Texas Tech basketball: What Red Raiders need from T.J. Holyfield in Big 12 play

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 10: Andrei Savrasov #12 and TJ Holyfield #22 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders react from the bench during the second half of their game at Madison Square Garden on December 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 10: Andrei Savrasov #12 and TJ Holyfield #22 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders react from the bench during the second half of their game at Madison Square Garden on December 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

As we look to the beginning of Big 12 play this week, perhaps we should re-evaluate what the Texas Tech basketball team needs from T.J. Holyfield.

After the first three Texas Tech basketball games of the season, it appeared that grad transfer forward T.J. Holyfield was on his way to being the Red Raiders’ best player.  But now, it appears that he’s come back down to Earth and it has many fans concerned.

But should we be?  After all, the Holyfield we have seen in recent weeks rather closely resembles the player he’s been throughout his career.

The mistake the Albuquerque native made was to play like an All-American in his first three games in front of the Red Raider faithful, thus setting the bar unachievably high.  Averaging 18.6 points, five rebounds, and over a block per game, he had many of us thinking that he was the next Tim Duncan.

Since then, he’s yet to have a similar stretch.  What’s more, he endured an awful 3-game streak just as Tech was in the midst of its worst run of the year so far.

In the 3-game losing streak to Iowa, Creighton, and DePaul, the 6-foot-8 forward averaged just 4 points and four rebounds per game.  That included being shut out in the OT loss at DePaul.  And even in his 10-point game against Iowa in Vegas, he was just 4-13 from the field including a number of misses around the rim.

Since then, he’s become more impactful as he’s averaged 8.2 points and six rebounds.  Perhaps that what we should expect of him moving forward.

After all, his career numbers are 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds.  This year, he’s putting up 9.5 and 4.8.  In other words, given that he’s stepped up in competition by playing for a Big 12 team, Holyfield has been essentially the same level of player that he’s always been.

Prior to this year, against major conference opponents, he averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds.  That suggests that the player that we saw in the first three games was Holyfield at his absolute best and not typical of the player he has been for his entire career.

It’s not that he isn’t a good player who can help this team, it’s that he’s not the type of elite scorer that he looked like in the first three games of his Red Raider career.  So now that we start Big 12 play, it’s time we think differently about what a good game will look like from the senior.

First of all, he must stay out of foul trouble.  That was one key in his strong start this season.

Averaging 1.6 fouls per game to begin the year, he was able to stay on the floor for an average of 22.3 minutes.  But since then, he’s had at least four fouls in all but the last two games when he had three.

Interestingly, in the last nine games, he’s been on the floor for an average of 23.1 minutes.  But his foul trouble may be making him more passive and reserved on the floor as he tries to avoid fouling out as he did against DePaul.

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In the first three games of the year, he averaged 9.6 shots per game.  Since then, he’s taken that many just once, against Iowa.

Could it be that when Holyfield is forced to play cautiously because of fouls, it impacts his overall game by limiting how aggressive he feels he can be?  There could be something said of the thought that his mindset when trying to avoid fouls is keeping him from attacking the opponent on both ends of the floor.

Moving forward, let’s not focus as much on Holyfield’s points as the only measure of what he can give this team.  That wouldn’t be fair to him becuase it appears that other players can handle the bulk of the scoring chores.

Rather, let’s look at how efficient he is with the ball and whether he can knock down enough mid-range jumpers to be a concern for opposing big men so that they do not stay right under the basket on defense.

What’s more, the advanced analytics paint a much kinder picture of Holyfield than many fans have.  He ranks third in offensive rating (number of points he would account for per 100 possessions) at 112.4 while being Tech’s best defensive player by giving up an average of just 84.5 points per 100 possessions.

It’s likely that the last four games are what the typical T.J. Holyfield game might look like.  He’s had eight points three times and nine in the other game while an average of six rebounds.

Most encouraging is that he’s been two-straight games without picking up his fourth foul.  He’s also been able to get to the line four times per game, an increase of one per game from his season average.

So it’s time we cut T.J. Holyfield some slack for not playing the way he did to begin the year.  It was a random outburst the likes of which he’s never produced before as a collegiate.   After all, in Big 12 play, if he can give this team nine points and six boards per game, that will be more than enough to help the Red Raiders win so long as he is on the floor to play solid post defense.