Before I mention Beard, let’s talk about the NBA. Some of y’all may not watch it, but it’s important to this piece. Today the NBA Finals start. It features the Warriors and the Cavaliers. We just got done with the conference finals that featured the Celtics and the Rockets. Sure, the Cavaliers are basically Space Jam with MJ and the Looney Tunes before the secret stuff, but the three other teams are all similar type of teams.
The Warriors recognized this in the early 2010’s, as did the Celtics and Rockets a couple years later. When healthy, they all have the same formula. A creative point guard, a bunch of athletic players between 6’5″-6’9″, a big man that can switch on defense, and some bench players that are a little experienced and can provide a spark and good defense.
|Athletic||Thompson, Durant, Iguodala||Brown, Tatum, Hayward||Harden, Tucker, Ariza|
|Bench||Livingston, McCaw, Young||Smart, Morris, Rozier||Gordon, Green, Mbah A Moute|
Doesn’t that describe a certain team? That sounds a whole lot like Beard Ball. If you have watch the Red Raiders or paid attention to their recruiting classes, you know that this is the type of team that Chris Beard wants to build. Those three NBA teams were ahead of the curve, and Chris Beard is trying to do the same thing.
Let’s start with the point guards. Some of the players mentioned are players that Tubby Smith brought in, but those are the same players Beard might’ve recruited as well:
|Former||Keenan Evans, Hyron Edwards|
|Current||Brandone Francis, Davide Moretti|
When the shot clock goes down and the defense starts to tighten up on both teams, who do you want with the ball in their hands? Who can create their own shot or be able to find the open man late in games? For this type of system, it’s typically the point guard.
Maybe not so much Chris Paul for Houston (James Harden is that guy), but Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving have hit multiple game winners and have led their teams to victory. Last season, that guy was Keenan Evans. When Evans was out, Francis stepped into his role for a short while. In the future, perhaps Moretti and Roberts can move into this role.
Plenty of times last season, Beard went to Keenan whenever he needs an offensive boost or a last second shot. We all remember those five minute stretches when Keenan took over the game by creating his own shots and getting open shots for others. It’s a big reason why Tech won as many games as they did.
However, now Tech has to replace Evans. Francis has the capability to take over games, like he did at home against West Virginia, but also has struggled in that position, like when he was in Waco. I believe that Moretti will see strides this season. Sure he didn’t do much in Big 12 play, but he started to come around in the NCAA tournament, and made some big buckets to keep Tech within reach. He also played fairly well in the hostile Allen Field House.
CJ Roberts could also take over that role. We haven’t really seen much of him since he didn’t play at Mizzouri, but he has electric speed, has the strength to finish in the paint ,and has the potential to knock down a shot. We could see him develop into this role while he’s in Lubbock.
They can play some defense, but they aren’t able to switch as much as the wings or big men. You don’t want Moretti or Evans to try and guard an Isaac Haas. You’re not winning that match-up 9 times out of 10.
|Former||Justin Gray, Zhaire Smith|
|Future||Kyler Edwards, Khavon Moore, DeShawn Corprew|
This is the most important piece to the system. Defense has to try more than offense because along with making the same moves offensive players do, they have to guess what the offensive player will do. They also typically have to make more athletic plays to cause steals, deflections or blocks.
However, the reason why this is the most important, because if you’re between the 6’5″-6’9″ range, you can guard basically every position and switch more easily. That means you’re using less effort, don’t get tired as quick and are able to player better for a longer period of time.
They also have the ability, due to their athleticism, to become a player that can bring the ball up and become a scorer. Some have that ability from the get-go, like Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant in the NBA and Jarrett Culver at Tech. Others learn to become playmakers, like Jaylen Brown in the NBA and Zhaire Smith at Tech.
Justin Gray and Zhaire Smith were perfect examples of this. They were arguably Tech’s best two defenders last year and often got the two biggest assignments. But they also often switched who they were guarding depending on the match-up. For example: Against Trae Young, both these guys took turns guarding him, but didn’t guard him the whole match-up so they wouldn’t get worn out.
Jarrett Culver is another example of this. He often got the hardest guard assignment from the start and then rotated throughout the game. Culver should take on an even bigger role next year with Keenan leaving, and could become the go-to guy down the stretch.
Khavon Moore, Kyler Edwards and DeShawn Corprew all have the potential to be players like Zhaire and Culver are. All are within the 6’5″-6’8″ range, are explosive and crazy athletic and show great potential on defense. And Moore, who is a Top 50 prospect, showed that he can contribute right away offensively. These three, especially Edwards and Moore since they’re high schoolers, can become fantastic Red Raiders.
|Former||Zach Smith, Tommy Hamilton IV|
The weakness to many teams is the inability to switch on defense and therefore allow large runs and easy offensive buckets. With big men that can switch, that takes away both of these things and makes a team’s defense that much better. Draymond Green and Al Horford’s ability to guard team’s best player gives a huge advantage to their team and helps them win many games. Clint Capela’s ability to guard the paint helps against the inside game.
Not only that but Green’s and Horford’s ability to stretch the floor with their shot keep the big men of the opposition out of the paint and frees up the whole floor for the team. That makes for easier shots inside the paint and gives the big man flexibility on offensive side.
Zach Smith was the perfect guy for this last season. Smith came up with some huge blocks in the paint, and with his versatility, was able to switch and allowed his teammates use less effort. He also can move well outside of the paint, which gave easier opportunities for Keenan when driving and Zhaire along the baseline.
Tommy Hamilton IV did great at times last year as well. His ability to knock down the three was able to pull big men with shot blocking ability away from the paint, most notably against Purdue and their big man, Matt Haarms. That was a huge part to their first Elite Eight berth.
Malik Ondingo didn’t play much last season, but Beard has belief that he can play this role for the Red Raiders. Ondingo is a bigger body, but moves pretty well for his size and shows some athleticism. He shows the potential to have some range and move bigger men out of the paint.
Luckily for him, he’s not going to forced to grow up quickly, as Tariq Owens can fill the immediate role. He’s very similar to Zach Smith with his athleticism, ability to block shots and his mid-range that will draw big men out of the paint. Expect a lot out of Owens next year.
|Former||Anthony Livingston, Niem Stevenson, Giovanni McLean|
|Current||Norense Odiase, Josh Webster|
Usually in college, you’re bench is full of youth, with the upper classmen starting and the freshman on the bench (with the exception of the one-and-done teams). However, it’s a little different at Tech. Beard likes having experience all the way around, and often will go to graduate transfers and JUCOs to help with depth and teach the younger players.
Veterans like Shaun Livingston, Marcus Morris and Eric Gordon provide energy and a knowledge of the game that is crucial off the bench. Players like Niem Stevenson did the same for Tech. Although he started at first, once Culver and Zhaire grew up quickly, he moved to the bench and became a crucial player. When a player didn’t start well or needed rest, he came in and provided a spark and some scoring if needed.
Norense Odiase and Josh Webster can help the young players next season. Odiase will start, but since he started at Tech as a freshman, he’ll be able to teach players like Edwards, Moore and Roberts coming in how to play on and off the court. Same for Webster for JUCO players like Corprew. Even Mooney, who will arrive next year and play one year, will provide a good presence and experience.
All these types of players put together build a championship caliber team. In the pros, the Warriors have won two of the past three championships, and the Warriors will likely win the title this season. In college, Villanova had this type of team last year and dominated the NCAA tournament on their way to the title.
Chris Beard saw this transition coming from a mile away, and helped bring these type of players to Lubbock from the very start, beginning with his first full class when he brought Culver, Smith, Moretti and Ondingo. If Beard can keep up the recruiting, we’ll have a winner in West Texas for a long time.