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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Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Rushed Reactions: #9 Butler 71, #8 Texas Tech 61

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) 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.

Kellen Dunham hit five threes and scored 23 points to lead Butler past Texas Tech. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Kellen Dunham hit five threes and scored 23 points to lead Butler past Texas Tech. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

  1. Classic NCAA #8-#9 Game (for about 30 minutes). As expected, this was a back and forth affair between two evenly matched teams for most of the game. The key stretch turned out to be a personal 8-0 spurt by Bulldogs forward Kelan Martin with around eight minutes to go. With the score tied at 48, the sophomore hit consecutive threes to force a Texas Tech timeout. On the next possession, Martin turned a midcourt steal into a breakaway dunk to give Butler some breathing room. The Red Raiders could get no closer than three points the rest of the way.
  2. Butler was better equipped to win a physical game. Perhaps it’s their Big East pedigree, but the Bulldogs looked much more comfortable when push came to shove (literally). Things got a little chippy about halfway through the second half right before Butler took control of things. At that point in the game, Texas Tech appeared to be knocked back by Butler’s physicality on defense. The Bulldogs also won the rebound battle with a +6 margin. Texas Tech finished with only six offensive boards, including none in the first half.
  3. Texas Tech didn’t win the free throw game. Coming into the game, the Red Raiders ranked in the nation’s top 33 in both free throw percentage and free throw attempt rate. But credit goes to the Bulldogs’ defense for not putting the Red Raiders on the line much at all today. Texas Tech was only 2-of-3 from the stripe in the first half, and finished the game with just nine attempts (converting four). The Red Raiders got good production off the bench with 30 points from reserves, including 18 from senior Devaugntah Williams. Tubby Smith will only lose two players from this year’s surprising NCAA squad, so brighter days should be ahead for Texas Tech.

Star of the Game.  Kellen Dunham, Butler. Dunham was the one constant for his team in both halves. The senior scored 13 in the first half to keep the Bulldogs close — Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin combined for only a single point in the first stanza. Dunham finished with 23 points and made 5-of-9 from three-point range.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2016

The seven Big 12 teams that heard their names called tonight were never really a mystery. Not because of the leaked bracket, but because of the quality and depth of the conference compared to its peers. While power conference bubble teams like Syracuse, Michigan and Oregon State had to sweat it out before ultimately getting a nod, the Big 12’s bubble has long been settled. Instead, the burning questions around this league are more about the results to come, as the conference hopes to exorcise its March demons over the next few weeks after three years of disappointment.

The Jayhawks hope the nets in Kansas City aren't the last ones they cut down this season (Charlie Riedel, AP)

The Jayhawks hope the nets in Kansas City weren’t the last ones they cut down this season. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Kansas (30-4; #1 South)

  • Outlook: It’s not a given that the Jayhawks will make it to Houston, as they’ll face several strong teams and coaches who are no strangers to NCAA Tournament success, but there’s no clearly under-seeded team lurking in the South region. Colorado has a good big man in Josh Scott who could make life miserable for Kansas’ interior in a potential second-round meeting, but the Buffaloes don’t have any other players the Jayhawks should fear. If anyone upsets Kansas prior to the Elite Eight, the opponent most capable of doing it is California in the Sweet Sixteen. The Bears have two lottery picks and several three-point shooters who can keep up with the Jayhawks’ potent arsenal, but Kansas would still be favored. Anything can happen with this team, but if you thought they were a good bet to make the Final Four going into Selection Sunday, there’s no reason to waver now.

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Takeaways from the Big 12’s Opening Night

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Over the last few years there has been at least one NCAA Tournament bid on the line during the Big 12 Tournament’s opening night. It was Texas making its case last season, with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State before that. For better or worse, there was no such drama last night at the Sprint Center as the team with the shakiest prospects, Texas Tech, already seems safely in the field. The Red Raiders, however, may have dinged their seed with an upset loss to TCU. The games went on regardless, and Kansas State‘s win over Oklahoma State gives us a third game with Kansas in what will undoubtedly be a juiced Sprint Center this afternoon. Here are some quick takeaways on each team that played Wednesday night in Kansas City.

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State. Kansas State’s offense was not pleasant in its last game against Oklahoma State, as a miserable 0.85 points per possession performance resulted in a three-point loss that effectively killed any hopes of a late season run. The Wildcats’ first half on Wednesday night was a different story, as they did a great job utilizing Dean Wade in the high post and Justin Edwards (four first half assists) in keeping the offense moving. This allowed Kansas State to build a 17-point lead that proved insurmountable. Wesley Iwundu admitted after the game that the Wildcats got “too comfortable” with a lead and let Oklahoma State back into the game in the second half. Their date with the rival Jayhawks will not be comfortable, but Bruce Weber said that his team simply needs to “enjoy the opportunity” and compete with them. Replicating their free-flowing offensive effort from last night’s first half will be the only way to challenge a Jayhawks team that hasn’t lost a Big 12 Tournament opener since 2009.

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NCAA Bound Big 12 Teams Have Plenty Still to Play For

Posted by Chris Stone on March 9th, 2016

The Big 12 is in a bit of a unique position heading into the conference tournament. The league already appears poised to send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, so unless something completely unexpected happens, the Big 12 Tournament will have very few, if any, bubble implications this week. The conference’s bottom three teams seem to have their futures largely set in stone as well. Kansas State looks poised for an NIT berth while both Oklahoma State and TCU are largely playing for pride. There will still be plenty on the line in Kansas City this week, as all seven NCAA-bound teams are playing for seeding and geographic considerations. Let’s examine what each of those top seven seeds has to gain over the next five days.

big 12 bracket 2016

The 2016 Big 12 Tournament bracket. (Credit: Big 12 Conference)

1. Kansas – Although Kansas already owns 14 wins against the RPI top 50, the Jayhawks are still in a battle to be the overall #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. If they can knock off the winner of Kansas State-Oklahoma State in Thursday’s quarterfinals, they’ll have a chance to pick up a couple more impressive victories on Friday and Saturday. In order to get there, head coach Bill Self will hope for continued consistency from center Landen Lucas, someone who has provided the Jayhawks with quality inside minutes late this season.

2. West Virginia – The Mountaineers are currently slated as a #3 seed according to most bracket projections, but assuming Texas Tech defeats TCU in their play-in game, they could pick up as many as three additional RPI top 50 wins to support a #2 seed. West Virginia enters the Big 12 Tournament on a four-game winning streak during which it has made 38.2 percent of its three-pointers. If the Mountaineers can keep up that pace, they’re a very dangerous team.

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Big 12 M5: 03.02.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Oklahoma withstood a frantic second-half rally from Baylor to survive last night in Norman, keeping its chances of a #1 seed intact. The Sooners jumped out to a commanding 26-3 lead and led by as many as 26 points, but Baylor locked down Oklahoma’s shooters in the second half, enabling the Bears’ offense to make a run. Scott Drew’s team even took a brief lead on an Al Freeman layup, but timely responses from Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield helped the Sooners prevent a second straight come-from-behind loss. The takeaway here is that Oklahoma still needs to refine its defense, while Baylor, in spite of the loss, looks like a team that is capable of anything later this month.
  2. The race for the conference title may be over, but there’s another battle brewing as Buddy Hield and Georges Niang work their way up the Big 12’s all-time scoring list. Hield entered last night’s game trailing Niang, but a 23-point effort gave him a current total of 2,099 points, enough to pass Niang (2,089) as well as Kansas great Nick Collison (2,097) for fifth on the list. Next in both players’ sights is former Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen (2,132) with Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn holding the all-time mark with 2,285 points. That’s certainly a number to keep an eye on if either the Sooners or Cyclones make deep NCAA Tournament runs this month.
  3. It’s been four long days since Texas beat Oklahoma in Austin. After his team was subsequently obliterated by Kansas on Monday, head coach Shaka Smart revealed that Isaiah Taylor has been suffering from increasingly painful plantar fasciitis. The junior is the team’s heart and soul in the locker room as well as on the floor — he leads Texas in both scoring and assists —  so while Texas has good depth at the guard position, it can’t afford for its leader to be at anything less than 100 percent the rest of the way.
  4. After Saturday’s loss at Kansas, Texas Tech looks to begin another winning streak tonight when it travels to West Virginia for a 7:00 ET tip in Morgantown. The matchup pits the league’s top foul-drawing teams against one another, so expect a healthy dosage of free throws all night long. The Red Raiders own the advantage in conversions at 76.1 percent in conference play compared with the Mountaineers’ much shakier clip of 66.2 percent, so that could be the difference. Tubby Smith’s team has been one of the league’s best stories this season, but it would still be a surprise to see it walk into Morgantown and pull the upset.
  5. Baylor received some good news on the recruiting trail yesterday when Alabama commitment Terrance Ferguson reopened his recruitment. The five-star 2016 talent is ESPN.com‘s #4 shooting guard prospect (#13 overall), and not long after the news broke, Jerry Meyer of 247sports.com listed the Bears among teams in the mix for Ferguson’s services. Kansas was also mentioned as a candidate. While both the Bears and Jayhawks should have strong backcourt depth next year with or without Ferguson, the chance to add another high-ceiling prospect is always worth considering.
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