The 2015-16 Texas Tech Red Raiders snuck up on the college basketball world. There will be no such sneaking in 2016-17.
Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders will return every player except the team’s top two scorers next season. But those two scorers—Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams—actually accounted for a fairly modest 30 percent of Tech’s points. With Aaron Ross. Zach Smith, Keenan Evans, Justin Gray and Norense Odiase, all of whom possess considerable offensive potential returning, Tech shouldn’t have much trouble replacing the productivity of Gotcher and Williams. Factor in newcomer Keon Clergeot, a high-scoring combo guard from Auburndale, Florida, and the situation looks even brighter.
Where Gotcher and Williams may actually be missed more is on the defensive end where they recorded 32 percent of the team’s steals. This concern is amplified by the fact that perimeter defense was Tech’s most pronounced weakness last season. The Red Raiders allowed opponents to connect on 36 percent of their 3-point attempts, and that is borderline atrocious. Through all games played by March 21, that number puts Texas Tech No. 242 nationally out of 346 teams, which is in the 70th percentile.
Some of the poor perimeter defense can be explained by a conscious decision to frequently double down on opposing post players, but controlling for that fact, close-outs were still often slow and ineffective. What this, and the loss of Williams and Gotcher means is that perimeter defense will be a top priority in the off season, and perhaps also in the current recruiting class which winds up in April.
It is not clear how much help Clergeot will provide on that score, but he does have the reputation for being a pesky, physical player, despite being a fairly slight six-footer.
Another intriguing possibility is incoming football recruit T.J. Vasher (pictured above) of Wichita Falls Rider. Vasher, who is listed at anything from 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6, was also a major basketball prospect, and all indications are that he will be given every opportunity to pursue both sports at Tech. And keep this in mind: one thing football players invariably bring to the basketball court is physicality. Should Vasher do nothing but provide physical perimeter defense for Tubby’s boys next season, then he ill have made an invaluable contribution.
An additional area in which the Red Raiders will need to improve is scoring in ways other than making free throws. Tech shot a very good 74 percent from the charity stripe last season, and their 550 made free throws places them No. 66 nationally in that category. This is all well and good, of course. However, in the NCAA tournament, which will be the final measure of Tech’s success next year, the referees tend to let the teams play—West Virginia being a duly noted exception—which puts teams that rely heavily on free throws at a real disadvantage. Consequently, Tech will have to be a better shot-making team next year. This means hitting more open jump shots, hitting more layups, converting more effectively on fast breaks, and creating more easy opportunities with their defense.
The return of a veteran group of players will doubtless produce improvement in all of those areas.
Aaron Ross shot 46 percent from the field and 38 percent from distance. He looks like a strong early candidate to be Tech’s go-to scorer next season.
Zach Smith shot 51 percent from the floor and blocked 47 shots. For players two years into their college career, Smith is Tech’s leading shot blocker, one block ahead of Tony Battie. Smith is a true rim protector. But the main reason his shooting percentage was so high was because a large percentage of his offense came on dunks. If he improves his mid-range jumper he could possibly double his scoring totals next year.
Justin Gray is the team’s energizer and jack-of-all-trades. There’s little he cannot do on a basketball court; he just needs to do it more consistently. Gray also needs to improve his floor game as he committed 35 turnovers while handing out only 26 assists. If Gray improves in that area, Tech’s offense will benefit significantly.
Norense Odiase is Tech’s only true post player, but his development was interrupted by a foot injury that sidelined him for 12 games. When Odiase is fully enmeshed in Tech’s offense, however, he makes the Red Raiders a much more difficult team to defend. Potentially, and with a full season of good health, he could be Tech’s most improved player next year.
The big mystery is which, if any players Tubby Smith will add to the roster on the April signing date. In truth, Tech’s recruiting presence has been silent, and perhaps that is by design.
As of this writing, only four prospects have been publicly connected to Tech’s recruiting efforts.
The most prominent is 6-foot-6 wing player Braian Angola-Rodas of Villanueva, Colombia via North Idaho College (How’s THAT for culture and climate shock?). He averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists while shooting 52 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Angola-Rodas is a sought-after prospect, who recently made an official visit to the South Plains, but Tech will have to fight off a lot of competition for his services.
The other three prospects are more obscure.
Lucas Siewert is a 6-foot-9 forward from Los Angeles who originally committed to Arizona State but reneged. Tech reportedly made him an offer some time ago, but nothing is known about his intentions as of this writing.
Denzale Henderson is a 6-foot-10 prospect from Houston whom Tech has reportedly contacted, although it is not clear that Tubby Smith has actually extended an offer.
Troy Green is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard from Reserve, Louisiana who has been tenuously connected with Tech. As best as can be known, Tech has yet to extend an actual offer.
If a player is to emerge from the woodwork and sign with Tech, odds are decent that it will be a Florida prospect. Tubby Smith and his staff have hit Florida hard, signing Clergeot, Justin Gray, C.J. Williamson, and the departed Isaiah Manderson. Clearly, Tech has strong connections in that state and the Red Raider brass believes it can recruit effectively there.
Regardless of who future recruits may be, and from whence they may hail, an off guard who can score and defend, and an interior wide-body who pounds the glass would be just the thing.