Texas Tech basketball: Chris Beard’s rotation starting to come into focus

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 27: Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders looks on during a practice session ahead of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 27, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 27: Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders looks on during a practice session ahead of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 27, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images) /

With only one game remaining until Big 12 play, Chris Beard’s rotation for the Texas Tech basketball team is starting to come into focus.

When the Texas Tech basketball team’s season began, we all wondered how Chris Beard would balance the playing time on a roster that featured seven newcomers and five true freshmen.  What made that thought so intriguing is that this year’s team was not only bringing in an unusually high number of freshmen, it was that each one of those first-year players would have been among the best players in virtually any other Red Raider recruiting class.

But now, with one game left until Big 12 play arrives, we are starting to see Beard’s rotation taking shape.  That’s because in the last two games, he’s shortened his bench quite a bit.

That was especially true with the return of starter and leading scorer, Jahmi’us Ramsey.  After sitting out for games with a hamstring injury, Ramsey was back in the starting five on Saturday.

Proving that he is 100% healthy, he played 31 minutes and scored a team-high 15 points on 6-12 shooting.  And his return naturally caused ripples throughout the rest of the lineup.

After starting every game in Ramsey’s absence, grad transfer Chris Clarke returned to the bench.  He scored 8 points, pulled in nine rebounds, and handed out a pair of assists in 31 minutes of action himself.

In Ramsey’s absence, Clarke stepped up his play.  He averaged 10.5 points per game, 10.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. Now, the challenge will be for him to bring that same type of productivity off the bench.

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We all knew that when Ramsey returned, someone would lose minutes and it wouldn’t be Clarke.  He’s too important to this team as a steadying influence and creator for others.

So who was hurt the most by Ramsey’s presence?  Avery Benson.

The sophomore has seen his stock skyrocket in recent weeks, especially after a 10-point, 4-rebound, 2-block outing against No. 1 Louisville.  But against UTRGV, the walk-on saw just three minutes of action, during which he was 0-2 from the floor on what would be a scoreless afternoon.

It was the first time since Thanksgiving night that Benson was held without a point.  And during that 4-game span, he saw his minutes increase to 19.7 per night.

Looking at Benson’s game log, it becomes clear that he is the Red Raider most impacted by Ramsey’s return.  His four games of double digits during Ramsey’s injury hiatus are double the number he’s had in the games when Tech’s leading scorer has been in the lineup but with Ramsey back, there are fewer situations in which his skills are needed.

This isn’t to suggest that Benson will return to the role we saw him play last year when he was just a practice player who only saw game action in blowouts.  But it does look like he will be counted on to be an energy player and a possible defensive catalyst, especially in special situations such as at the end of the first half when Beard wants to keep another player from picking up a third foul rather than a regular piece of the puzzle for ten minutes per night.

We should still count on Benson picking up some time on the floor each game but his days of being a key rotational piece as he was without Ramsey might be over.  And trading Benson for Ramsey is a deal that every Red Raider fan will take, regardless of how popular the Arkansas native has become.

While Clarke is this team’s unquestioned sixth-man, we are starting to see that Kevin McCullar Jr. is going to be the next player his coaching staff turns to.  He was solid on Saturday afternoon with 10 points in 16 minutes of action.

That was the redshirt freshman’s most extensive playing time in four games and he came through in a way that likely proved to his head coach that he is ready for a steady role as a reserve.  But aside from McCullar and Clarke, no other Red Raider reserve logged more than Benson’s three minutes.

Clarence Nadolny game his team a bit of an energy boost in his two minutes in the second half.  Meanwhile, Andrei Savrasov was hardly noticeable in his one minute of action.  Meanwhile, 7-foot Russell Tchewa did not play because UTRGV’s spread the court and isolate game plan was not a good matchup for his skill set.

So as Big 12 play nears, it appears that this team has seven defined rotation players with the remaining minutes likely leading to a different reserve each night depending on the situation.  For instance, Techewa or Savrasov might see more time against eams with extra size while Benson and Nadolny might be who Beard turns to against teams with quick guards, as was the case on Saturday.

Last year, Beard deployed an 8-man rotation and that’s likely the number of players he will rely on this year as well.  But what makes this team different is that he might have more variety when it comes to the pieces he can put into the game as he looks for the right combinations on the floor.  That’s something that could be a nice luxury in conference play.