The men’s basketball team opens its regular season in Lubbock Friday night against Houston Baptist. Last Friday, the Red Raiders dominated Missouri Western State and looked ready to have a great season in the United Supermarkets Arena. To do that, head coach Chris Beard and his team will rely on their depth and versatility.
In their exhibition win, two things that jumped out were the starting lineup and rotation. Keenan Evans and Zach Smith reclaimed their places in the starting lineup from last year. Niem Stevenson stepped into Toddrick Gotcher’s place at shooting guard. Newcomer Anthony Livingston got the start at center and was very impressive. Last year’s sixth man Aaron Ross rounded out the starting five.
Evans and Smith were essentially locks to start. Stevenson won the job over Shadell Millinghaus, but each of them should play considerable minutes. The most interesting spots were the forwards. Norense Odiase and Matthew Temple got plenty of run with the starters last season, yet were moved to the bench in favor of Livingston, who is a better shooter and more versatile offensive player. Aaron Ross replaced Justin Gray, who had a strong 2015-2016 season and was assumed to be in line to start again.
The Evans-Stevenson pairing makes sense and could be here to stay. What’s interesting, however, is the Smith-Ross-Livingston combination. Smith isn’t a huge threat from outside and may be best used as an athletic power forward. Ross has a sweet jumper but lacks a quick first step. He’s probably better off guarding opponents’ power forwards. Livingston’s shooting ability helps stretch the floor for Smith and gives the offense another dimension.
Coach Beard made dozens of substitutions during the exhibition win and should continue to do so. Having so many versatile players gives Beard flexibility to experiment with different lineups and scheme for specific opponents. The Smith-Ross-Livingston frontcourt would provide size and rebounding. A Justin Gray-Ross-Livingston frontcourt would wield deadly shooting. Mix Norense Odiase and Matthew Temple into the equation and you’ve got a malleable frontcourt capable of attacking and defending in various ways.
The guard positions are more predictable. Devon Thomas and Giovanni McLean will fight for backup point guard minutes while Stevenson and Millinghaus operate as off-ball guards.
Just because Beard used one lineup last week doesn’t mean he’ll use the same on Friday. He’s got the luxury of choice, and a relatively weak non-conference schedule gives him time to sort out the rotation he wants. I believe the Evans-Stevenson-Smith-Ross-Livingston lineup will get the first shot to prove itself this season.