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 hoop-math.com) 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.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge

Posted by Chris Stone on November 22nd, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments over the next week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today with Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge.

Catching Up: Texas Tech currently sits at 3-0 and the Red Raiders have easily dispatched their first three opponents (all ranked 240th or worse nationally, according to KenPom). Head coach Chris Beard entered his first season in Lubbock with a plethora of talent with which to work and it has shown in his rotations. Nine different players are averaging double-figure minutes so far and only two, Justin Gray and Zach Smith, are pushing the 30-minute mark. Meanwhile, four different players are scoring 10 or more points per game as Texas Tech has averaged 84.3 points per contest through the first three games of the season. Although they are not battle-tested, the Red Raiders have the look like a team with enough depth, length and athleticism to compete for a spot in the top half of the Big 12 standings.

Justin Gray is helping lead the way for Texas Tech (Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Gray leads the way for Texas Tech (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: An opening round match-up with Auburn will be Texas Tech’s first real test of the season. The Tigers also enter the event at 3-0 but their three wins were over teams ranked among the KenPom top 200. A trio of freshmen — Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron, and Jared Harper — are all scoring in double figures while posting an effective field goal percentage above 50 percent. This contest should represent a clash in styles as Bruce Pearl’s squad likes to push the pace (14.4 seconds per possession). The Red Raiders, on the other hand, are more methodical (17.0 seconds per possession).

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Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

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One Burning Question: How Will Chris Beard Use Texas Tech’s Newfound Depth?

Posted by Chris Stone on October 25th, 2016

It was an adventurous offseason in Lubbock. After taking Texas Tech to its first NCAA Tournament since 2007, head coach Tubby Smith left for the Memphis job that was vacated by Josh Pastner. Two days later, the Red Raiders hired former Little Rock head coach Chris Beard away from UNLV where Beard had committed to coach just a couple of weeks prior. The 43-year old already has a long history in Lubbock, spending 10 years working there as an assistant under the Knights (Bob and Pat) from 2001 until 2011. In addition to Beard, Texas Tech will also welcome seven transfers — two of whom will sit out this season — and a walk-on freshman. Four of those players will vie for playing time immediately on a roster that returns five players who averaged at least 19 minutes per game last season. Having that collection of talent will be a boon for Beard in his first season on the job, but figuring out how to put the puzzle together will be his most challenging task.

Chris Beard will have his work cut out for him in his first season at Texas Tech. (Brad Tollefson/A-J Media)

Chris Beard will have his work cut out for him in his first season at Texas Tech. (Brad Tollefson/A-J Media)

Although Texas Tech lost its two leading scorers from last season, it still returns plenty of talent deserving of minutes on the court. Junior Zach Smith, for example, is one the Big 12’s top breakout candidates this season. A bouncy power forward that uses his quickness to attack larger defenders, Smith averaged 10.0 points per game last season. He’s also an important contributor on the defensive end where his 5.1 percent block rate and high defensive rebound percentage helps the Red Raiders close out possessions. Texas Tech should also have a fully healthy Norense Odiase back on the court this year. Odiase averaged an impressive 17.8 points per 40 minutes last season and has the ability to be an effective presence on the low blocks. Senior Aaron Ross, a 6’8″ frontcourt player, also returns as a big man who can stretch the floor, while junior Keenan Evans is likely to spend even more time as the team’s lead guard without Devaugntah Williams in the fold.

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Texas Tech Rides the Coaching Carousel

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 16th, 2016

Sometimes, all it takes is one domino.

Just one week ago, Georgia Tech provided an improbable escape hatch for Josh Pastner at Memphis, which led the Tigers’ program to quickly move in uprooting well-traveled Tubby Smith from Texas Tech. On Friday, the Red Raiders responded by hiring Chris Beard from UNLV. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that Beard is an upgrade from Smith, and time will tell how it works out in the long run. In the short term, however, Texas Tech has emerged from a whirlwind week with only a few scratches when it could have been left bruised and bloodied.

Texas Tech reached back in its history in plucking Chris Beard from UNLV. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Texas Tech reached back in its history in plucking Chris Beard from UNLV. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Though critics have zeroed in on Beard’s transience by pointing out that this move marks his fifth job since 2011, it is very clear that the Texas Tech position represents something different to him than the three coaches the school has employed in the eight seasons since Bobby Knight retired in 2008. It may not necessarily prevent him from jumping again, but it is important in framing his decision to move. Beard’s daughters live in nearby Abilene and he toiled in Lubbock as an associate head coach under the Knights (Bobby and Pat) for 10 years, the longest he’s worked at a single school since entering the coaching profession in 1991. The fact that UNLV’s program appears to be teetering with leadership uncertainty and a roster that’s been almost completely gutted may have also played a role in Beard’s decision to pull the cord and return somewhere familiar.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Iowa State 78, #12 Little Rock 61

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Monte Morris, Steve Prohm and Iowa State are Sweet Sixteen Bound (Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Monte Morris, Steve Prohm, and Iowa State are Sweet Sixteen Bound (Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Iowa State Offensive Excellence. According to KenPom, the Cyclones are fourth in the nation in offensive efficiency. It’s easy to see why. They’ve got an excellent floor general in Monte Morris, a player always in charge. Georges Niang is a human mismatch, capable of scoring in the paint with the big boys, stepping out to the arc and knocking in threes, or creating off the bounce. Jameel McKay gets on the offensive boards and runs the floor. Abdel Nader can hit the three or attack the hoop. And Matt Thomas is the perfect off-the-ball compliment to the other pieces. It’s not often that even the best defensive teams in the nation have a chance of slowing the talented and versatile Iowa State offense.
  2. Little Rock’s Offensive Struggles. Little Rock does many things well, but supremely efficient offense is not one of them. Today, they had a four-minute scoring drought at the end of the first half, another six-minute stretch without points at the start of the second and another two and a half-minute scoreless streak in the middle of the second. Against a team that scores as efficiently and as often as Iowa State does, these droughts were back-breakers.
  3. Clean and Pretty. In order to have a chance in this game, Little Rock probably needed to ugly this game up in a barrage of floor burns and whistles. Instead, the teams combined for just 14 turnovers and 24 fouls (a few of which were late fouls intended to send poor-shooting Jameel McKay to the line). A handful of times, Little Rock tried to unleash the press that frustrated Purdue late on Thursday, but with ballhandlers like Morris, Niang and Thomas in charge, it never put a significant dent into Iowa State’s gameplan.

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Rushed Reaction: #12 Little Rock 85 #5 Purdue 83 (2OT)

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Not So Little Rock Today (USA Today Images)

Not So Little Rock Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Grind It Out. At the under-four media timeout, Purdue led by 11 and everyone in the Pepsi Center (except for maybe the Little Rock bench) was ready to put a bow on the opening game. A.J. Hammons exited the timeout, knocked in a couple free throws and the Boilermakers were well on their way to the round of 32, up 65-52. Things turned a little bit when Little Rock was able to get a layup out of their halfcourt offense, then turned up their defense. Josh Hagins got a steal in the backcourt and assisted on a Jalen Jackson jumper, then got a jumper of his own after another Purdue miss. Suddenly Little Rock believed again. When Hagins hit another three to bring the Trojans back within one possession, things were on. A few possessions later, Hagins delivered a shot that will live on in March lore, and a game thought to be over minutes earlier was headed to overtime.
  2. Overtimes. The Hagins shot tied it, but Little Rock still had to find a way to win the game. They kept up the pressure on defense and Purdue struggled for possessions at a time to find coherent offense in a first overtime that was not a work of art. In the second overtime, it was against Hagins scoring six points to help establish the final distance between his team and the Boilermakers.
  3. Fight For Everything. Against a team with three talented players taller than 6’10”, all of whom have NBA aspirations, Little Rock appeared to be at a disadvantage (they rank 263rd in the nation in KenPom’s average height metric). But if there was a metric for toughness, the Trojans would have to be near the top. Despite the size disadvantage, they denied post touches, collapsed on Purdue post players when they did get the ball in there, and forced multiple turnovers on the double-teams. If there was a loose ball, there was a Trojan ready to get down on the floor to grab it. They fought the Boilermakers to a draw on the glass, grabbing 15 offensive boards. And in the second half, when Purdue extended their lead to as many as 14 and it seemed like there was no energy left in the building, Little Rock manufactured their own.

Star of the Game. Josh Hagins. The three-pointer at the end of regulation will be replayed both this March and many in the future. But his overall performance was insane, too. His final line: 31 points (a career high) on 20 field goal attempts, six assists, seven boards and five steals. His leadership shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

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Handing Out Grades For Finals Week

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on December 18th, 2015

It’s finals week across the country and we’re currently in the midst of the slowest week of the college basketball season. The basketball may not be great, but it is the perfect time to hand out a few grades of our own to teams, players, coaches and conferences. Hopefully the feedback will be easier to understand than your teacher’s scribbled critiques in those little blue books.

Purdue: A

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Over the first month of the season, the two biggest “it” teams are Oklahoma and these Boilers. Purdue is 11-0 for the first time since 2009-10, when Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson led the Boilers to a share of the Big Ten crown. This Purdue outfit may be the best Matt Painter team since that group, and some are saying this could be the best team in West Lafayette since Glenn Robinson donned the black and gold in the early ’90s. That kind of talk may be getting a little ahead of things, but these Boilers have won all 11 games by double-figures. The major tests start coming in now, beginning with the Boilers’ next four games: Butler at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis; Vanderbilt at home; at Wisconsin (in the Badgers first Big Ten game without Bo Ryan in over a decade); Iowa in West Lafayette. Go 15-0 and this is a surefire A+.

Isaac Haas: A+

If you asked the average college basketball fan to name the best player on Purdue, the answer you’d likely get is AJ Hammons. It wouldn’t be a terrible response — last season, Hammons led the Big Ten in blocked shots for the third straight year (only JaJuan Johnson and Penn State’s Calvin Booth have ever done that before). If you asked a recruiting guru, you might hear the name of blue chip freshman Caleb Swanigan, who has met or even exceeded the lofty expectations attached to him since stepping on campus. But neither of those two has been the most important Boilermaker so far. That notation belongs to Haas, the 7’2″ sophomore who has made the leap as a sophomore. Last season Haas’ offensive rating, per KenPom, was 95.1. So far this year, it’s a whopping 129.8 as he draws almost 9.8 fouls per 40 minutes, the highest average in the country. He’s improved his free throw percentage by 20 points (54.7 percent to 74.2 percent) and he’s making 10 percent more of his two-point attempts (63.3 percent this season) He and Hammons are both dominant on the boards and as shot blockers (Haas’ 8.5 percent block rate falls just a bit short of Hammons’ 10.1 percent) but it’s Haas who is the #5 player in the (very early) KenPom Player of the Year race.

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