Following the Red Raiders loss in the big dance, there was something left to be desired about the season. It doesn't seem too far off when the Red Raiders had just beaten three ranked opponents consecutively for the first time in school history. Tubby Smith was steering the hype train that was the basketball program. The Red Raiders were looking to have a promising Big 12 tournament run, and an even more impressive run into March. Needless to say, both of those ventures ended short.
It's time for all of us to move on and look towards next season. With the impressive season that Tubby and his squad had, it's safe to say that everyone is holding the program to a higher standard. These are some predictions that may be way too early to call, but are not without warrant:
We return to the Big Dance
This is the most important standard that the program needs to be held to. I fully believe that Texas Tech will return to the NCAA tournament next March. Tubby Smith is a basketball wizard, it's that simple. The non-conference schedule really padded our resume as we marched into the conference portion of play. Texas Tech had their fair share of wins this season, finishing 7th overall in the Big 12, and going 9-9 in conference wins and losses. The conference has always been a tough one, but with a lot of notable seniors from other teams leaving for the draft or due to graduation, the Red Raiders could place even higher in the Big 12 and earn a higher seed in the NCAA tournament.
Devon Thomas, Justin Gray, Norense Odiase, and others have big years.
Let's start with Devon Thomas. I was lucky enough to attend a part of the Oklahoma game in Lubbock, and at some point I also got to witness Devon Thomas crossover Isaiah Cousins like it was a routine. He's got handles. He can pass the ball and his court awareness will only increase over the off-season. Tubby has shown that he can develop players quickly. He turned Matt Temple from an intramural star, to a reliable center who grew into his own shoes later down in the season. He'll do the same with Devon Thomas, and that starts with his development in the off-season. I believe Keenan Evans will still get the nod at starting point guard, but if Devon Thomas gets comfortable with running an offense, he can be a comfortable backup that will produce some numbers and disperse the ball.
Justin Gray is a great overall player. Like any players that is serious about the game, Justin Gray should only get better during the off-season. Behind Zach Smith and Odiase, he's probably one of the better defenders on the team. He's also an important two-way guard for Texas Tech. I love watching Gray play on both sides of the floor because he's exciting to watch and he's consistent. For Gray, the most important aspect of the game that will grow for him next year is his leadership. With Toddrick Gotcher leaving with graduation, I see Gray taking that leadership position.
Norense Odiase is the bully that Texas Tech deserves and needs. His play down in the post is umatched by anyone else (Yes, even Zach Smitth). In order for him to have the year that he deserves so badly, he will need to learn how to play with agression and without committing so many fouls. His injury late down in the stretch was a tough break for him and for the Red Raiders. Reintroducing him back late in the season was a tough transition from being injured and out of rhythm to playing in high stakes game for the rest of the season. He'll improve for this next season and may be the big man we need.
Texas Tech will have a first round bye in the Big 12 tournament
Kansas will be losing Perry Ellis, Iowa State will be losing George Niang, Oklahoma will be losing Buddy Hield. All big names. Texas will improve in the second season of Shaka Smart's coaching career with the Longhorns. Without any impressive recruits coming to Waco, Baylor won't improve. Kansas will still be the powerhouse we all know with Devonte' Graham and Frank Mason III returning. Iowa State will remain consistent, and rest of the teams will remain the same or may improve slightly. Texas Tech has all the tools to finally put together an impressive season. I can see us giving a game to all the teams at their respective homes, but I see us being dominate at home in every game. If we're able to steal some games on the road and win the ones we need to, Texas Tech will be seeded high enough in the Big 12 to have a first round bye in the Big 12 tournament.