This non-conference, the Red Raiders became ranked, won 11 games, and defeated two ranked opponents. The Red Raiders have been impressive in all of their games, including the one loss to a now-ranked Seton Hall team. Now all of the ten Big 12 teams turn to the other nine opponents, let’s take a look back at the 2017 non-conference season.
What went well in non-conference
The Red Raiders have talent, and talent in spades. The Red Raiders play 10 players consistently and they all have contributed to the wins and impressive non-conference the Red Raiders have put together. The Red Raiders have also been able to destroy good teams with good records such as Nevada and Florida Atlantic and teams both of whom have have beaten top 10 opponents in Wofford and Boston College. The Red Raiders will have a much better strength of schedule this year compared to last year.
Keenan Evans has become the leader the Red Raiders lacked last year. While there are other leaders on this team, Keenan has become the heart and soul of the team. He is the man who runs the offense, the man who will take the last shot, and the rally man Coach Beard has turned to every time the Red Raiders were in trouble.
The Red Raiders have depth, something that will not only win games but win big games. The Red Raiders have 10 guys in their lineup they can turn to at any time and they all step up in big moments. Zhaire Smith hit a huge layup with time running down in the Nevada game to put the game into overtime, Jarrett Culver has been a spark both in the starting lineup and off the bench for the Red Raiders all season, and Davide Moretti provided eight first-half points and helped keep the Red Raiders afloat in a close game against Rice. The Red Raiders do not have to depend on their starting five to play 25+ minutes every game like they did last year. This new depth will help the Red Raiders in conference play this year.
What disappointed in non-conference
The Red Raiders have one of the most athletic teams the program has had in a long time. They can get to the rim and finish at will against any team in the nation in my opinion. One of their biggest problems so far has been their zone offense. They saw a lot of zone in the latter half of the non-conference schedule and will most likely see more of it as Big 12 play begins and teams try to eliminate the Red Raiders’ athleticism by making the Red Raider hit tougher mid-range shots. The Red Raiders need to continue improving shooting the ball and making their zone offense more efficient.
Free throws have also been a huge thorn in the Red Raiders’ side of late. Although they are shooting 66% for the year, in the last couple of games, the Red Raiders have really stunk it up from the line. In the game against Abilene Christian, the Red Raiders shot 17-34 from the line for only 50%. This is awful, if the Red Raiders were to have made even 65% of their shots, the game would have been won by 5 more points. The Red Raiders will need to shoot a more efficient percentage at the line if they are to make it into the NCAA tournament.
Now I have spoken about the big picture for the Red Raiders, I am going to hand out a few accolades for the non-conference season.
Best Story - Norense Odiase
Norense Odiase has been the best story of this non-conference season. He has been resilient over the past two years as after multiple foot injuries, has finally been able to come back on the court, earn his starting spot back, and play some great basketball. He was the centerpiece of the Class of 2014 recruiting class and this year we are finally getting to see some of his potential realized after three years of waiting. Norense has averaged 5 points and 5 rebounds over non-conference play.
Best Surprise - Jarrett Culver
Jarrett Culver has been the best surprise of the 2017 non-conference season. He is third in scoring, with 10.2 points, while also averaging 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and has played four different positions in his 21 minutes per game as a true freshman. He has started the last two games and is a spark plug for the Red Raiders no matter his role. He has been a good shooter, shooting 40% from behind the arc and 50% overall. He is also a great defensive player as he is first on the team in 1.7 steals per game. His large and lanky frame at 6’5 is perfect for defending most types of offensive players.
Most Improved Player - Davide Moretti
This was a tough one as all of the Red Raiders have improved in one way or another this year. However, Davide Moretti is my most improved player this non-conference season. Moretti is currently averaging 5 points and 2 assists per game. Moretti has really come into his own recently, with a 14 point game against Florida Atlantic and eight first-half points against the Rice Owls. Moretti even got a start against the Abilene Christian Wildcats last Friday. Although he didn’t score much, he looked comfortable in the offense and has gotten better defensively. I am excited to see Moretti improve more and get his first glimpse of Big 12 play this week.
Biggest Highlight Reel - Zhaire Smith
Not the Smith you thought would have this type of highlight reel this year. When Coach Beard said Zhaire was the more athletic Smith, he was most definitely right. Below are some of Zhaire Smith’s best plays of the season so far.
Top Play of Non-Conference - Zach Smith
The windmill is an underrated dunk. Zach Smith makes it look easy and makes it look good against Kennesaw State. This play made me jump out of my seat and that’s hard for a big man like myself to do. Please enjoy.
MVP - Keenan Evans
Keenan Evans is my MVP of the non-conference season. Coming into his own as the undoubted leader of this team, Evans is the heart and soul of this team. Evans is averaging 16.5 points, 3.8 assists, and three rebounds per game. He went off against Nevada scoring 32 points and eight boards for an overtime win over a ranked team and cementing his role in my mind as the leader of this team. He was unstoppable and no one could stop him when he was heading to the bucket as he got to the free throw line time after time as he shot 13-19 from the field in that game. Overall, he is shooting 78% from the free throw line and 51% overall. He will need to continue being a leader and the go-to man if the Red Raiders are to have success in Big 12 play.
The Red Raiders will enter Big 12 as a bit of an underdog as although they are ranked, they are ranked the lowest of the stacked Big 12 that has 6 teams in the top 25. The Red Raiders have their work cut out for them as they will be pushing for an NCAA tournament spot. The No.18 Baylor Bears will be their first opponent in Big 12 play on Friday night in Lubbock.