Texas Tech Raiders

Revisiting the first notebook of the 2019-20 basketball season

The 2019-20 Red Raider basketball season had high expectations, and for good reason. Led by Chris Beard, Texas Tech totaled a record of 58-17 between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, including two historic tournament runs, with the team reaching the national championship in 2019. Yet, with a young, inexperienced roster, there was plenty of skepticism and questions surrounding the team.

The team’s placement at No. 13 in the preseason AP top 25 showed that there was more optimism than pessimism. With a roller-coaster season including highs such as leaving Madison Square Garden victorious over No. 1 Louisville, and lows such as losing by double digits to TCU.

In all, the season was a bit of a disappointment as the 17-13 record certainly failed to satisfy the expectations of many. These expectations were seen through my first notebook of the 2019-20 season where I covered the team’s first media availability and open practice back in October, prior to the season. Here, we will revisit and discuss each note that I took from that day.

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THE TEAM IS A “WORK IN PROGRESS”

There’s no disagreement with the statement that Davide Moretti made about the state of the Red Raiders back in October. In fact, the team never finished their progression as they were inconsistent and were never able to capture a significant run like the 11-2 streak that the 2018-19 team put on. Moretti also explained how the team needed to establish a bond and brotherhood, and that also never seemed to come true. There were two games all season where the entire team dominated their way to victory through ball movement and team effort, those games being against Oklahoma State for the Big 12 season opener and TCU on February 10th. The squad simply never came close to a finished product, and Beard’s expectation that the boys would play their best ball at the end of the season proves so, as they dropped their last four games, failing to secure their 3rd place finish in the Big 12.

BEARD HAS HIGH EXPECTATIONS, REGARDLESS OF AGE

Texas Tech’s youth and inexperience gave their performance a low floor, with the average experience of the roster being 1.3 years and only 25.4% of minutes played and 23.8% of scoring returning from the 2018-19 roster. This was seen throughout the season as the team simply looked like a subpar Big 12 squad at times. This also prevented the team from gaining any momentum during conference play as inexperienced teams often fail to grasp onto any winning streaks and respond to losing streaks with multiple wins.

TEAM HAS GREAT DEPTH

It was originally thought that all (eligible and healthy) 11 players were able to provide at least one aspect that was great enough to play consistent Big 12 minutes, which Beard eluded to during the media availability. However, this proved to be wrong as Beard only played eight players consistently, with the bench unit scoring about 4.5 points per game. Players like Andrei Savrasov, Clarence Nadolny, and Russel Tchewa struggled to find their niche, limiting bench production.

In retrospect, the bench had great potential, but this potential failed to reach any significant level. Joel Ntambwe sitting out and Tyreek Smith suffering from a leg injury didn’t help, either. Perhaps what really got everyone excited for the roster’s depth was the recruiting class ranking a program high 16th nationally. The additions of grad transfers TJ Holyfield and Chris Clarke brought excitement too but suffering from significant injuries and sitting out an entire season took away a great chunk of their athleticism.

BEARD IS STILL WAITING ON NTAMBWE’S WAIVER

Well, we all know how this went. After multiple attempts, including a presentation before the NCAA committee, Ntambwe never saw the floor last season. The feeling surrounding his waiver was confident, and for good reason. A change of coaching at his previous home of UNLV, having family in the state of Texas, and former UNLV teammates being cleared all pointed to optimism. Because of the circumstances, many speculated that UNLV refused to give effort towards Ntambwe’s waiver because of Beard leaving the Running Rebels to coach the Red Raiders after being in Las Vegas for less than a month.

IS EDWARDS THE NEXT BREAKOUT PLAYER FOR TEXAS TECH?

With Keenan Evans having an all-American 2017-18 campaign and Jarrett Culver breaking out into the Big 12 Player of the Year in 2018-19, chances that another Red Raider would enjoy a breakout season were high. Following an impressive final four performance, Kyler Edwards was a popular selection for making that jump. As a confident and lethal shooter (44.9 3P%), many expected Edwards to contend for Texas Tech’s leading scorer and emerge as an all-Big 12 level scorer. Beard even said that Edwards “worked really hard… (I’ve) never seen a guy who had a better offseason that Kyler Edwards did both mentally and physically. I have a lot of confidence in Kyler this year.”

Edwards increased playing time, jumping from 17.8 minutes per game to 33.4 and 0 games started to 31, but his production didn’t take as big of a leap as one would hope. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 13.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.1 steals on 40.4% shooting from the field and 32.2% from three, compared to his 2018-19 per 40-minute averages of 12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.4 steals on 41.3 FG% and 44.9 3P%. Just by looking at these statistics, it’s obvious that Edwards didn’t have the breakout that was expected by many, however improvement still occurred. While he only scored 1.4 more points per 40 minutes, Edwards expanded his scoring repertoire from being a jump shooter to a reliable finisher and occasional post-up scorer. He also increased his free throw shooting by 11.3%.

If Edwards’ outside shooting becomes a more consistent weapon like it was his freshman year and he continues to expand and improve his off-the dribble scoring, he could easily become the all-Big 12 guard many envisioned going into last season.

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THE CULTURE HASN’T CHANGED

There’s no argument here, Beard maintained the hard-working, no excuses culture that has been seen throughout his time at Texas Tech. While the team always didn’t show the level of fight that the previous teams displayed, that’s likely due to its youth and lack of continuity and leadership. An example of that fight still being alive and well last season was the progression of redshirt freshman Kevi
n McCullar
, who fought harder than any of his teammates during the last third of Big 12 play. The team also lost multiple close games to elite ranked teams, such as Creighton, Baylor, Kentucky, and Kansas, while defeating two other elite teams in Louisville and West Virginia, further showing that the culture didn’t go anywhere.

EVERYONE IS HEALTHY FOR THE MOST PART

This was stated just before news broke of Tyreek Smith’s leg injury that kept him out for 6-8 weeks. Other than Smith, Texas Tech suffered nagging injuries all season long, with Jahmi’us Ramsey’s hamstring injury being the most devastating, as it kept him out for four games. Other minor injuries include Kevin McCullar’s concussion, Terrence Shannon’s back issues, and Chris Clarkes’ ankle problems.

BEARD HAS HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR TJ HOLYFIELD

Holyfield’s head coach had some lofty expectations for him, as Beard predicted that Holyfield would “have the best year he’s ever had in college basketball”, and that “he’ll be in the NBA conversation next spring.” It’s hard to blame Beard’s optimism as Holyfield fit Texas Tech’s “position-less” basketball scheme. Shooting 41.2% from three while leading Stephen F. Austin in blocks during the 2017-18 season proved so.

While the stats and size (6-8, 225 pounds) equaled an ideal fit at Texas Tech, Holyfield’s production regressed to numbers that resembled his freshman stats. The potential was there, his mobility and quickness were greater than nearly all other big men in the conference, yet he only averaged 8.9 points. Holyfield appeared hesitant and stubborn when he possessed the ball and differed to passing when he should’ve blown by the player guarding him.

What likely prevented him from becoming an all-conference level player was sitting out an entire season while injured. Going from a season-long hiatus to competing in the Big 12 is a tall task for any athlete, especially one who’s coming off an injury.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.’S JUMP SHOT LOOKS IMPROVED

While watching the open practice, Shannon’s shooting form looked much better than it did during high school, where it was almost a chest-level push-shot. While he didn’t shoot the greatest percentage from downtown (25.7%), his form was indeed improved, as it was a higher, more fluent release and follow-through. His 82.9 free throw % proved so. The progression of his jump-shot will be vital to Shannon reaching his full potential as a scorer. His incredible physical tools and athleticism makes him a terrorizing finisher, so obtaining a reliable jump-shot will make him a terrorizing scorer period.

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RUSSEL TCHEWA IS BIG

It’s safe to say that “Big Russ” didn’t shrink in the slightest, so this one proved to be true! Tchewa’s incredible size and strength made him a fan favorite as his blocks and inside scoring seemed so easy, while the flashes of mid-range shooting blew the roof off the building. Now Tchewa will be flashing his great potential and continue to make plays that only a 7-0, 260-pound player can make as a South Florida Bull next season.

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