Big 12 Team Preview: Texas Tech Red RaidersPosted by Brian Goodman on October 30th, 2013
Over the next two weeks, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Texas Tech.
Where We Left Off: The 2012-13 season was a rough one for Texas Tech. Billy Gillispie resigned as head coach just before the start of the season, citing health concerns, but a mountain of allegations of player mistreatment that surfaced over the previous summer made one wonder just how much of the move was his call. The Red Raiders went on to win just two conference games under interim head coach Chris Walker, and finished the season 11-20, although it’s worth pointing out that one of those wins came against Iowa State. One of the more startling moves on the coaching carousel saw Texas Tech tab former Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith as its next leader, as many thought the Red Raiders would go with a younger coach eager to take on the unenviable task of resurrecting the program.
Positives: Despite the coaching change, six of Texas Tech’s top seven rotation players (by minutes played) return from last season. For a team that lost 20 games, the immediate reaction isn’t to necessarily view that as a major advantage, but at the very least, the core of junior Jordan Tolbert and Jaye Crockett should provide some stability during the first phase of the program’s transition. The former averaged 9.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore, while the latter led the team in scoring and two-point field goal percentage. Freshman forward Aaron Ross will also provide a boost to the frontcourt after he was forced to take a redshirt year due to a torn ACL. Sophomore Dusty Hannahs finished among the league leaders in three-point percentage with a 37.4 percent clip last season and should see his role increase. While Smith picked up a pair of guards off the scrap heap in Stan Mays and Randy Onwuasor, the Red Raiders’ frontcourt is clearly their biggest strength.
Negatives: The Red Raiders lost Josh Gray, who consumed the most possessions of anyone on the team, to transfer after just one season, and Trency Jackson left the program after two. As a result, Texas Tech will be very thin in the backcourt, leaving Hannahs and senior Jamal Williams, Jr. at the controls without much talent behind them. In the post, while Crockett performed admirably, considering his size (just 6’7″ and 200 pounds), he’ll need to be a much bigger threat down low if Texas Tech is to stay competitive. The Red Raiders have nowhere to go but up offensively after they finished 9th or 10th in the Big 12 in nearly every offensive category, but they’ll need several players to make big leaps to get there. Simply put, there isn’t one facet of the game where Texas Tech couldn’t use significant improvement.
Best-Case Scenario: Tolbert and Crockett build confidence as the team’s guiding forces and Hannahs provides a steady hand in the backcourt as a sophomore. If Ross, a former Arkansas signee, is as good as advertised, he’ll help take some pressure off of Tolbert in the frontcourt. An NCAA Tournament bid is probably out of grasp even if everything breaks right, but a stellar slate of non-conference opponents gives the Red Raiders a chance to put some dents in the tournament resumes of superior teams, including Pittsburgh, Arizona State, Arizona and LSU. Additionally, in an ideal world, Smith brings enough name recognition to Lubbock to breathe life into the dormant United Spirit Arena, leading to the Red Raiders notching a couple upsets in league play.
Worst-Case Scenario: The jury will be out on Tubby Smith until he has a chance to bring in his own recruits, but if the Red Raiders don’t make any headway in his first season, it will be all the more difficult for the program to earn the consideration of recruits across the fertile Lone Star State. The biggest question surrounding Texas Tech’s personnel is whether Tolbert and Crockett will get the help they need for them team to stay competitive. The ceiling for this squad is maybe five wins in conference play, and that’s assuming a pair of victories against lowly TCU, which isn’t necessarily a sure thing. If Ross, Hannahs and Dejan Kravic don’t step up, it’s going to be even a longer winter than expected.
Projected Starting Lineup:
- C – Dejan Kravic (Sr., 6’11”, 240 pounds; 9.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
- F – Jaye Crockett (Sr., 6’7″, 200 pounds; 11.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 107.3 ORtg)
- F – Jordan Tolbert (Jr., 6’7″, 210 pounds; 9.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG)
- G – Dusty Hannahs (So., 6’4″, 210 pounds; 6.9 PPG, 37.4% 3PT, 80.6% FT)
- G – Jamal Williams Jr. (Sr., 6’4″, 190 pounds; 20.1 MPG, 32.8% 3PT)
Reserves: Junior Daylen Robinson will look to improve on his abysmal 14.6 percent performance from long distance; At 6’10”, senior Kader Tapsoba gives Smith another option to fortify the combination of Kravic and Crockett down low; freshman Patrick Strake, an Austin native who finished his high school career alongside Andrew Wiggins at Huntington (WV) Prep, was a late signee and provides some versatility at 6’6″ and 235 pounds; sophomore Toddrick Gotcher should spell Hannahs and Williams in the backcourt.
Set Your DVR
Despite its faults, Texas Tech boasts one of the most experienced rosters in the Big 12, as we expect it to field three seniors and a junior among their starting five. Still, we’re surprised at the unbelievably daunting schedule that Tubby Smith inherited for his first season at the helm. A rebuilding team like Texas Tech simply has no business setting course on a non-conference schedule that includes road games at Arizona, Arizona State and Alabama, plus neutral court match-ups against Pittsburgh and either Houston or Stanford. Though Smith is never one to back down from a challenge, we’d tend to think that if he had the opportunity, he’d provide his new team with a few more chances to build some confidence before the start of conference play.
- 11/14 at Alabama: The Red Raiders waste no time as they head to Tuscaloosa to face Anthony Grant’s Crimson Tide as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Alabama will be vulnerable after losing Trevor Lacey and Moussa Gueye via transfer and, in one of the stranger storylines of the offseason, former five-star recruit Devonta Pollard was implicated in a kidnapping case.
- 11/25 vs. Pittsburgh (in Brooklyn): Texas Tech squares off against the Panthers, who figure to be a work in progress more than most teams as their young core looks to learn on the fly while leaning on the experience of Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. Expect the winner of this one to be determined by the battle on the glass.
- 12/3 at Arizona: What better way to measure your team than against one of the best in the country at their house? With a month under their belts, the Red Raiders should have some cohesion and a firm idea of what it will take to stay competitive on a nightly basis. Whether they can execute that plan against the deep and talented Wildcats is a completely different matter, though.
- 12/18 vs. LSU: The Tigers figure to be one of the most improved teams in the country, but this should still be a winnable game for Texas Tech since they’ll be at home. Ross, Tolbert and Crockett will look to test the highly-touted frontcourt rotation of Johnny O’Bryant, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.
- 12/28 at Arizona State: A non-conference slate better suited for a Final Four contender draws to a close when the Red Raiders head to Tempe. Like Texas Tech, Arizona State will throw out a very experienced group of starters, but that’s where the similarities end. The Red Raiders don’t have the backcourt talent needed to exploit one of ASU’s few weaknesses, its guard depth.
Outlook: Tubby Smith brings a very nice list of career accomplishments to Lubbock and inherits an experienced core, but most of that core will be gone after this season. Between an absurdly ambitious non-conference schedule and an unimpressive backcourt, there’s just too much to overcome. We think the team will perform better than it did last season, especially up front, but the Red Raiders will ultimately find themselves in another dogfight to finish outside of the Big 12 cellar. Fans may not want to hear this, but they’ll need to be patient with their new head coach, keeping one eye on his progress on the recruiting trail and the other on what he squeezes out of this season’s team. Avoiding a third straight 20-loss campaign is a reasonable goal, while anything within shouting distance of a .500 season would be a huge success.