Don’t just assume Texas Tech basketball will be in the NCAA’s in 2017


Texas Tech basketball made one of the most improbable turnarounds in college basketball history this season by earning a birth in the NCAA Tournament. However, just because the program has been resurrected under head coach Tubby Smith does not mean fans can simply assume Texas Tech will return to the 2017 tournament.

 Following Texas Tech basketball’s season-ending loss to Butler 71-61 in round one of the NCAA Tournament, the sentiment echoing from the Texas Tech fan base was that the program would return to the tournament next season even stronger. It is refreshing to see a typically cynical fan base such as Texas Tech’s have optimism about the Texas Tech basketball team but fans must keep in mind just how hard it is to earn an NCAA birth.

For example, after legendary coach Bob Knight led Texas Tech basketball to a first round exit in the 2002 NCAA Tournament, he could not take the team back to the dance in 2003. Despite the return of leading scorer Andre Emmett, future star point guard sophomore Ronald Ross and senior forwards Pawel Storozynski and Kasib Powell, Texas Tech went only 6-10 in the Big 12 and wound up missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

That team was far more experienced, with seven upperclassmen, than next year’s Texas Tech basketball team will be. In 2017, the only senior on the Texas Tech roster (baring an unforeseen circumstance) will be forward Aaron Ross.

The core of the team will be juniors Zach Smith, Justin Gray, Keenan Evans and Norense Odiase. Matthew Temple should be granted an extra year of eligibility making him also a junior after walking on this year (and being classified by his academic classification as a junior).

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But Tubby Smith will be tasked with replacing two of his top three scorers from 2015-16 in senior guards Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams. Both players combined for just under 21 points per game this year and replacing them will be more difficult than may fans assume.

Even if the returning core players all improve as expected, the Texas Tech basketball team will have to find new guards to help point guard Keenan Evans shoulder the backcourt scoring load.

On the current roster, the top options are 2016-17 sophomores Jordan Jackson and C.J. Williamson. The difference between these freshmen and this year’s quartet of talented second-year collegiate players is the lack of playing time Jackson and Williamson received this season.

Jackson, from Houston, TX played only 5.3 minutes per game while the Orlando, FL native Williamson got only 7.3 minutes of action per game this year. Plus, neither player is equipped to do what Gotcher and Williams were best at doing on the court.

Williams and Gotcher combined for 95 of Texas Tech’s 182 made 3-point shots. That’s over 50% of the Texas Tech 3-point offense that must be replaced.

Williamson is capable of becoming a respectable jump shooter but can’t be expected to be a 3-point asset next year because his jump shot is not his best weapon by any means.

Jackson is a player that attacks the rim as often as possible.

Though he is only 6-foot-2, he is fearless when going to the basket. He is a classic slasher who does not have a well-developed outside game.

There also appears to be little help on the way thus far in the 2017 recruiting class. As of now, the only commitment to the Texas Tech basketball program is from 3-star guard Keon Clergeot of Auburndale, FL.

Tubby Smith knows that his team won’t be able to rely on a true freshman to be the outside shooting threat the Red Raiders need next year. Clergot is a gifted scorer and a good shooter but he will obviously need time to adjust to the college game as almost all freshmen do.

Therefore, do not be surprised if Smith and his coaches hit the JUCO ranks to find help in the backcourt.

Though the foundation of the Texas Tech basketball program will remain in place next year, there are important holes on the roster that must be filled. The point here is not to dampen anyone’s fire for Texas Tech basketball but to provide perspective.

This team took a giant leap in the right direction in 2015-16 and that should be celebrated and appreciated. However, Red Raider fans must keep in mind just how difficult it is to earn a birth in the NCAA Tournament.

This program has been in the tournament only 16 times in its history. Returning next year for appearance 17 is not a sure thing, no matter how bright the future appears to be.