Texas Tech point guard Keenan Evans has been just a shadow of his former self over the past two games while dealing with a toe injury, making it fair to wonder if the team would be better served to have him sit out tonight’s game.
The bad news surrounding the Texas Tech basketball program is that the team is in the midst of its first three-game losing streak of the season dropping Tech to No. 12 in the national polls. The good news is that this stretch will have virtually no bearing on the Red Raiders’ post season hopes. With 22 wins to its credit, Texas Tech has already played its way into the NCAA field of 68.
But as a result of Saturday’s home loss to Kansas, Tech lost any hope of winning even a share of the Big 12 title. And with two games left to play, Texas Tech is almost a guarantee to finish in the top four of the Big 12 race, assuring the team a bye in round one of next week’s conference tournament.
In other words, Texas Tech has nothing to lose and almost nothing to gain in the final week of the regular season. Therefore, it is time to ask whether Keenan Evans should be given the night off tonight.
Evans has been nothing more than a shell of himself in the past two games as he deals with a painful toe injury. Against Oklahoma State and Kansas, he was a combined 2-13 from the floor and 0-7 from three-point range. He’s scoring just four points a game since his injury and his limited mobility has made him a defensive liability.
According to head coach Chris Beard, team doctors have said that Evans’ injury can’t be worsened by playing on it and that Evans must simply figure out how to play through the pain and discomfort.
Still, it might make sense for Evans to be given a rest tonight. Tech is playing in its third game in six days and will be facing a West Virginia team that utilizes the full-court press for the entire game.
The WVU defense is one of the toughest in the nation for players with ten good toes to handle. So, it is hard to imagine that a hobbled Evans will be able to cut and change directions quickly enough to be part of the Red Raiders’ press break. Against teams that play a traditional defense that sets up in the half-court, Evans can walk down the floor and get into position where he wants. That will not be the case against the Mountaineers.
Since Evans presence in the lineup may not be helpful to Texas Tech against WVU, the extra rest could be huge for him. After tonight’s game, Tech has only one game in the next twelve days. It would be unfair to sit Evans during Saturday’s home finale against TCU because it will be his final home game at Texas Tech.
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It would be logical to expect him to get the start on senior day but it would also make sense to limit his minutes in that game. Evans is a tough competitor and will want to be on the floor as much as possible but there is a much bigger picture to keep in mind.
With a healthy (or healthier) Keenan Evans, Texas Tech has a legitimate shot at a deep run through the NCAA Tournament. The goal for the Red Raiders, now that the conference title again resides in Lawrence, Kansas, should be to enter the NCAA Tournament as healthy as possible.
Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, taking time now to ensure that Evans is as fresh and healthy as possible for March Madness is crucial because the formant of the NCAA Tournament requires teams to play two games in three days to advance. There will be little time for Evans to rest and heal once the big dance is underway.
Beard seems to be wrestling with the reality of Evans injury and is not denying the fact that his star is ailing.
“I feel bad for those [injured] players” he said following Saturday’s game. “Keenan’s worked so hard to get himself in this position and then he can’t play at full speed. We got a lot of season left so we’ll see what happens there.”
Those comments also suggest that Beard, as expected, has the bigger picture in mind. The season has been building towards March so the priority of February’s final week may need to be just letting Evans heal while another senior leader plays his way back into form.
Saturday, the Red Raiders received great news when senior forward Zach Smith returned to action from a broken foot that kept him out for seven weeks. That is a huge step forward for Texas Tech. But while Smith needs to play this week and get his timing and conditioning back, the opposite is true of Evans.
This season has been special and there is potential for even more magic. However, that will not happen until Keenan Evans is healthier. If it means sitting him out tonight in a nationally televised ESPN broadcast against a ranked foe, so be it. There are bigger goals that lay right around the corner.