlier this year.

For the other six teams in attendance, this is an opportunity at a national stage. USC vs. Georgia Tech, Grand Canyon vs. San Francisco and Northern Arizona vs. San Diego will all benefit from just being in the building and playing on national TV.

Gonzaga will benefit from playing a tougher opponent than what they'll face in conference play, but the national stage won't be new to them. They're a brand name, and currently ranked number one in multiple publications with plenty of returning talent.

That leaves the Red Raiders, who I believe desperately need this game to prove they can still run with the big dogs. Locally, I don't think there's too much thought about regression moving forward with new head coach Mark Adams. The coaching staff has arguably improved, and it was always Adams' defense, rotations and game plans that were winning games for Texas Tech. The hope is that the face may have changed, but the brain of the program has remained the same.

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Nationally, none of that matters. You might think that national perception doesn't matter, but I wholeheartedly disagree. It absolutely matters. National perception is almost more important in college basketball than actual results. Almost.

Starting inside the top 5 allows a team to struggle, then get the benefit of the doubt to return to the top 5. Texas Tech basketball went coast to coast in the top 25 last year despite going 5-4 to finish the season and getting bounced early in the Big 12 tournament. They started higher, they finished higher. That's just how it works.

The national perception of Texas Tech being a good team manifested itself into the rankings. I'm not complaining here, I think success breeds success and Texas Tech earned that respect. But it disappeared overnight when Beard left for Austin.

The Texas Tech program now hangs in the balance.

Ok, maybe that's a little dramatic, but the game against Gonzaga would certainly tip the scales back in Texas Tech's favor.

After Texas Tech's Elite 8 run, they played Duke in Madison Square Garden and looked like they belonged on the floor with a team that was perceived to be much better. That game vaulted Texas Tech into the primetime world of college basketball for the rest of that season.

If Texas Tech can compete with Gonzaga or even pull off the upset, the perception of Texas Tech's program will begin to shift from "Beard's willpower dragged that team to heights unknown" to "that program has built a self-sustaining momentum."

It will also be really cool for the players to play in an NBA arena.

Meet Your 2021-22 Texas Tech Red Raiders Basketball Team, So Far.

The roster isn't done yet, but here's where Mark Adams and the gang are right now.

Throwback: See Texas Tech in 1947