Seth: Dan, we’ve got a brand new year of basketball and lots of optimism surrounding the program. What are your lasting impressions from last year?
DanSwany: The lasting impressions that were formed in my mind from last year was the incredibly young roster that Tubby Smith played so many minutes on the court. That helped the frosh gain real D-1 college level game experience. Four of the five freshman averaged over 18+ minutes of playing time per game, and Manderson was the only one that had less minutes but still was on the court about 14 mpg. Our young squad took their knocks and had to learn the hard way in most of the games. Especially in the Big 12 conference games. Those lumps should have left a lastingly impression on the team. In the end it should make the guys tougher and more mature for this upcoming season.
There is a lot of optimism on our side of the fence with those close to our basketball program. We know what special talent we are developing, and we got a taste of it in streaks while watching the games last year. It is a matter of putting it all together for a full game. Tubby Smith is working on the formula that will equal victories. Anybody that understands basketball can look at our roster and tell the fresh talent and skill set that our guys have. This is a team with potential, and it can and will be a winner with more and more understanding of the game. That comes with more minutes played on the court together.
The national media and even conference media is giving Texas Tech absolutely no respect. We as a team struggle with the identity to not be the “doormat” of the Big 12… but, this is based off the fact that everyone outside of Red Raider fans expect anything except us to finish dead last in the conference. That ticks me off, but the only way to prove everyone wrong is to win some games. What is your take on the lack of respect for our men’s basketball team?
Seth: The lack of respect is disheartening, but it’s understandable. Texas Tech has been a doormat for a long time, but this also means that maybe folks just aren’t paying attention to who played for Smith last year and where the core of this team is.
I’m a lot like you in the sense that I’m pretty optimistic about this team. The core of this team will only be sophomores, but the good thing is that Smith is stocking more high school talent than JUCO talent. For me, that means that Smith is looking long-term at the situation and that the way that this team will win the most games year after year is to continue to develop that talent, so that by the time the group has juniors and seniors, they’re ready to contribute. That’s the best way that this team is going to be able to compete with teams in the Big 12.
Before we get into specific players, I wanted to address one lingering concern. With Robert Turner graduated, my hope is that Keenan Evans and Devon Thomas will not turn the ball over and be able to distribute the ball a bit better. Turner was really playing out of position, but Evans and Thomas are true point guards. If Evans and Thomas do what I hope that they do, then my biggest concern is that Texas Tech really doesn’t have that shooter that’s incredibly consistent and can make a defense pay. Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher are probably your best bets, but Williams can be streaky. What’s your take on the outside shooting and what’s your biggest concern heading into this year?
DanSwany: Agree completely that it makes a difference in the thought process of going after high school players over JUCO players. The only thing that is worrisome is the high transfer rate in college basketball. Tubby Smith is a good judge of character and is putting his trust that we will build this program back up from the ground by selecting the frosh. That to me says that Tubby is in it at Tech for the long haul to help teach these kids and raise our basketball team to another level.
I am scared to death that our team will again be a poor three-point shooting squad. We need that outside shot to be a threat to open up the inside gaps to run our offensive sets. The turnovers were bad last year, but I am giving it a chance that it was Evans and the rest of the freshman getting broken into the college basketball stage of things. Turnovers are a concern somewhat, but our downtown shooting is what is bothering me the most.
Talking about concerns, even with my outside shooting anxiety I think our guards are not a real problem on the roster. I also like Odiase and Manderson down in the post positions. But, it seems that our lone true power forward on the team is Zach Smith. Behind Smith we have others that can fill in the position, but it is not their strong spot on the floor. Smith is a rising star and gets the most minutes per game out of any returning starter. What do you think about Smith and the depth at the power forward position? We need him to be healthy all season long or we might be in trouble.
Seth: I think the forward spot is going to be a bit strange and largely dependent on the opponent. The great thing about Smith is that when Gray was hurt last year, he essentially had to play out of position at the small forward spot. The other two back-ups are probably Aaron Ross, who is still just a junior (it seems like he’s been at Texas Tech forever) and I’d expect him to receive the primary minutes, but the other guy that has me intrigued is Matt Temple, the walk-on from Wichita Falls. Smith mentioned that Temple is more than just a guy, he’s got some skill and some shooting touch he’s got a pretty big body for a walk-on. He also said that Clark Lammert was responsible for getting Temple on the team. Also, the official site has Temple at 6-11/235, but some folks on the blog have said that he’s closer to 6-8 or 6-9, which is still fine for that power forward spot. It sounds strange, but Tubby has me excited about a walk-on!
Alright, enough with the concerns, let’s dive into some of the positive things that you see in this team. Feel free to start anywhere.
DanSwany: Something that Tubby Smith led teams do well is get the most out of their possessions with the ball. With the mitigation of turnovers and the hopes of a more savvy team on the court we should see much better results on the offensive end of the floor. Getting to the rim is a must for these guys. This offseason the team should have been practicing those free throws to get the most out of getting to the line by driving in the lanes. More points on the scoreboard is always a positive thing.
It seems that the coaching staff and players really stressed strength and conditioning during the downtime. I am expecting to see a more athletically fit and stronger team then last season. The positives there will be easily recognizable come Big 12 play. So, all in all we could see a much more muscular and energetic group running the floor under the tutelage of Tubby Smith. That is a great thought to get excited about this upcoming season.
What gets you hyped for this season?
Seth: I too like the open floor aspect that this team has. Tubby has mentioned that C.J. Williamson may be this team’s best open court player and if you combine that with Jordan Jackson, that’s a pretty good group to go up and down the court. The other thing that I think folks are overlooking is this team’s size at center and I’d guess that over the course of the summer, they’ve got a few more moves and are going to be much more difficult to deal with inside. Having a one-two punch like Odiase and Manderson is a big deal (literally and figuratively). I’m also still excited about what Justin Gray can do. I think he was the most polished of the freshmen last year, but injuries derailed his season. If he’s fully healthy, he’s got a mid-range game that won’t stop and he also has the athletic ability to go to the rim. If Gray does go down, at least there is someone like Williamson that can fill those minutes at small forward rather than trying to rearrange the entire lineup.
Who do you think makes the most improvement from the freshmen last year and why?
DanSwany: The guys I see making a big leap this year from their freshman year is a couple of big fellas you just mentioned. Odiase and Manderson. The post position is trained in the Big 12 with a trial by fire type of approach the first year out the gates of high school. I think Odiase and Manderson passed the test and are going to be great in the paint for seasons to come. Last season they fought against the likes of guys like Rico Gathers, Cameron Ridley, Cliff Alexander, Georges Niang, and others. They will remember the battles and gained wisdom from banging around in the paint with those guys. As you say, with a few added moves in the under the basket Odiase and Manderson will be a tough match-up for any opponent. The key is to have some decent outside shooting by the guards to open up the space inside so the opponents do not stack everyone inside to defend our big post players.
Talking about that gets me pumped up for some major Big 12 clashes of the big men! The regular season is right around the corner and I cannot wait.
Besides the freshman, Gotcher and Williams are going to have to be the vocal leaders on this team. Their contributions will be of much importance by guiding their other young teammates while still making strides and helping on the floor to win games.
I know we are optimistic about this team and the potential… but I also know you are a realist, Seth. What are your thoughts on the outcome of our Red Raiders in terms of our regular season record and the Big 12 tournament?
Seth: I think the NIT is very real at this point and I think that this team is going to surprise some folks. K-State and TCU are in the same neighborhood as Texas Tech and from everything I’ve read, Oklahoma State isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. I really do think that the trial by fire for those freshmen are going to do wonders for the team overall. I could see 6 or 7 conference wins, which should put Texas Tech squarely in the hunt for an NIT bid, assuming the non-conference portion of the schedule goes well for Texas Tech.
What about you? How do you think this team is going to do in conference this year and do you think that this team will be looking at a post-season opportunity?
DanSwany: I think the team will be better this year, and I think we can most likely pull in 7 wins in the Big 12. Our basketball team has not finished at .500 or above since the 2009-10 season, and has not won 7 regular season Big 12 games since 2007-08. So, if we get a winning regular season record then we will be on the right path for the future. I cannot be sure that we make a postseason tourney, but a winning regular season record would be such an excellent milestone for this program. Let’s get this party started, basketball is back… Wreck ’em Tech!!!