Squeezing the Orange: At the halfway point of Texas Tech's Big 12 season, it's becoming rather apparent that Chris Walker is squeezing about as much juice out of this orange as possible. This group of Red Raiders just doesn't have much more to give.
Could an acknowledged elite, veteran coach such as a Calipari, Petino, Self, Donovan or Stevens get better results out of this group than Walker? To some extent, probably. But nowhere near enough to make much difference in the win column.
Walker has his team playing reasonably sound basketball considering the team's inexperience. Moreover, the squad's attitude is good and the effort is praiseworthy just about every time out on the court. And that's what kept Tech in it against perhaps the second best team in the Big 12, the Kansas State Wildcats.
The Development of Josh Gray: Most observers believed point guard Josh Gray had plenty of upside. But until very recently, that upside was rendered moot and then some by Gray's undisciplined and frankly unintelligent play. It is beginning to look like, however, that Gray is maturing into something much more than a wild, hot-dogging freshman.
Gray had a solid effort against a brutal West Virginia team last Saturday, and followed it up with an even better outing against the Wildcats. He dominated the early portion of the second half, both offensively and defensively, and come close to taking over the game. There aren't too many freshman point guards who can do that against a top 15 opponent.
Gray's stat-line was 10 points on five-of-11 shooting, four assists, three steals, and only one turnover. He played under control, was a defensive menace, and managed to get to the cup at will when nobody else could get open for a shot. Gray didn't always finish well, but that was the only downside to his game.
If Gray continues to develop, he will be one of the league's top point guards by the end of the season. He is maturing very rapidly indeed.
Height Hurts: Kansas State's height advantage paid obvious dividends on the glass where the Wildcats bested Tech by 16 big boards, and enjoyed a nine-carom advantage on the offensive glass. But equally important, KSU's height allowed them to get too many clean looks, particularly from three-point country, where the Wildcats hit for 38 percent. They simply shot over the shorter Red Raiders.
Confusion on Defensive Switches: Several times in the second half the Red Raiders got lost on defensive switches or failed to rotate back into proper matchups quickly enough. Sometimes this resulted in open looks for Kansas State, at others it resulted in gross mismatches. The most glaring was five-foot-nine 170-pound Luke Adams attempting to guard six-foot-seven 270-pound Thomas Gipson around the hoop. And you can guess how that one ended.
Tolbert Goes up, Crockett Goes Down: Just when it looked like Jordan Tolbert was never going to emerge from his hibernation, he has awoken with a vengeance. Tolbert has easily been Tech's best big over the last several games, and that continued against K-State, as the sophomore went for 19 and five, while connecting on seven of 12 from the field and five of six from the charity stripe. Chris Walker seems to be running more clear-outs and isolations for Tolbert, and the results have been fruitful.
But in tandem with Tolbert's reemergence, has come Jaye Crockett's disappearance. Crockett just hasn't been much of a factor lately, and after getting a rare start, he made little impact against the Wildcats. Crockett's outside shot has deserted him, and we are not seeing his patented swoops to the hoop from the right wing either.
I don't know if alterations in Tech's sets are hampering Crockett even as they help Tolbert, but the Red Raiders really need both of those players to flourish simultaneously. The team does not have enough weapons that it can afford either Crockett or Tolbert to go dormant.