The Texas Tech men’s basketball team loses four players (five, if Matthew Temple doesn’t return) from a squad that went 18-14 (6-12 in the Big 12) under first-year head coach Chris Beard. The chief losses are 6-foot-8 forwards Anthony Livingston and Aaron Ross who averaged 10 and nine points per game respectively, and 6-foot point guard Devon Thomas who led the team in steals, was second on the team in assists and had a 2.64 assist/turnover ratio.
In point of fact, those losses could turn out to be relatively minor. Livingston and Ross were good shooters, but were in other respects very limited. Ross, in particular, lost much of his athleticism because of repeated knee injuries.
Thomas was a solid floor general—and locker room leader—but was not much of a scoring threat, and because of his slight frame, could be exploited by larger guards on the defensive end.
Against these modest losses, Beard’s squad returns a wealth of experience and legitimate Big 12 talent. The following are scholarship players currently confirmed to be in the fold for 2017/18: seniors Tommy Hamilton, Zach Smith, Justin Gray, Niem Stevenson, Keenan Evans and Shadell Millinghaus; juniors Norense Odiase and Brandone Francis.
Texas Tech’s current recruiting class is comprised of six prospects, four from the high school ranks and two from junior colleges. The former group boasts Malik Ondigo, Daniel Mading, Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith. The Juco duo is Josh Webster and Hyron Edwards.
We do not know whether the roster will be further altered by the addition of graduate transfers, but we would hardly rule out the possibility. If, however, the current roster is the one Beard and his staff goes to battle with, it could be fairly lethal.
The prime star of the show will undoubtedly be off guard Keenan Evans. He led the Red Raiders in scoring with 15 points and three assists per outing. He also connected on 43 percent of his three-point attempts and 85 percent of his free throws. Evans is the one player from last season’s team who could reliably create his own shot, and make extremely difficult shots even when well defended. He should be a strong preseason candidate for first-team All Big 12 honors.
The presumptive front court ace will be Zach Smith who was good for 12 points and seven boards per contest last season. He also led Tech in blocked shots with 1.39 per game. Additionally, Smith’s 32 minutes of playing time per game was most on the team.
Swing player Justin Gray was probably the team’s best all-around defender and provider of energy, while Niem Stevenson improved steadily over the course of the season and showed real signs of developing into a viable scoring option.
There were real weaknesses with last year’s team, however, and Beard’s personnel moves will hopefully address them.
The team’s biggest problem was arguably the lack of consistently strong point guard play. As noted above, Devon Thomas emptied his bucket every game, but his bucket just wasn’t deep enough. What’s more, he was the team’s only true point guard. Niem Stevenson and Keenan Evans filled in where they could, but the Red Raiders were still exposed by the Big 12’s tremendous suite of players at the position. JUCO transfers Hyron Edwards and Josh Webster could change all that.
Edwards, who is listed at anywhere from 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-1, is a classic point guard. Coming out of high school in East Chicago, Indiana, Edwards was recruited by Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and California among others. At Trinity Valley College, he earned JUCO All America honors after dialing up 18 points, five assists and three rebounds per contest. Owing to his blazing speed and lightning quickness, Edwards is a nightmare to contain on the fast break, but is also excellent running the show in the half court. He will provide Tech with a serious penetrator who can dish or score in the mid-range game, draw fouls and hit free throws.
Webster, who stands 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, was the glue for a South Plains College team that ran the table in its conference and finished the season 32-2. Webster averaged 9 points, seven assists and four rebounds per game last season for SPC, led the team in steals and had an assist/turnover ratio of 4.4. Whereas Edwards looks to be the greater scoring threat of the two, Webster could make his mark on defense. He’s a rangy point guard with long arms and may well develop into that most rare and valuable commodities, a perimeter defender who can lock down the other team’s point guard.
If Edwards and Webster pan out as expected, they will, as good point guards are wont to do, make all of the other players on the team better. Keenan Evans and Niem Stevenson will get more prime scoring opportunities, Zach Smith will be on the receiving end of more dimes to throw down, and Justin Gray will be well rewarded for running the wings on the fast break.
**PART II, WHICH FOCUSES ON THE HIGH SCHOOL RECRUITS BEING BROUGHT IN, WILL BE POSTED SOON**