For the last six years, Twin Cities residents were a short drive away from watching Tubby Smith patrol the sidelines of college basketball games.


Smith, of course, was fired as Gophers coach after last season and replaced by Richard Pitino. Tubby then took a new job at Texas Tech, which means that if you want to see Tubby coach now, it takes a much longer drive.

But he'll be as close as he gets on Saturday when Texas Tech travels to Ames -- just a few hours south of Minneapolis -- to take on Iowa State.

He has a staff you might find familiar: Assistant coach Vince Taylor, assistant coach Joe Esposito, assistant director of basketball ops Zo Goodson and video coordinator Saul Smith were all on his Minnesota staff, albeit some in different capacities.

And the game in Ames comes at a time when the Red Raiders are playing as well as they have all season.

They started the conference season 2-6, and things looked pretty well lost. They then squeaked out a six-point home win over TCU, winless in the Big 12, which still didn't inspire much confidence.

But the next two victories -- at home against Oklahoma State, better known as the game in which Marcus Smart shoved a fan, and then at Oklahoma -- were certainly more impressive and have Tech sitting at 13-11 overall and 5-6 in the strong Big 12.

That said, Texas Tech's schedule is about to turn ultra-brutal. The Red Raiders' final seven games, starting with that Saturday game at Iowa State:

02/15/14 at Iowa State
02/18/14 vs. Kansas
02/22/14 at Oklahoma State
02/25/14 vs. Kansas State
03/01/14 at Baylor
03/05/14 at Kansas
03/08/14 vs. Texas

Six of those games are against RPI top-40 opponents, while Baylor is in the top 60. Tubby's crew might be fortunate to carve two victories out of that stretch, which would leave them under .500 heading into the Big 12 tourney.

That said, this year is already a marked improvement over last season, when Texas Tech went 11-20 and 3-15 in the conference. If you want to go from bad to decent, Tubby is still your guy.

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