For the first time in many a year Texas Tech’s basketball team has multiple players fully deserving of postseason accolades. Ironically, however, no single Red Raider attained first, second or even third-team All Big 12 status. This was truly a blue-collar team devoid of superstars, but packed with selfless role players who knew their jobs and did them well.
Defensive Player of the Year: Zach Smith—This 6-foot-8 sophomore forward was a true rim protector for Texas Tech, blocking a team best 47 shots and finishing fourth in the Big 12 both in blocked shots and shots blocked per game. A frenzied hustler whose game belied his calm demeanor, Smith frequently bolted back in transition defense, negating what appeared to be a surefire dunk or layup. Smith was also third on the team in steals with 28, only five shy of Toddrick Gotcher’s team-leading 33 swipes.
Newcomer of the Year: Matthew Temple—Prior to the season’s inception word filtered through the local hoops grapevine that Tubby Smith might just have the services of a rather large and unusually talented Rec Center Warrior. This was considered highly significant because Norense Odiase’s knee tendonitis woes were thought to be serious enough to drastically curtail his availability and effectiveness.
Yours truly bought the bit about Odiase’s knees and viewed the mysterious “Bigfoot” in the Rec Center with much skepticism. Turns out I got it backwards; Odiase’s knees turned out fine and “Bigfoot” really existed in the form of Matthew Temple.
No, Temple wasn’t quite Akeem Olajuwon, but he proved to be a legitimate Big 12 big man. There is nothing astonishing about his stats, but Temple provided quality support for Odiase—starting for him after Odiase broke a bone in his foot against TCU—averaging 13 minutes per game, shooting 49 percent from the floor, snagging two boards per contest, and dishing out 17 assists. Foul trouble was the only bugbear that truly bedeviled the Wichita Falls native.
Sixth Man of the Year: Aaron Ross—Texas Tech’s third leading scorer (only .6 of a point behind scoring leader Gotcher) didn’t start a single game. That’s right—Aaron Ross, a 6-foot-8 junior forward did not start once, although he did average 22 minutes played per game, sixth most on the team.
Ross’ strong season was, quite frankly, a surprise. Since arriving at Texas Tech he had suffered two serious knee injuries, and in his sophomore season, looked like a truly diminished player who just didn’t have much to contribute. But Ross continued to develop his game in spite of the balky knees. He averaged 10 points, and a team second best five boards per contest. Ross also shot 38 percent from 3-point land and 87 percent from the free throw line. The scoring punch he added to the team was critical, and was responsible, in no small measure, for Tech’s dramatic improvement over the year before.
MVP: Toddrick Gotcher—Just as Aaron Ross improved dramatically, so too did senior shooting guard Toddrick Gotcher. In addition to providing sterling senior leadership, Gotcher led the team in scoring with 11 points per outing, led the team in steals with 33, and despite not being a point guard, had the best assist/turnover ratio on the team. Specifically, Gotcher dished out 71 assists while turning the ball over only 26 times. Gotcher also shot 39 percent from 3-point range, 85 percent from the free throw line, and chipped in four rebounds per game. Gotcher will be missed next season, but one suspects he will be a stalwart presence in Texas Tech circles for many years to come.