Reason No. 3: Aaron Ross and Matt Temple
The Texas Tech basketball season appeared to be doomed on January 18th when starting forward Norense Odiase broke his foot in a game at TCU. Odiase would not return until the final regular season game of the year forcing Tubby Smith to make major changes to his rotation and style of play in the middle of conference play.
Junior forward Aaron Ross stepped up to become one of Texas Tech’s most reliable scorers in Odiase’s absence. In the final 14 games of the regular season, Ross scored 13.8 points per game, up from his average of 8.7 prior to Odiase’s broken foot.
Ross became a clutch scorer in his new role as one of the five players Tubby Smith used to close out games. His ability to hit perimeter shots not only provided the Texas Tech offense with a needed scoring boost but also opened the lane for guards like Keenan Evans and Justin Gray to slash to the basket.
Temple, the walk-on player of fraternity intramural basketball fame also helped save the Texas Tech basketball season. After having to sit out the first seven games of the season due to NCAA eligibility rules, Temple was a critical asset to Tubby Smith from the moment he stepped onto the court.
After the team returned from playing in the Puerto Rico tournament in November, sophomore center Isaiah Manderson left the team leaving the Red Raiders thin in the post. Temple was able to fill Manderson’s role as a reserve center for 10 games.
Then, Temple was promoted to the starting lineup in Odiase’s stead. The native of Wichita Falls, TX was up to the task and provided Tubby Smith with a solid emergency plan to offset the absence of Odiase.
Prior to entering the starting lineup, Temple was averaging 2.2 points and 10.1 minutes per game. But as a starter, the big man doubled his scoring average and provided the team with 14 minutes per game. Furthermore, he became a solid defender and an excellent passer on the offensive end of the court helping the midseason reinvention of the Texas Tech offense.
Without the improvement of Aaron Ross, who is finally healthy after overcoming lingering knee issues that have plagued his basketball career and the unexpected emergence of Temple, the Red Raiders would not be in the NCAA Tournament.
Next: Reason No. 2: Free Throw Improvement