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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Big 12 M5: 11.16.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Another huge game from Frank Mason fueled Kansas’ 77-75 win over Duke last night. Even though the Blue Devils were without three of its star freshmen, the Jayhawks withstood plenty of their own challenges — from foul trouble to ineffectiveness beyond the arc (2-of-16 3FG) to a bad night at the charity stripe (9-of-19 FT). The Jayhawks also blew a late double-digit lead, but it ultimately did not matter as Mason cashed in a game-winning elbow jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining, the last of his 17 second-half points. Beating Duke in any environment is a big deal, but this victory should yield some real dividends come March if the Blue Devils play to their lofty expectations once healthy.
  2. Entering the season, one of the key questions for Baylor aside from point guard play was how the Bears would account for the loss of Rico Gathers. It’s a remarkably small sample size, but through two games including a top-five opponent in Oregon, Jo Lual-Acuil has answered the bell, averaging 15.0 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per 40 minutes  in the young season. The junior will be challenged next week when the Bears head to the Bahamas and again in December when they host Xavier, so stiffer competition should give way to a more confident read on Lual-Acuil, but in the meantime, he’s been one of the big surprises around the conference.
  3. Switching gears from a surprise to a known quantity, how great is it to have Oklahoma State‘s Phil Forte back? I suppose you could ask head coach Brad Underwood, but he was still working for Stephen F. Austin when the senior suffered a shoulder injury last November. He’s probably grateful nonetheless. The Big 12’s new elder statesman has stormed out of the gates, averaging 27.0 points per game and converting each of his first 17 attempts at the free throw line. The Cowboys are still looking for answers inside, but Forte and Jawun Evans (28.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.0 SPG) are showing why they should be mentioned among the conference’s best perimeter tandems.
  4. I’ve thought a little more about Kansas State‘s lax non-conference schedule, and while I still think it has a chance to backfire, it’s worth mentioning the potential benefits as well. Given that Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are the team’s only scholarship upperclassmen who have been with the program all four years, there’s a big drop-off to the younger core of sophomores Dean WadeBarry BrownKamau Stokes and freshman Xavier Sneed. This isn’t the most analytical viewpoint, but building confidence matters for a relatively young team, especially when its league schedule starts with a road game at Kansas sandwiched between home games against Oklahoma and West Virginia. Steamrolling the likes of Hampton, Robert Morris and Boston College wouldn’t lead anyone to picking the Wildcats to win at Allen Fieldhouse, but it can be helpful in the overall scheme with the league being deeper than it usually is. While I’d be remiss if I didn’t think there was at least a sliver of self-preservation by head coach Bruce Weber at play here as well, the general approach makes sense for a team looking to build some experience and confidence during the non-conference slate.
  5. Texas Tech will be shorthanded for a while as the school revealed over the weekend that big man Norense Odiase broke a bone in his left foot. While the Red Raiders have started 2-0 in spite of Odiase’s absence, it’s still a tough blow since he missed 12 games just last season with a similar injury to his other foot. For what it’s worth, Chris Beard doesn’t anticipate Odiase missing as much time as he did last season, which would be nice. The Red Raiders don’t have much time to adjust, though, with Auburn and a potential game against Purdue’s twin towers looming in next week’s Cancun Challenge.
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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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Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part II

Posted by Chris Stone on April 12th, 2016

Yesterday, Brian Goodman opened our examination of the offseason’s burning questions facing Big 12 teams by reviewing challenges facing Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU. Our series continues today with consideration of the questions plaguing the remainder of the league: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Iowa State (23-12, 10-8)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

Who will step up in the Cyclones’ frontcourt? A lack of depth at Iowa State was a persistent problem last season and it leads to the bigger question about who will fill the gaping frontcourt holes in Ames next year. With both Georges Niang and Jameel McKay no longer around, the Cyclones return no players 6’8″ or taller who played greater than five percent of the available minutes last season. Iowa State will need to rely on a big debut from Emmanuel Malou, one of the best junior college transfers in the country, and dramatic improvement from rising sophomore Simeon Carter, the Cyclones’ best returning big man.

Oklahoma State (12-20, 3-15)

What can new head coach Brad Underwood do with one of the Big 12’s best backcourts? Underwood consistently produced efficient offenses at Stephen F. Austin and he’ll have the chance to do likewise in Stillwater. The first-year head coach will inherit one of the conference’s best backcourts, as both Jawun Evans and Phil Forte appear set to return to school, with Evans showcasing his potential in the Cowboys’ upset of Kansas and Forte likely the best outside shooter in the Big 12. How Evans and Forte develop their chemistry with Underwood this offseason will go a long way toward determining whether Oklahoma State can regain conference relevance next season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Power Rankings: It’s Practically March Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 26th, 2016

It is practically March, isn’t it? We’re just four days away. You can almost feel the bubble shrink as at-large hopefuls drop games they shouldn’t be dropping and simultaneously expand whenever a recent winning streak is validated with a big win. As of now, the Big 12’s bubble situation is relatively clear. Barring a flurry of wins from Kansas State within the next two weeks, the conference will send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. The last team among the seven is Texas Tech. When Big 12 coaches picked them to finish 10th a few months ago, how could anyone have seen this coming?

THE EVIDENCE. (Big12Sports.com)

HERE IS THE EVIDENCE. LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT ITTTTTT (Big12Sports.com)

Texas Tech has eight conference wins at this point which bodes well with how the selection committee has historically treated eight-win Big 12 teams. Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas (once) made it safely into the field of 68 with that number in 2014 and 2015. Much has been written about the Red Raiders’ rise from rotten to respectable, and rightly so, but we shouldn’t forget that they’ve gone on this five-game winning streak without the services of starting center Norense OdiaseTubby Smith is the favorite for Big 12 Coach of the Year and is also creeping into National Coach of the Year discussions as well. Now let’s hope all seven clubs make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Big 12 Power Rankings

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Big 12 Bubble Watch: Giving It The Ol’ College Try Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

Today is the first Friday in February, which means March is approaching as quickly as bubble discussion is intensifying. So lets frame the Big 12’s bubble situation as it stands now. Thankfully, the Big 12 isn’t the most complicated conference in this respect. We aren’t talking about a league like the ACC, where the second and tenth place teams are separated by just 2.5 games. In any case, the Big 12’s true bubble teams are down to four after West Virginia, who is currently tied for first in the conference, all but locked up its tournament spot by taking down Iowa State this week at Hilton Coliseum. The other three teams considered locks for the NCAA Tournament are obvious ones: the aforementioned Cyclones, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Now it’s time to dive into the four teams who have the best shot at snagging those coveted at-large bids. What have they done so far? What must they do in the future? Should you eat more of a balanced diet? Two of these questions will be answered on this edition of Big 12 Bubble Watch. (RPI numbers via NCAA.com; SOS via CBSSports.com; Kenpom via Kenpom.com). Numbers are as of February 4.

You won’t need to watch out for Lucille. She already has an eye on the Big 12 bubble picture.

You won’t need to watch out for Lucille. She already has an eye on the Big 12 bubble picture.

Probably In

Baylor: 17-5 (6-3); RPI: 26, SOS: 43, Kenpom: 29

Analysis: There was a 30 for 30 on a great Bears team last night (er, somebody’s Bears) but this year’s team is just kinda plain. They’re vanilla. A likable flavor with likable qualities. Lester Medford has dished out 75 assists compared to 25 turnovers in the last 10 games. Rico Gathers Sr. is a man with “Sr.” in his name and continues to dole out punishment to anyone who has to guard him. Taurean Prince is still a prospect NBA executives are drooling over. So what’s missing? The Bears’ lone win against a sure-fire tournament team came on the road at Iowa State, which is obviously nice. Outside of that, Baylor’s other wins are fairly hollow. Fortunately, they’ve got nine games to go and a golden opportunity at another good road win when they travel to West Virginia tomorrow. There is very little to worry about right now in Waco.

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Big 12 M5: 01.25.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 25th, 2016

big12m5

  1. Kansas is struggling a bit right now. I don’t think that’s a large statement to make. Traveling to traditionally noisy road environments (West Virginia, Oklahoma State) only to come away with losses isn’t the biggest deal but when an undermanned-yet-solid Texas team had a real chance of pulling the upset at home, there might be something more to this recent rough patch. Accordingly, Bill Self tinkered with his lineup and rotation on Saturday after tinkering with it Tuesday against the Cowboys. Still, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they dropped another road contest to a really good Iowa State team later tonight but I’d like to think Kansas fans would sound the alarms if they laid another egg.
  2. Speaking of the Cyclones, Iowa State will host Kansas tonight in a match-up that has become the Big 12’s premier tussle over the past four years. As a line of tents wrap around Hilton ColiseumSteve Prohm has finally been able to build trust and encouragement with his veteran-laden team. It’s more intimidating than it is easy when you think about it. A situation where the players are good, have a years-long way of doing things and then all of a sudden, a new guy is hired from the outside. The players weren’t likely to revolt or be outright disrespectful to Prohm but there did remain a possibility that, while they knew he was successful at his previous stop, Cyclone players could have ran things they way were accustomed to for years under Fred Hoiberg. At last, the coach and his players are mentally one. The implications of this fact now radiate throughout the Big 12.
  3. My main complaint, well the nation’s main complaint, with West Virginia is that they shoot the ball like a 30-second shot isn’t sufficient for their kind of offense. And then a game like Saturday’s comes along. The Mountaineers were already shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from the perimeter and still trailed Texas Tech by four with under a minute to go. Then, the (TarikPhillip-ing occurred. The junior guard owned the last minute of play when he nailed a three-pointer, converted an old-fashioned three point play, made a dunk and tacked on two of his final three steals on the day. Most bench players don’t get that much activity playing 20 minutes and Phillip did all that — and still finished with 20 points. Because of his effort, West Virginia maintained their four-way tie for first place in the Big 12.
  4. Texas Tech was feisty in their home loss to West Virginia despite learning that sophomore big man Norense Odiase broke his fourth metatarsal bone in his right foot following Tech’s win over TCU and will be in a cast for the next three weeks according to Tubby Smith. Odiase had been growing as a more consistent low-post threat while also adding a jump shot to his arsenal. He was averaging 9 points and 4.4 rebounds in just 19.5 minutes per game. With Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State as Tech’s three of their next five games, a presence like Odiase’s will be sorely missed in games that will determine their worthiness of an at-large berth.
  5. As Oklahoma‘s dream season rolls on, the athletics department announced late last week one of its faces of the program is coming home. On March 1, Blake Griffin will ride into Norman, as the Sooners take on Baylor, where his No. 23 jersey will be retired. March 1 will almost assuredly be even more emotional as the jersey ceremony coincides with Senior Night where Sooner fans will say goodbye to Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and the rest of the senior class. I have a strange feeling the Lloyd Noble Center will be filled to capacity that night.
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Big 12 M5: 12.07.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 7th, 2015

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  1. It’s the Monday following the announcement of this year’s College Football Playoff participants so it must be time to talk Big 12 expansion again, right? Unlike last year, however, the league might be forced to expand sooner rather than later. It was expecting a motion to deregulate conference championship games in football to pass next month, but the Big Ten has stepped in with a “last-minute amendment” that might hurt the 10-team conference’s chances of hosting such a game in 2016. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he wouldn’t want to be forced to expand the league but admitted that it “could end up that way.” Expansion in football would directly affect basketball, of course, possibly enhancing or diluting the product depending on which direction it goes.
  2. Baylor football had a rough go of things on Saturday, but the men’s basketball team turned those fortunes around Sunday night against #16 Vanderbilt. The Commodores went on a 17-0 run early in the second half to go up 10 but the Bears stormed back to tie the game at 52 with 8:40 to play. From then on, both teams traded body blows in what became a 40-minute basketball masterpiece that Baylor won, 69-67. Taurean Prince scored 30 points in front of over 30 NBA scouts and we all watched Lester Medford (15 points on 6-of-12 shooting) make big shot after big shot to nail it down for the Bears. This appears to be a strong profile-building win for Baylor.
  3. Darker days are approaching for Oklahoma State, if they aren’t here already. After losing at home to Tulsa for the first time since 1985, the Cowboys fell even lower on Saturday as they lost to Missouri State (1-5 record, ranked 239th on Kenpom), 64-63. It was Missouri State’s first win against a Division I opponent this season. For the Cowboys, this marked the first time they have dropped two consecutive non-conference home games since, you guessed it, 1985. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is still without top scorer Phil Forte indefinitely as Travis Ford has said that his status could be “day to day, week to week” or “month to month.” And the Sugar Bowl won’t be for another three-and-a-half weeks, huh? Yikes.
  4. Oklahoma will take on Villanova tonight in a highly-anticipated top 10 showdown between potential Final Four teams. The game will of course be played at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on the 74th anniversary of Japan’s infamous attack on the United States that thrust the country into World War II. Head coach Lon Kruger spoke on the significance of their visit to Hawaii as an opportunity for his players to learn more about an important part of America’s history.
  5. Despite dealing with eligibility concerns with two players and an early transfer, Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith has been forced to shorten his rotation in two ways: personnel and height. It seems to have worked thus far. The Red Raiders are 5-1 on the young season with their only loss coming against a Utah team they hung with for much of that game. Zach Smith and Norense Odiase have emerged as the two stalwarts down low while guard Keenan Evans has made strides as a scorer in his second season. The danger with a short rotation is when those players reach a point somewhere in conference play when they run out of gas and start putting forth weaker efforts. That’s something Smith will have to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
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Big 12 Preview: Texas Tech’s Burning Question

Posted by Chris Stone on October 27th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will Texas Tech’s rising sophomores get the Red Raiders out of the Big 12 cellar? 

During last season’s discussion about the best basketball conference in the country, there was always an elephant in the room regarding the Big 12 because league members played Texas Tech and TCU four times each during conference play (going 27-5 against them). And yet here we are ready to make the case that at least one of those two schools should make some progress this season. Still, let’s set realistic expectations. Texas Tech was a really bad basketball team last year. The Red Raiders pulled off an exhilarating upset victory over Iowa State in Lubbock when the Cyclones shot 6-of-31 from three, but Tubby Smith’s squad ultimately finished at the very bottom of the league with a brutal 3-15 record. The Red Raiders also couldn’t fall back on decent efficiency numbers like fellow cellar dweller TCU (which finished 4-14 in Big 12 play), which finished the season in KenPom’s top 70. Texas Tech,  on the other hand, ranked 168th of 351 teams, beating out just four other Power Five conference schools (Mississippi State, Washington State, Missouri and Rutgers) for the ignominious title of worst major college team in America. The team finished last in the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, turned the ball over on 23 percent of its possessions, and failed to defend very well at all inside the three-point arc. This year, they were again picked to finish last by fellow conference coaches.

Norense Odiase will lead Texas Tech's rising sophomore class. (Michael C. Johnson/USA Today Sports)

Norense Odiase will lead Texas Tech’s rising sophomore class. (Michael C. Johnson/USA Today Sports)

That is a lot of terribleness to overcome, so let’s start with what the Red Raiders lost. Senior Robert Turner is gone and that might be a good thing. The guard was an inefficient scorer — shooting 29 percent on 108 three-point attempts and just 42 percent on nearly 150 two-point attempts — who accounted for 26 percent of the Red Raiders’ shots while he was on the floor. Turner’s usage should get gobbled up by Tech’s returning senior guards and rising sophomores. Both Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher were good three-point shooters last year, making 39 and 38 percent of their attempts, respectively. Neither is much for scoring inside nor distributing the ball particularly well, but three-point shooting is a valuable attribute since it can space the floor and open up the offense.

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