With the football bye week, DTN is taking this opportunity to look at the men's basketball team and up today is a look at the preseason storylines and later this week DTN takes a look at the players who should make an impact this year.
The Hopeful Result :: Improvement: I'd love to be able to tell you that this team is on the cusp of making the field of 64, but I don't think the Red Raiders are close. The problem that Pat Knight faces as he starts his second full season at Texas Tech is that I do believe he is recruiting more talented players to the South Plains, but so is the rest of the Big 12, namely Texas and Rick Barnes and Oklahoma and Jeff Capel. Right now, those two are simply recruiting machines. That's not to say that there are no other good teams in the Big 12, namely Kansas being the consensus #1 preseason team in the nation. I'm setting my expectations relatively low this year with the thought that this team actually has options and there is room for improvement.
Follow me after the jump for a look at this year's storylines and preseason MVP's.
The Preseason Storylines ::
Formidable Frontcourt: Last year's squad could never seemed to get on track, although I thought the rebounding improved from previous years. At the end of the season, you still had a 6-5 wing player and a 6-3 shooting guard lead the team in rebounding. It's high time that players such as Robert Lewandowski, D'Walyn Roberts and Darko Cohadarevic pick up the slack and get aggressive on the boards. I can't help but think that the baptismal fire that Lewandowski was thrown into last year serves to have him be one of the more improved players in the Big 12. Nothing would make me happier than to see Lewandowski average 6 to 7 boards a game.
Focus on Defense: Pat Knight has made it his early season goal to focus on the defensive side of the ball this season. This makes me happy. Last year, PK wanted to run a bit and it worked fairly well early, but in the meat-grinder of the Big 12 season that running offense was no where to be found and there were too many times where the defense was simply abysmal. At the end of the year, the Red Raiders finished 138th in the nation in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive statistics and withing giving too much away, that's not good. I think if PK really wants to prove that he's all about the defense then he must not be afraid to bench players for lack of defensive effort. This roster is deep enough, especially at the guard positions, that sitting a guy shouldn't be an issue. And it was the perimeter defense that probably bothered me the most because most of the perimeter players have played Big 12 basketball for at least 2 years. With that being said, I do believe that a guy like David Tairu, who is supposedly heralded for his defensive play, will make a difference on this team. I'd also add that long athletic wing type of players like Brad Reese and Theron Jenkins should also make a fairly significant difference. So long as PK acknowledges that playing time starts and finishes with guys playing defense, I think this club will improve.
Reduce Turnovers, Create More Easy Buckets: This team was practically dead even in assists to turnovers and the fact that this team wasn't better at getting easy buckets and better looks. As mentioned above, I think this was the point of PK's philosophy change as he had a point guard in John Roberson who played for 2 years under Bob Knight, and moving towards a more up-tempo team might lead to easier buckets and better scoring opportunities. The problem with this philosophy is that PK essentially robbed Peter to pay Paul. PK focused on offense to the detriment of the defense and he thought that the easy fix for the offense was to run more. Not only did this not work, but I think the identity of this team changed and it was an identity that I didn't like. Take a look at the great to good defensive teams in the nation and you have your list of the top teams in the nation. If PK wants to get Texas Tech back to the field of 65, then getting his guys to play some defense is
Picking Up the Slack: The only scorer this team loses is Alan Voskuil, who led the team in scoring, and the other fairly significant player to graduate was Michael Prince. Voskuil averaged a little less than 14 points an game and I have no doubt that the continued improvement of the returning players, coupled with some of the JUCO players contributing, that 13 points should not be difficult to make up. Texas Tech was better than average offensively, so this part isn't a huge deal, but there's going to be a fight for minutes and although there's usually a focus on the picking up the slack offensively, I hope that by mid-season, we're talking about a defensive oriented team that has a 9 man rotation that can matchup with just about any team, offensively or defensively.
Coach Maturation: I've already mentioned some of the initial coaching changes that Pat Knight made and their relative failures, however, I still have hope. There's a part of me that understands that PK wanted to get away a bit from his father's defensive philosophy and motion offense, but at the end of the day that philosophy served Texas Tech well under Bob Knight's regime. I don't know what, if anything changed PK's mind, but perhaps it was a situation where he needed to find his own way and I think (and hope) that he has. There's no shame in being a defensive minded team that can run an offense in it's sleep. It should also go without saying that PK has improved the type of athlete at Texas Tech, something that this program struggled to find under Bob Knight's tenure. Now it's time to make those improved athletes and focus on the right things into Big 12 wins.
The Preseason Offensive MVP :: SF Mike Singletary: The key to any player making the jump from good to great is all about consistency. Singletary was tremendous late in the year, essentially putting the team on his shoulders and getting this team relatively deep into the Big 12 Tournament. Earlier this year, it was mentioned that Singletary lost some weight and is more suited to play the small forward position. Singletary needs to make that jump from just good to great, and it starts by doing it every night.
Runner-Ups :: PG John Roberson: Roberson, along with Singletary, needs to take that "consistency" step, whether that be scoring, defensively, distributing the ball, being a leader on and off the court, etc.
The Preseason Defensive MVP :: SG David Tairu: Tairu is actually a well balanced player in that he not only has the ability to score, but he is also supposedly a true worker on the defensive end of the floor. I mentioned above that Pat Knight needs options in order to enforce his defense first attitude and I believe that Tairu will be that first guy off the bench that will be able to pick up where other players may slack a bit.
Runner-Up :: C Robert Lewandowski: This is me wishing that this turns out to be true and Lew making an impact defensively may be born more out of necessity than anything else, but Lew must be better defensively for this team to take the next step and he seems like the kind of player that will work hard to make that improvement.
The Preseason Newcomer of the Year :: SF Brad Reese: The small forward from a Florida JUCO should be a starter when the season starts. Reese almost signed with LSU and was swayed by Pat Knight to enroll at Texas Tech. Reese is that long, athletic player that can fill a number of positions offensively and defensively.
Runner-Up :: SG David Tairu: I mentioned above, that I think that Tairu will be the first difference maker off the bench. Tairu is more than competent offensively, but he should also be a guy that will be able to play PK's defense-first philosophy. Tairu is also supposed to be a great person in addition to a very good basketball player, this is me crossing my fingers.