Texas Tech used a strong week of basketball to regain some confidence after tough losses to Baylor and West Virginia. This past week featured two teams that were towards the bottom of the conference in Kansas State and Iowa State, but both have presented the Red Raiders with some unique challenges under Chris Beard. Iowa State had won two of the three meetings against Beard’s squad in Lubbock, while the two lowest scoring games of the Beard era (48 and 45 points) came in trips to Manhattan.
Those past failures meant nothing this week though, as the Red Raiders essentially cruised to two easy victories. Tech led by as many as 15 in the first half against the Wildcats before squandering that lead midway through the second half, but timely shots from Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards brought the team home in a 77-63 victory. Tech got off to a similarly hot start against Iowa State (11-2 run to open the game), but turnovers kept the Cyclones in it at the half, as they only trailed by six despite failing to hit a single three point shot. Thankfully, Tech’s offense came alive and dominated the second half. At one point the Red Raiders went on a 41-17 run to take a 70-44 lead, eventually winning 72-52. The two wins brought the team up to #18 in the AP top 25 poll ahead of showdowns against TCU and Kentucky.
Here are some key notes and stats from the last two wins:
Kyler Edwards can still score efficiently
On a tear, and recognized for it.— Texas Tech Basketball (@TexasTechMBB) January 20, 2020
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As someone who has been defending Kyler all season long, this felt great. The sophomore had been shooting only 24% from three before the past two games, which in fairness felt like an anomaly. His historical shooting numbers (45% from three last year, 76% free throw shooter, sustained 40% midrange success) made it seem like he could re-gain the shooting clip from last year’s tournament, and thankfully that is what happened this week. Is it sustainable? Probably not, but pouring 24 and 22 points respectively on 60%+ shooting is always a great confidence booster.
In those two games, Edwards scored in a variety of different ways, which is great for his sustainable scoring. He hit most of his threes in an off ball setting, but his ability to drive off the PnR sets cannot be overlooked, as it set up easy looks for both him and his teammates. He also hit a couple high PnR threes between the two games, essentially marking the first time we’ve seen Tech spring good looks off of that action since last year in the Elite 8.
Besides scoring, Edwards is still probably the best pure playmaker on the perimeter. The assist percentage has dropped in conference play, but that is more indicative of Beard reducing the number of touches Kyler gets as a PBH than anything. The low turnover percentage (9.1) in conference play indicates his reliability, and the assist rate is still passable given how he has been used in a spot up role as of late.
If Edwards can keep being a versatile offensive piece it will significantly help this team, even if the scoring efficiency is unsustainable. His all-around game is probably the best on the team when his shot is falling, and his offensive awareness is extremely underrated.
Davide Moretti is back to making threes at an elite level
I said last week that Moretti’s shooting was mainly a variant statistic that was bound to change, and as predicted those shots that were not falling over the last month have started to fall. Moro has been shooting 50% from three over the last three games, and his ORTG is back to being consistently above 110. There’s no way to predict that anyone that wears a Texas Tech uniform will ever replicate the sheer efficiency that Moretti had last year in conference play, but even a sustained 50% three point shooting rate is fairly incredible. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that most of Moretti’s action is coming off the initial defensive rotation, which is an adjustment for the seemingly set motion that specifically brought Moro into a certain place, essentially meaning he initiated offense off ball. Not running him around as much makes the defense less likely to lose him, but it also lets him respot without having to worry about getting grabbed with no call- an issue that has plagued him in major games all year.
The other major advantage to having Moretti is the “gravity” effect. It’s been a major talking point in regards to Steph Curry’s game for a while, and I think in a much more minuscule way Moretti has that same effect. Defenses are absolutely terrified of giving him a free look on the wings, so even when he is off ball defenders often times will not fully rotate away from him. This opens up the high PnR action into a 2v2 situation, and if the defense brings a third guy into the driving lane it leaves another shooter (usually Edwards or Ramsey- whoever is not the ball handler) a wide open shot. If the defense does rotate away, it’s a wide open three for the Maestro, or in other words an automatic three points. That scenario is exactly why we have seen more high PnR in the last two games specifically, and if both Edwards and Ramsey can hit shots it absolutely opens up Moretti’s offense.
Jahmi’us Ramsey’s shot is not falling
I mentioned that this might happen in my recap of the Baylor and West Virginia games, and unfortunately it’s come to fruition. Ramsey has shot 1-9 from three over the last two games, and he’s only hit two of his 12 midrange shots in conference play. Ramsey has actually probably played his best basketball in the last two games, but until the shots go in the stats will not reflect that. The off ball lapses have continuously gotten better, and his playmaking (six assists to one turnover) has been great over the last week. The more great vision he shows, the more likely we see more PnR sets with him as the initiator, which as said previously helps open up shots for everyone else.
It’s time to talk about TJ Holyfield
I am not quite as down on Holyfield’s level of play as some other people in the Tech basketball circle are, but I do know that TJ has been a negative from a NET perspective for the last four games. His interior finishing is amazingly good (79% at the rim for the season, 83% in conference), but he struggles to establish positioning inside, making such looks difficult to find. The bigger issue is his shot, though. He’s yet to make a jump shot in the last four games (since Oklahoma State), and teams are leaving him wide open to shoot at this point. It appears that his confidence is shot, and without the shooting it becomes a 4v5 offensive affair. His switching ability on defense is valuable, but redundant when you have countless guards and wings that are better perimeter defenders, and his interior defense has been poor against every center Tech has faced since the Oklahoma State game (Holyfield benefited tremendously from Jacobson getting in foul trouble for Iowa State). Putting it bluntly: I’m not sure what Holyfield’s size does for this team outside of occasionally winning a tip (which Terrence Shannon can do). The interior defense is replacement level, his rebounding is solid (but not as good as Savrasov and Clarke), and his offense is only useful for screen setting purposes, which he is admittedly solid at. I am at the point where I genuinely think going small ball is the answer. It helped in 2018- when Tommy Hamilton and Norense Odiase only played around 30% of the minutes each, leaving a five guard/wing line-up to close, and given the versatility and rebounding of our wings, it might work now.
Kevin McCullar and Terrence Shannon’s defensive versatility crucial in the half court
Kevin McCullar is putting himself squarely into Coach Beard’s rotation thanks to his hustle and defensive intensity, which is probably the best possible thing that could happen for this team. McCullar is still a fairly large negative offensively due to his high turnover rate (30%), poor three point shooting, and lack of a defined role (ORTG under 90, OBPM at -4.0), but defensively he has the highest BPM of anyone outside of Chris Clarke, who has his value somewhat inflated by playing so many minutes as a small ball 5. The eye test confirms this assessment, as his deflection count is absurdly high and his ability to switch onto defenders 1-4 is incredibly useful. He has a block rate of 2.0 and a steal rate of 4.0, making him one of two qualified players in the Big 12 with such distinction (Baylor’s Mark Vital is the other). While McCullar’s offense still makes him a slight negative overall, his defense is extremely valuable to the Red Raiders and is a large reason why Tech has been so dominant in half court sets defensively in the Big 12.
Terrence Shannon offers much of the same versatility, though he’s less of an active defender and more of a positioning based defender. Shannon has also played a surprisingly large amount of time in the post with varying levels of success, and his ability to do so could allow Tech to go small against teams like Kansas and West Virginia. Having Shannnon’s offensive explosiveness is also going to be valuable in exploiting mismatches against bigger teams. The West Virginia game was ironically the one game that Shannon would be most valuable offensively, as he has the lateral quickness and explosiveness as a four in Tech’s usual line-up to exploit man to man defense that features one of West Virginia’s interior defenders. That mismatch would’ve opened up the paint more for potential driving opportunities, which in turn opens up more shooting situations. It will be okay, though, as there will be another chance to play West Virginia in just over a week.
Ultimately, Shannon and McCullar’s versatility are a major advantage if Tech wants to play more small ball in exchange for Holyfield’s minutes. We’ve already seen McCullar play minutes against both Tshiebwe and Culver for West Virginia, and Shannon has a representative amount of minutes against players taller than 6’8 this season. It is worth seeing how a five guard/wing line-up operates, with McCullar and Shannon playing with two of the guards and Clarke. We already saw a little bit of that line-up in the second half of the Iowa State game, and judging by how well the defense played I would have to think that it is an option for Beard going forward.