When you look back last year’s basketball season, what made that team so good? Obviously they had an ultimate playmaker that could take the game over instantly in Keenan Evans. Jarrett Culver has taken over that role nicely, but he projected to do so and already has a ton of stories about him.
What’s the next thing you think at? Probably the suffocating defense, and most importantly, the players who could protect the basket and who could guard the outside if needed. Zhaire Smith wasn’t supposed to be good that early, but stepped into that role. Zach Smith was also a rim protector that helped make Tech so dangerous.
So who’s the motivator on the defensive end who’s going to make plays all over the court? Look no further than Tariq Owens. Sure he’s not exactly a guy who gets the ball on offense and you expect to score, but what he can do otherwise makes this team special once again.
How Did He Get To Texas Tech?
Before Chris Beard got here, the Red Raiders really didn’t do much as far as graduate transfers. Likely because they become available so late and teams like to develop guys throughout their career. Graduate transfers typically aren’t the most talented and usually sign because there’s a glaring issue with the team.
If you looked at the two graduate transfers outside of Owens in Beard’s tenure (Anthony Livingston and Matt Mooney), Livingston was an unranked JUCO forward with two offers, and Mooney was just offered by Air Force.
If you look at those who sat out a year, Tommy Hamilton IV was a three-star recruit with six offers. Brandone Francis is the exception, where he was the 35th rated play in 2014, but unlike the others, didn’t contribute much of anything in his first two years at Florida.
Tariq Owens is very unique for a graduate transfer. Owens was a high three-star recruit and had a lot of teams interested like Francis, as he had 15 offers in high school prior to enrolling at Tennessee. Owens only played about seven minutes a game and averaged about half a block a game.
Unfortunately for Owens, new coach Donnie Tyndall ran into an NCAA investigation and was dismissed. Rick Barnes came in and Owens realizing the fit wasn’t there, left to a Big East school named St. John’s to be close to his great grandmother. He also had interest from NC State, Minnesota and Cincinnati.
There’s is where we really shined and started to breakout. He improved his minutes to 18 after sitting out a year, and then 30 last year. He went from 1.2 ppg to 5.2 ppg to 8.4 ppg, went from 1.1 rpg to 5.2 rpg to 5.9 rpg, and went from 0.5 bpg to 2.2 bpg to 2.8 bpg. He was looking like the play he could be out of high school.
Then, much like a few St. John’s player prior, decided to look around to see who was out there. He could’ve returned (much like prior St. John’s players Amar Alibegovic and Chris Obekpa) but saw an amazing opportunity to play under Beard at Texas Tech.
So he had a ton of talent coming out of high school and was productive in the Big East, who produce plenty of NCAA teams a year. It’s the best of both worlds. And he had a chance to come in and become an integral part of this team, and he has done so nicely thus far.
Why Did Beard Want Him At Texas Tech?
Graduate transfers usually aren’t as flashy and don’t get the attention like a high school kid. I think we like seeing a player grow up, becoming a leader and an amazing player for the team and program. Keenan Evans, Jaye Crockett and Toddrick Gotcher did that, and they are possibly the three of the most beloved Tech players this decade.
However, sometimes there are glaring needs and you need an experienced player to come in to fill that role or be an example. JUCOs are typically a path to go, but if a graduate transfer is there, that is preferred sometimes.
There was glaring hole after the NCAA tournament. Zach Smith, a dynamic dunker and rim protector, finished his senior season. Tommy Hamilton IV graduated as well. Zhaire Smith decided to leave to the NBA and became a mid-first round pick. Beard didn’t have anyone who could defender inside well.
Sure he had Norense Odiase, but rim protecting and versatile defense isn’t the first thing I think of when I think of Odiase. Malik Ondigo played some minutes last year, but he didn’t do much most the season, leaving a question mark heading into 2018. That was it at the time as far as big men depth.
It was obvious Beard needed more depth and a big, defensive weapon to anchor his defense. Luckily for him, one became available at the right time. Enter Owens. He had explosive, a high vertical, and had the experience to provide quality minutes from the get-go. It was perfect situation for both parties.
Why Is Tariq Owen’s This Team’s X-Factor?
Technically I answered this question in the beginning, but we’ll go more in depth on that here. But you probably know the answer; it’s his impact on the defense end. Tariq Owens not only blocks shots, but he has affect a lot of them. Teams have thrown up bad lay-up attempts or passed the ball back out due to the presence of Owens.
He’s also done a decent job guarding the perimeter. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but for the most part he’s been able to hold his own guarding the outside. That defensive presence allows the team to switch defensively, which wears out less players, and jump into passing lanes whenever Owens is near the basket, causing steals and turnovers.
As far as stats go, they’re pretty impressive. Just through eight games, Owens is already first and second in blocks in game in Texas Tech history. Sure the first one was against an undersized, overmatched Incarnate Word team, but the record breaker was against an AAC school with big athletes.
Owens is super efficient from inside the three point line with a 57% field goal percentage, averages eight points, five rebounds and three blocks a game. This is all averaging 20.3 minutes per game, compared to 30.3 a game last season. So double all of those numbers and that’s his per 40 minutes stats. Impressive.
This is his Per 100 Possessions stats throughout his career.
His advanced stats show the story of how he’s affected his team defensively. His box score plus/minus actually leads the team at 15.5 (Culver is 12.9). His defensive box score plus/minus is 13.8, which is almost double the next guy with consistent minutes (Odiase at 7.0). He defensive win shares is third on the team behind Culver and Mooney. Finally, his player efficiency rating is third behind Culver and DeShawn Corprew.
Offensively, he doesn’t bring too much to the table, but he can instantly spark on offense and a crowd with a spectacular dunk or ally oop. We’ve seen Zhaire Smith light up a crowd in Dallas with an ally oop and putback. Same with Zach Smith. Tariq could bring some important momentum and crowd shifts with his play.
Now, like any player, there are some things Owens can improve on to be even better. Seth mentioned this in the UAPB post game write-up last week, but Owens sometimes goes for too much for huge block. He best blockers don’t put the ball in the third row, they more deflect the ball to their players and gain possession. Although that’s tougher than it sounds.
He also has a little bit fouling problem. He did so in his past two games and he needs to learn to be a less aggressive at times and not draw bad fouls as bad times. We don’t need him riding the bench the first half in Big 12 play. Finally, his three point shooting isn’t good, but that’s something that can improve over time.
We are very fortunate to have Owens on this team, and for the Red Raiders to have a good year, he’s going to have to keep up his game all the way through Big 12 play and into the tournament. Culver is the most important player, but Owens affects this team in a big way.