Ed. Note. To preview the upcoming men’s basketball season, I thought it would be fun to have a Slack Chat with the writing staff. This is the first part of that chat.
Seth: Welcome to another edition of Slack Chat, brought to you by sports.
I thought we’d first touch on the end of last season. Set to play a game against Texas in the Big 12 Tournament (I think) and then the season just ended. Everybody went home. I don’t know how you all felt at the end of the year, but I felt that last year’s team was a bit off in a lot of ways. Flawed in ways that Beard’s teams were typically not flawed, not having a dominant on-ball scorer and a nearly non-existent frontcourt. I thought that Texas Tech would make the tournament and I wouldn’t bet against Beard in the Big Dance, but I didn’t think that last year’s team was going to go far.
Kyle Jacobson: What a strange time to look back on. If I recall correctly, the NBA announced it was suspending its season the night before Tech was supposed to top off in the Big 12 tourney. All morning, it felt inevitable that the tourney would be canceled but there was no official word. Then 5-10 minutes before tip off, the teams were called off the floor and we pretty much went without sports for a few months.
Anyway, I was oddly intrigued at Tech’s NCAA tournament prospects despite the shortcomings you mentioned. They proved they could play with anybody (OT loss in Waco, OT loss vs Kentucky) but struggled to get over the hump (though they did that as well, like when they beat Louisville). By now I think Beard is a guy who’s extremely comfortable in the postseason and he would have had the guys ready. Whether they wound up as a 9, 10, or 11 seed, I guarantee you nobody wanted Tech on their side of the bracket. I thought a Sweet 16 run wasn’t out of the picture, and once you get that far, who knows?
Keith: I’m not the authority on basketball and I also did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, I blame COVID. Anyway, I feel Kyle’s memory vividly. Being in the school business, the pandemic has been particularly poignant for me and it was March 11 when things started going down. The Jazz @ Thunder game was postponed on that Wed night because Rudy Gobert tested positive. Tech’s game and the :big12: Tournament was cancelled the next morning during shootarounds.
As far as the 2019-2020 Red Raiders I fully agree with the woes in the paint and the lack of emergence of a dominant leading scorer. For me however, I specifically sensed a lack of team cohesion. It appeared to me, and was corroborated by some public comments and some private stories, that Jahmi’us Ramsey did not buy in. He came to town to be the big dog and was not interested in being part of a team or playing defense. That left a power vacuum in the lineup and it hurt the chemistry of the team. The most incredible story of the 2018-2019 run was the team chemistry, especially considering the transfers who became impact players like Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, and with a different twist to the story, Brandone Francis. Last season, Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield did not become the contributors we’d hoped they’d be and the team didn’t ever seem to gel. Beard leaned on Davide Moretti to become the leader that didn’t work either.
I was definitely in the camp of them being dangerously close to not getting a bid. I think a win over Texas was likely but I think they’d need at least another win in the conference tourney to get a bid and I didn’t expect them to make it past the round of 32 at best.
Kyle Jacobson: That reminds me of an anecdote our very own Tech Hoops Guy shared from the game in Austin. He was sitting close enough to the Tech bench to overhear some things. Apparently late in the game, Beard was going to sub Ramsey in. Beard kind of got his attention before he went in and was like “Hey, you have to play defense.” Lol.
Definitely seems like a strange fit on the surface since defense is such a centerpiece of the team’s culture in recent years.
michael: Even with the 0-4 finish on the season, I still had Tech pegged at around an 8-seed. Nothing to really back that up other than a hunch and that we were just getting a glimpse of what Kevin McCullar could become. His minutes shot up the last half of Big 12 play. A guy averaging 6ppg for the year more than doubled that (13ppg) for the last 4 games. He was 80% from the floor in his last three, including close losses against UT, Baylor, and KU.
Unfortunately, Ramsey proved not to be the closer Tech really needed at the end of games. McCullar was quietly transitioning towards that, and I hate that we missed out on seeing his progression through the Big 12 and NCAA tourneys.
Spencer: We definitely felt the absence of a presence from the grad transfers, but they may have been up against impossible odds to be compared to Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens. You may never get that kind of chemistry that quickly again. But this is what Chris Beard does though, churn the roster, meaning chemistry is going to be a question mark heading into any season. This one is no different with so many new faces – albeit uber talented.
Keith: I think in the vein of grad transfers, Holyfield was not set up for success as he was forced to go up against real bigs often.
Spencer: He also dealt with nagging shoulder injuries throughout the season
danswany: Last season had it’s rough patches, yet coming off a path to the Championship game of March Madness does come with lofty expectations. The frontcourt was an issue, and lack of a true leader or key clutch player to give us an edge in the final minutes of games was the biggest concern on my end. We seemed to not have a go to who could be the guy who could make the shot down the stretch.
This season the roster has more talent and depth than any I’ve ever seen on the Red Raiders. I’ve think we’ve cleared up the issues with the frontcourt depth. Even if we are still going to be a bit on the smaller side compared to a few big bodies on the court from our opponents. With all the talent, I’m looking who is going to be the go to guys to have the ball in their hands and drive the team to come up with some baskets when the game comes down to the buzzer.
Who do you feel steps in to be the locker room and on the court leader this season? I’d personally like to see Kyler Edwards and Marcus Santos-Silva take authority as playmakers and vocal captains that are clutch and consistent with the experience they bring to the table.
Seth: Yeah, I think there was a vacuum last year in terms of leadership, both on the floor and in the locker room. That’s a tough deal when you go from Norense Odiase being the ultimate leader for the team for the National Championship run and a Jarrett Culver leading on the floor.
It would seem that Santos-Silva is setting himself up to be that sort of leader on and off the floor, but that sort of has to play out I think for someone like him who is a relative newcomer and maybe he and the team are still felling out how. I think that’s a tough thing and I thought that Holyfield or Clarke might fill that role last year, but that never seemed to click, at least from my end of things.
As far as Edwards, yeah, he really has the ability to be one of the on-ball creators, whether that be off of a screen or driving to the basket, but I don’t know if his personality fits that role necessarily. He seems quiet, so I think he’ll have to take on a bit more as a junior this year.
I also think that guys like Shannon and McCullar have that opportunity as well.
Kyle Jacobson: I hope Santos-Silva’s leadership style reflects his playing style. He’s a post player but not super tall, yet he seems tough as nails and he’ll throw down with anyone in the paint. Seems like a guy who rebounds because he’s a grinder, not because of excess height or athleticism. If that rubs off on some of the younger and less experienced players, I bet it’s a step in the right direction. Besides him, I’d like to see Kyler and K-Mac grow into leadership roles. K-Mac was far and away the guy who improved most as the season went on last year, and he’s actually been in the program two full years now since he left high school early and redshirted his first semester on campus. He’s a special talent and a guy who might feel more comfortable assuming a leadership role this year. Damn I’m getting excited for basketball season talking about all of this… (edited)
danswany: True to all of this, McCullar was a player that really did get better each minute he was out on the court. I had him on my radar too, as a guy that could guide this roster during the last seconds of a tight game.
Now, somebody that doesn’t seem quiet or bashful about being in the spotlight is none other than my guy Mac McClung. Hoping he can be direct and gain the loyalty of our troops, because there’s no doubt he won’t shy away from showing up in a jam.