Texas Tech’s 76-69 victory over TCU on ESPN’s “Big Monday,” may have come at a very high cost. Sophomore center Norense Odiase broke a bone in his right foot and will miss an as yet undetermined amount of time.
Deleting a player as important as Odiase from the lineup will necessitate that Tubby Smith and his staff reshuffle the deck, as it were, and try to find a new winning hand as the Red Raiders soldier onward into the heart of their Big 12 schedule. The loss of Odiase is certainly bad news, but it will be interesting to see what the Tech brain-trust puts together in his absence, and how well it works.
The loss of Odiase, first and foremost, deprives the Red Raiders of their most physical interior presence, and their only proven low-post scoring threat. Furthermore, he was displaying an ever-improving jump-shot from the top of the key and the wings to about 16 feet.
As of the TCU victory, Odiase was contributing nine points and four rebounds per game, and was second on the team in blocked shots with 14. He was shooting 50 percent from the floor, 63 percent from the foul line, and had 15 assists and 30 turnovers. But largely because of a propensity to foul, Odiase was averaging only 20 minutes of play per game. Four other Red Raiders average more.
As solid as Odiase’s stats may be, however, they probably understate his importance to the team.
Following Tech’s 85-70 victory over Richmond, Spiders head coach Chris Mooney volunteered the following about Odiase: “Odiase played so well inside that it really gives them a different look and somebody they can really count on to throw the ball to.”
And that’s precisely the crux of Odiase’s importance. His ability to catch and score on the block forces opponents to help down defensively, which buys breathing space for Texas Tech’s guards. When Odiase is on the court, the Red Raiders are not a donut team. Without him, the effectiveness of Tech’s interior post play very much remains to be seen.
Another factor Odiase brought to the table was a simple physical presence on the glass. So far this season, his rebounding numbers have been only so-so, but his bulk and strength allow his teammates to clean up rebounds they otherwise would not get.
In the most recent game at TCU, the Red Raiders owned a 12-10 advantage on the boards when Odiase left the game because of the foot injury. Over the remainder of the game the Frogs outrebounded the Red Raiders 26-21. That bit of evidence hardly proves that Odiase is critical for Tech’s rebounding success, but it is suggestive.
So what are Tubby Smith’s options in Odiase’s absence?
The most obvious is to give the bulk of Odiase’s minutes to Matthew Temple, a 6-foot-10 junior walk-on from Wichita Falls, Texas. And indeed, that is precisely what Smith did in the TCU game. Temple played 14 minutes and scored a career best eight points, to go along with four rebounds.
Temple isn’t quite the Wes Unseld starter kit that Odiase is, but he’s a solidly constructed player who can hold his own when it gets rough inside. Temple (pictured above) is also fundamentally sound, understands the game, and is able to put the ball on the court and fluidly get to the rack, something Odiase rarely does. Temple is also a terrific interior passer who will prove especially effective against zone defenses, finding baseline cutters from a high-post position.
Tech is fortunate to have Temple in the fold; without him…well I don’t even want to say.
Another option is to go small with Aaron Ross playing for Odiase. Ross is only 6-foot-8, and he’s no jumping jack, but he’s still a decent rebounder, pulling down an average of four boards per game in 18 minutes of action. Ross is a wily and crafty player who knows how to get rebounding position and use various tricks to move opponents out of the way.
Ross (pictured above) is also a far better deep shooter than Odiase. Whereas Odiase is adept at playing with his back to the basket, Ross catches and fires from 3-point country very effectively. He currently hits 34 percent of his 3-point attempts, whereas Odiase has taken only one on the season.
It is probably also safe to say that both Temple and Ross will be better assets in fast break situations than Odiase. Temple and Ross run the court reasonably well, while Odiase is primarily a half-court grinder, more effective in a slugfest than a ballet.
A third option, particularly in case of further injury, or bad foul trouble in a critical game would be to pull the redshirt off of Rokas Ulvydas, a 6-foot-11 sophomore originally from Lithuania.
Little is known about Ulvydas. He is the tallest player on the roster, which is not insignificant, and video footage shows a post player with some quickness in the paint and decent shooting form.
After a game early this season Tubby Smith said, “Rokas works as hard as anybody on the team, and he’s really improving.”
At the time, Smith wasn’t entirely decided on whether or not to redshirt Ulvydas. Optimally, the Red Raiders will do well enough in Odiase’s absence that there will be no need to play Ulvydas. But if for some reason Tech’s chances of earning an NCAA tourney invite hinge upon Ulvydas (pictured above) providing crucial depth, you can bet he will see the court.
Regardless of Ulvydas’ status, however, Texas Tech will be a different team without Odiase in the mix. The Red Raiders will likely run and press a bit more, will show even more of a high-post look than they already have, and may be less likely to play zone defense insofar as doing so makes teams vulnerable to offensive rebounding.
So Tech will be different. Different can be better or it can be worse. Only time will set us straight on that score.