Big 12 Burning Questions: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 31st, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the Red Raiders cash in on an athletic and experienced roster in 2018?

Texas Tech finished last season with a modest 18-14 overall record and no postseason appearance. The Red Raiders were expected to fare considerably worse in the wake of Tubby Smith’s departure to Memphis, but not only were they better than many anticipated, a fair argument could be made that their record undersold how good they actually were last season. Texas Tech finished just outside of KenPom‘s top 40 and were clearly snake-bitten down the stretch, losing six tough games in a row that were decided by five points or fewer or in overtime. Of course, it also lost six more Big 12 games, so it wasn’t all attributable to bad luck. Despite the disappointing finish, it looks like the program made the right hire in second-year man Chris Beard, who will turn to an experienced rotation that wants nothing more than to follow up last year’s disappointment with an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018.

Keenan Evans is ready to lead the Red Raiders in a bounceback campaign. (John Weast/Getty)

When looking at the Red Raiders’ roster, athleticism, especially in the backcourt, is what jumps out. Keenan Evans was one of the better all-around guards in the Big 12 last season, dishing out 3.0 assists per game while limiting turnovers and frequenting the foul line (where he converted 85 percent of his tries). Wing Justin Gray led all Texas Tech regulars with a 54.7 percent eFG last season, propped up by a tremendous ability to finish at the rim (82.1%, per despite standing just 6’6″. Both players are back, as is Niem Stevenson, who averaged 8.6 PPG a year ago.

Similar to last season, the Red Raiders will also have a flood of transfers ready to go. This year’s additions are headlined by Deshawn Corprew, a 6’5″ stat sheet-stuffer from the junior college ranks, and Brandone Francis, an attacking guard who sat out last year after transferring from Florida. Hyron Edwards will provide depth and athleticism at the point guard slot after transferring over from Trinity Valley (TX) Community College, and Josh Webster will look to fill a role as well. It should be noted that Tech wasn’t a very good offensive team during Big 12 play last year (1.03 PPP, ranking seventh in the conference), so that aspect of Beard’s attack will need to improve if it wants to turn things around.

The frontcourt didn’t always give Texas Tech what it needed last season, but it should be better this year. You can’t talk about the interior without mentioning dunking mastermind Zach Smith, who returned to Lubbock after testing the NBA Draft waters last summer, but there’s more available than just the senior forward. DePaul transfer Tommy Hamilton IV gives the team a 6’11” big man with some upside after posting solid defensive rebounding numbers throughout his career (top 400 nationally) and intriguing range for someone his size (42.5% 3FG). After a solid debut season in 2015, center Norense Odiase has missed 41 of his last 47 games over the last two seasons with foot problems, but his weight has dropped from 300 to 235 pounds and the Red Raiders could really use the sleeker version. The trio of Smith, Hamilton and a healthy Odiase could make for one of the stronger frontcourts in the conference, but it will be tough sledding if Odiase struggles to stay on the floor.

A non-conference schedule that ranked 351st in the country last season — in other words, dead last — kept us from learning whether Texas Tech was any good until later in the campaign, but that won’t be the case this year. This season’s slate is highlighted by a semi-road game in New York against Big East sleeper Seton Hall and a home tilt against reigning Mountain West champion and 2017-18 favorite Nevada. There’s also a possible tilt against Northwestern in the Hall Of Fame Tip-Off, so we should have a decent idea of how this team stacks up before the calendar turns to 2018. The athleticism and aggression with which this team plays on offense is going to be fun to watch, but the Red Raiders need to match that intensity on the defensive end after finishing ninth in the Big 12 in two-point defense, 10th in defensive steals rate and 10th in defensive three-point rate last season. There will also be concerns if a couple reliable three-point shooters other than Evans fail to emerge. Still, although Texas Tech doesn’t have nearly as much upside as Kansas, West Virginia or Texas, it will be a team worth monitoring as Beard tries to edge his way into the Big Dance.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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