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Texas Tech basketball suffers two close defeats in the Las Vegas Invitational

Here are the takeaways from a disappointing tournament for the Red Raiders

NCAA Basketball: Bethune-Cookman at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Things were a lot different the last time I wrote a multi-game article like this. Texas Tech was 5-0 and #12 in the country. Since then, the Red Raiders have dropped two winnable games in Las Vegas and are currently unranked. They have a big trip to face DePaul looming, as the Blue Demons are undefeated and nearly a ranked squad. After reviewing some of the tape from the last two games (hence the delay), I have come back with some takes on the current state of the team and some future improvements that need to be made:

For housekeeping’s sake: My recap article for the Iowa game is here, with my instant reaction thoughts for the Creighton game being in this Twitter thread. This article will simply be a compilation of analysis regarding the two games, not a simplistic recap.

Stats and story lines: Las Vegas Invitational

  • The biggest thing that will haunt the Red Raiders from this tournament is the three point shooting on both ends. Tech shot 4-24 (17%) in the Iowa game and 8-30 (27%) from three in the Creighton game. The former is absolutely a complete outlier from a shooting perspective, as most D1 teams can consistently hit at a 30% clip, not even factoring in Tech having a top 10 shooter in the nation and at least four positive shooters on the roster (Moro, Edwards, Ramsey, and Holyfield). The Creighton game was a slight outlier, but still was not ideal for Tech. The defensive game that the Red Raiders played against Iowa was pretty good, however a few missed rotations haunted them in the close loss. The Hawkeyes still had an outlier night shooting from their end, as they shot 41%, which was their second highest clip all year. Creighton shot 42% from three, but that’s right in line with most of their games prior to the San Diego State game, which was a complete outlier on their end (4-23). Some of the shooting woes on both ends will fix themselves. Tech will not have another 17% shooting night from three. Such a performance has only happened in four games under Beard, with the most notable being the 59-45 game last year. That team ended alright. Davide Moretti will not have to play so much as a primary ball handler once Ramsey comes back, which should significantly improve his efficiency. Kyler Edwards will probably not shoot as well as he did last year due to a role changing (he is now effectively in a primary ball handler role), however the 32/25/94 shooting line will improve. He’s gotten a lot of good looks that just haven’t fallen.
  • The more pressing concern for me is the interior defense, which has been pretty inconsistent. Much of this actually stems from the guards being unable to effectively leverage dribble penetration towards the baseline, thus causing a breakdown in the rotation scheme of the defense. The bigger part that makes this most noticeable is the lack of a rim protector. T.J. Holyfield attempts to be that, but for whatever reason cannot avoid major foul trouble. One of those two has to be fixed if Tech wants to re-affirm their status as a contender. The 2018 team did not have a rim protector for much of the year due to the Zach Smith inury, yet were still able to play well on defense and nearly win the conference thanks to the absurdly good defensive lineup of Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith, Jarrett Culver, Niem Stevenson, and Justin Gray. That five man lineup closed out games in the Big 12, and was a big reason why the team won seven straight conference games. They were not protecting the rim, but you really don’t need to when you have the quickness and incredible rotations to deny the offense from ever getting to that point. The 2019 team had great perimeter defense and a shot blocker in Tariq Owens, making it almost impossible for teams to score inside. I do not expect a team to have that level of defense for quite a while, and it’s unreasonable to expect this team to be that good defensively. That was a historically good defense.
  • Losing Jahmi’us Ramsey really hurt Tech for the Creighton game. He was bad against Iowa, however a lot of that was due to a complex blitz scheme that they ran at him every time he drove, causing three turnovers and a host of contested interior shots. Beard had adjusted to play Jahmi’us off ball, but unfortunately he got hurt before the full effects could be seen. The loss of Ramsey was probably most felt defensively, where Creighton was able to pick on a relatively slow starting line-up for Tech to burn them through dribble penetration. Jahmi’us being out forced Tech to start Chris Clarke, who is solid on the interior but lacks the foot speed that Ramsey has. Having Ramsey out for the DePaul game wouldn’t be quite as huge of a loss, as DePaul only has one primary guard in Charlie Moore, but it would still hurt for a team that needs all the defense it can get right now. Creighton shot 59% on two point shots, which was the first time any team had shot over 43% from that range against the Red Raiders.
  • Defensive rotations and communication have been poor all year, but that is something that will improve down the stretch. I can’t imagine that will be an issue come March, but it was bound to be an issue with ten new faces and only two players that actually played college basketball last year. I’m not too concerned, though it will probably hurt us in the short run.
  • I mentioned Kyler Edwards briefly when discussing shooting, but now is when I’ll go a bit more in-depth. Edwards has been extremely good at everything but shooting, which seems hard for Tech fans to grasp. He has the highest A/TO% ratio for any Red Raider so far, has been grabbing nearly six rebounds per game, and is still the best pick and roll defender on the team. The shooting is still a massive dent in his game so far, as his TS% (43.9) makes LaMelo Ball look efficient. I’m fairly confident Kyler will get his shooting turned around, but until then we just have to focus on what he does well, which is most everything on the basketball court. If he can hit threes at a 40% clip again he suddenly becomes the most versatile player on the team, and probably one of the three best players. His game is a lot like Devonte’ Graham’s, and just like Devonte’ his performance is largely reliant on being a positive shooter.
  • Davide Moretti’s efficiency numbers were human in the tournament, which was largely down to a much higher volume and a lot more unassisted shots. He took 19 shots in the Creighton game, marking a career high that also matched his career high of 23 points. Moro is not designed for that role, making the return of Jahmi’us Ramsey and the development of Kyler Edwards all the more important. Moretti can still hit shots off the dribble, but his inability to get much separation gets exposed when he’s put in that position frequently. There’s a reason 96% of his threes last year were assisted: he’s a lethal off-ball shooter. Use him that way.
  • Terrence Shannon hustles. His calling card is being versatile on defense, but we’re seeing his aggressive nature pay off on offense. His ability to get to the line late kept Tech stay in the game vs. Iowa, and his offensive rebounds against Creighton were crucial down the stretch. It might not come this season, but at some point I expect Terrence Shannon to have a back-breaking putback late in a game. He’s too aggressive not to.
  • Andrei Savrasov got some minutes in the Creighton game, and was surprisingly effective. His three point shot was falling, which at this point is his main positive that he brings to the table. He has a versatile offensive game, but his inability to read the P&R well on both ends and slow rotations will keep him from getting large amounts of minutes. Still, his shooting was great to see when we needed it.
  • Chris Clarke finally did some scoring. The offense flows better when he’s being aggressive, so long as he doesn’t chuck up midrange shots all day.
  • Clarence Nadolny and Kevin McCullar might be the two most effective perimeter defenders among the freshman, yet they cannot seem to get anything going offensively. Nadolny (-3.2 OBPM) in particular has been a huge negative on that side of the court, and unfortunately will be limited in minutes because of it. Having one of those two players step up will be huge in determining a rotation.
  • Tchewa has potential, but it’s clear he still has a lot of developing still to do. He was non-existent on defense, and his offensive ability seems to be limited to hook shots in the post and layups, as he’s already missed two dunks this year. I can’t see him getting more than a few minutes per game this year.
  • It’s pretty obvious that Chris Beard has yet to develop an actual rotation. We’ve seen Nadolny, Savrasov, Tchewa, Benson and McCullar all have games where they hardly get any minutes. We need at least one of them to step up, but right now Beard seemingly does not like what he’s consistently getting from any of them. He went with Benson down the stretch in the Creighton game, which was surprising but probably smart. I have to think McCullar will step up, as he has shown the most overall game of the group thus far this year, but at this point I doubt the team will have a set rotation until early in conference play.
  • The interior shooting against Iowa was terrible. 48% from the rim will not win many games against good teams.
  • I still believe in this team, but I think a mid-level seed and a Sweet 16 is a realistic goal going forward. Anything beyond that is showing a little too much trust in a young team that has talent but still needs some more experience.