The cornerman is a guy that can play at small forward or power forward. Others refer to this as a stretch-4, but I think a true cornerman is a player that actually spends most of his minutes at small forward. It is very rare to find a guy that possesses the talent, range, and size to play a dependable role on the team as a successful cornerman. But, Texas Tech had found him.
Jaye Crockett was a great cornerman which really helped us play with a bigger lineup against opponents. He had developed into an incredible basketball player and stretched his game to go beyond the arc. With height, size, and an improved outside game along with his already superb post skills it was hard for opponents to match-up at the small forward position with him. He was the unquestioned starter at the 3 spot and other teams had to make adequate adjustments to guard him.
Our starting frontcourt lineup last season was Jordan Tolbert (6’ 7’’) at power forward, Dejan Kravic (7’) at center, and Jaye Crockett (6’ 7’’) at small forward. That is considered a regular sized lineup in college basketball. Even if Kravic was not considered a traditional center, the starting lineup reflected traditional basketball structure.
Tubby Smith does not have the luxury of starting with a traditional lineup anymore. Crockett, Tolbert, and Kravic are gone this upcoming season along with Kader Tapsoba (6’ 10’’). It could be argued that we still have decent size in the frontcourt on our new roster with Alex Foster (6’ 8’’), Aaron Ross (6’ 8’’), Justin Jameson (6’ 9’’), Norense Odiase (6’ 9’’), and Zach Smith (6’ 7’’). It is debatable in this era of college basketball if others will view us as undersized. But, it is a fact that we do not possess a classic big man that can play true center for this team.
A puzzle piece that pulled it all together last season was Crockett’s instrumental role at being an effective cornerman. Some of our current players have skills that can be developed to transform them into a cornerman at a later date, but not right away. Foster wants to be a stretch-4, but lacks the ball-control or shooting range. Ross has a silky smooth downtown shot, but is a step slow to cut into the lane and run at the small forward position. We are all hoping for a resilient recovery from Ross as he has suffered yet another knee injury, but it does not help his case for trying to get significant minutes at small forward. Zach Smith is the only guy I really cannot critique because he is an incoming frosh. It would be a pleasant surprise if he could fill Crockett’s shoes right away as our cornerman, but realistically that is doubtful. With practice all the guys I have mentioned could become effective cornermen, but it will take more time with the coaching staff to further polish their talents.
Next season with no big man over 6’ 9’’ on the team we need to be ready to play small ball on the court. Running with 3 guards and 2 forwards on the floor has been a growing trend in college basketball over the last few years. Some run the floor with 2 guards and 3 shorter forwards, but one thing with small ball is always consistent. The 3 position is the most important in the lineup. It is always the player that has the guard/forward dual skills that helps hold the team together in a smaller style gameplan.
Lots of teams in the Big 12 play small ball and are very successful at it. The Big 12 tourney champs Iowa State are the first ones that come to mind. They did not have a player in their starting lineup that was over 6’ 7", but they won the majority of their games against bigger lineups. It takes practice and determination to get it right. There are plenty of mixed emotions on the idea of small ball, and I won’t lie and tell you I am a huge advocate of this playing style. Though it does have its advantages when run properly with the right players. Without any colossal height on our team we will have to implement anything we can to gain an advantage.
Our best small ball lineup last season was when we shifted Tolbert to the 5 position and put Crockett at the 4 spot. We then had the 1, 2, and 3 positions filled with our guards. The key to running small ball was Crockett and his amazing talent at being a cornerman. Now with his departure there is a void at filling a guy on our roster at the cornerman spot. My recommendation is simple, move Toddrick Gotcher into a true swingman role. The swingman is a guard/forward combo player that can run at the 2 or 3 position as the shooting guard or small forward. Gotcher will be smaller than some of his opponents at the 3 position, but what he lacks in height he makes up for with heart. He is tough as nails and can handle himself if he is defending a bigger guy. His frame is a muscular 6’ 4’’ and yet he still has a nice long to mid-range shot with above average ball handling skills. His leadership role on the team is evident as he has always been an emotional and vocal player. That is who we should want to fill our void. Until we develop a player into becoming an effective cornerman, we will have to settle in finding an effective swingman.
Gotcher with a versatile swingman role on our team next year could be extremely important to our success on the court. I cannot think of a better player on the roster to fill the position if we are going to play with a smaller lineup. The thing about small ball is that you better be a dangerous squad shooting beyond the arc along with the quickness and athleticism to drive into the lane, get rebounds, and make plays around the rim. I hope with the addition of the new faces on our team we can get it done, because we struggled mightily last season with our three-point shots. Our guys were streaky at best when it came to shooting long-range and with the Dusty Hannahs transfer we need to figure out who will step up as our downtown threats.
I am excited for next season and it cannot get here soon enough. We will see a lot of changes to the style play that we watched last season, but that is only because Coach Smith and his staff are masters at picking a style of play that best fits the team. I am grateful to have a coach that is smart enough to adjust his style of gameplay around what he has to work with on the roster.
Wreck 'em Tech!