For the past three days, the Texas Tech basketball team took part in the Maui Invitational in Hawaii, which marked the first real tests of the season for Mark Adams’ rebuilt roster. Unfortunately, Tech only managed to win the event 1-2, meaning the Red Raiders are likely to fall out of the national rankings next week.
However, testing like the one this team has just experienced is what the early part of the schedule should be about. That’s because within a team, they uncover the flaws and weaknesses that need to be addressed before the conference begins.
Certainly the Red Raiders are better off having traveled to Maui, even though they now have two losses on their ledger. How much better they are after facing three major conference opponents only time will tell. But first, let’s look at what we’ve learned about the Red Raiders over the past three games.
Batcho is a beast
Daniel Batcho was Tech’s top player in Maui. Averaging 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in the event, he established himself as a force at the post.
As the off-season progressed, we heard a lot of fuss from both internal and external sources about the progress the sophomore has made during the off-season. In Maui, that hype turned to actual results when Batcho played the best basketball of his collegiate career against formidable competition.
Now it’s fair to say that the 6-foot-11 center is Tech’s best player and that he may well be this team’s most important cog going forward. While Kevin Obanor and De’Vion Harmon will also be integral parts of any Red Raiders success, they don’t seem capable of influencing the game in as many ways as Batcho, particularly on defense. While the Red Raiders lost two games this week, the positives are that they’ve discovered they have an absolute beast in the mail.
Scoring remains a chore
The more the roster changes in Raiderland, the more things seem to stay the same. In other words, even after this summer’s roster reshuffle, Tech is still struggling to rack up points.
In a way, that was a problem for this program, which dates back to the beginning of the tenure of the previous coaching regime, if not longer. However, Adams attempted to take steps this summer to rectify this problem.
When assistant coach Steve Green was brought in to redesign Tech’s offensive attack and provided him with players expected to fit his scheme, even at the expense of Tech’s overall team defense, the belief was that the Red Raiders would not be challenged as offensively this season.
Unfortunately, in Maui, we again saw this program struggle to put the ball in the bucket against physical teams. Sure, Tech could have hung 90 points or more on Louisville if Adams kept his regulars for the entire game. However, against the two competent teams Tech saw, Creighton and Ohio State, the Red Raiders averaged just 69 points.
Just like seasons past, Tech seems to struggle to score when their defense can’t force tons of turnovers from the other team. For example, when Creighton survived the entire second half without giving up the ball, Tech accumulated just 34 points in the last 20 minutes of the game, nine points less than the Bluejays had on the board. Similarly, Tech only managed 73 points when Ohio State had just 10 turnovers on Wednesday.
There are two issues plaguing this offense at the moment. First, there are only two players, Pop Isaacs and Harmon, who can create their own offense from dribbling. Second, the 3-point shots don’t fall. During the entire time in Maui, Tech shot just 16-54 (29.6%) from deep.
A big problem is that two players, Kerwin Walton and D’Maurian Williams, brought into the program to fix Tech’s longstanding 3-point shooting problems are giving the team next to nothing. In Maui, this duo was just 2-9 combined from a 3-point range and had just 10 total points, all of which came from Williams in Tech’s win over Louisville.
Without the contribution of those players, Tech will have to rely more heavily on newcomers like Lamar Washington and Robert Jennings to pick up some of the goal gap off the bench and that’s a big challenge for such young players. It is therefore fair to wonder whether getting the ball in the basket will remain a significant problem for this team for the rest of this year.
The defense lacks its typical size on the wings
One area where Tech sacrificed in the name of attack (and shooting in particular) was when it came to size, athleticism, and wing length. That came back to haunt Adams’ team in Maui when two opposing wingers set the Red Raiders on fire.
Creighton’s 6-foot-7 Arthur Kaluma posted a game-high 18 points on Monday, while Ohio State’s 6-foot-6 judge Sueing had a career day 33 on Wednesday. In both cases, the defenders Tech threw at Kaluma and Sueing were too small, too weak, and too small to offer much resistance.
Unfortunately, Jaylon Tyson (as a redshirt newcomer) just isn’t strong enough to keep up with players as physical as Kaluma and Sueing. However, he is one of the few players that tech has with the size to try to check athletic and dynamic wings one on one. So these players could do almost anything they wanted against the Red Raiders.
Last year Tech left out three guards in Kevin McCullar Jr., Terrence Shannon Jr. and Adonis Arms who were 6ft 5 or taller and were elite athletes capable of protecting elite offensive players. This year, Adams’ team doesn’t have that wing length, and that proved to be a problem in Maui.