The past week was not ideal for Texas Tech basketball. The Red Raiders dropped two close games against top 25 teams in Baylor and West Virginia, with the former being a five point home loss and the latter being an 11 point road setback, though the game was closer than the final score indicated. Tech will now look to rebound in Manhattan with a game against a struggling Kansas State team, but first let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from the two losses:
Shooting variance will define this team
I have been insisting for weeks that a large portion of Davide Moretti’s “slump” was simply regression to the mean. As I’ve publicized many times on this site: Davide’s sophomore season was historically efficient. His 50/50/90 Big 12 season was unprecedented, and as a whole he was one of only 36 Division 1 players over the last decade (since conference stats became archived on Bball Reference) to shoot 50% from three point range in conference play. The one thing in common with the other players on that list?
They never repeated the 50% in conference feat. In fact, only two players in Division 1 history had multiple cumulative seasons shooting 50% from three. That is a pretty clearly a sign that expecting Moretti to replicate his shooting was unreasonable, especially given his run last year still included multiple tournament games (NKU and Buffalo) where he missed every shot from deep.
This is not even a sign of the extended range bothering him, as he still shot 49% from NBA range on two attempts per game last year. He will have games like the Baylor game where he misses a lot, and also should have games like the West Virginia game where he is clearly the best player on the court. Remember: Steph Curry once went 0-10 from three in one game and followed it up with an NBA record performance. Variance happens, but shooters will always shoot. It’s part of the game.
The flip side that is probably going to anger Tech fans reading this is that Jahmi’us Ramsey is bound to regress. We saw it happen to some degree in the West Virginia game, but as a whole he is still shooting 47% from three on the year while only hitting 67% of his free throws. Over an extended season sample that combination is almost unheard of at the major conference level, with only 54 total instances in the last 27 seasons of Division 1 basketball. Judging by Ramsey’s generally poor shooting numbers on the AAU circuit and in high school, along with his free throw numbers, I expect the three point numbers to normalize. That being said: Ramsey is legitimately a great off-ball shooter (83% of his threes are assisted). While he won’t be used as much in that role going forward (more on that later), it is his best path towards maintaining his shooting pace.
This team lacks shot-creators, making Terrence Shannon vitally important
Losing Terrence Shannon before the West Virginia game was a disaster for the offense. Shannon’s ability to drive is arguably better than anyone on the team right now, and without him the only guy that was consistently able to get to the rim was Kyler Edwards, who is a notoriously poor finisher. Ramsey has a ton of quickness and raw athleticism, but he gets wreckless with the ball on the drive, often times leading to turnovers. Moretti can be a secondary ball handler with an advantage, but his inability to get dribble-based separation gets attacked by aggressive defenses. McCullar can drive, but most of the time the ball goes the other direction. Chris Clarke is functionally a great playmaker, but driving is generally not his game, and even when he can get inside he typically is not assertive enough to consistently finish in traffic.
Going forward I think we will need to use Kyler as a PBH. His 20% assist rate and low turnover rate is encouraging, and his ability to create separation is probably unparalleled on this team. Ramsey and Moretti are both better as off-ball players, while Terrence Shannon and Chris Clarke are both limited in some capacity to where using them consistently as a primary initiator in the half court creates problems.
TJ Holyfield is a bizarre player
I still do not understand TJ Holyfield on offense. He moves like a floor spacer, but is always hesitant to shoot. He really is not utilized much in the P&R, but yet he’s shooting 80% at the rim on decent volume. It’s as if he does not get used in the way that he should be, and as a result his confidence just dwindles. He missed all three of his shots versus WVU, turned it over once, and was constantly getting bullied on defense, picking up three fouls and giving up no less than three offensive boards. All of that took place in only 11 minutes of action, with a host of wing players eating up his minutes.
This came just one week after he torched Yor Anei in the Oklahoma State game for 17 points and neutralized him on the boards. It’s frustrating to see him have such inconsistent performances, but given the lack of alternatives from a size perspective I don’t know what else Beard can do.
The end of the rotation dilemma:
Chris Beard needs a 7th man to step up, because as of now nobody past Chris Clarke have the polish to play consistently high level basketball. Avery Benson is a hustler and decent shooter, but his fundamental defense is fairly poor and his offense is limited outside of shooting and the occasional cut. McCullar is pretty easily the most naturally talented player on the bench, but 12 turnovers to no assists in his last nine games is absurdly bad. He’s a great cutter, great defender, and a decent isolation scorer, but the turnovers are completely ruining his profile as a rotation player. If he fixes those it might even place him straight into the 20+ minute group. Nadolny is a great playmaker and provides solid on-ball defense, but the rest of his game is still developing, while Savrasov and Tchewa are still learning how to play within the system on offense and defense. Any one of those guys could emerge, but realistically the ceiling of this team will be extremely limited without one of the young freshman emerging. Having no depth gets you beat in rock fights, and unfortunately that is what a majority of the Big 12 games are projecting as.