Over the past three days, the Texas Tech basketball team participated in the Maui Invitational in Hawaii, marking the first true tests of the season for Mark Adams’ rebuilt roster. Unfortunately, Tech was able to go just 1-2 in the event, which means that the Red Raiders will likely fall out of the national rankings next week.
However, tests the likes of which this team just experienced are what the early portion of the schedule should be about. That’s because they reveal within a team the flaws and weaknesses that must be addressed before conference action begins.
Certainly, the Red Raiders are better for having traveled to Maui, even with a pair of losses now on their ledger. Just how much better they are after facing three major-conference opponents is something only time will reveal. But for now, let’s take a look at what we learned about the Red Raiders over the course of the past three games.
Batcho is a beast
Daniel Batcho was Tech’s best player in Maui. Averaging 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in the event, he established himself as a true force in the post.
Over the course of the offseason, we heard plenty of hype, both from internal and external sources, about the strides that the sophomore made in the offseason. In Maui, that hype was turned into actual results as Batcho played the best basketball of his college career against excellent competition.
Now, it is fair to suggest that the 6-foot-11 center is Tech’s best player and that he will be perhaps this team’s most important cog going forward. While Kevin Obanor and De’Vion Harmon are also going to be integral components of any success that the Red Raiders will have, they don’t appear to be capable of impacting the game in as many ways as Batcho can, especially on the defensive end. So while the Red Raiders may have dropped two games this week, one positive is that they have discovered that they have an absolute beast in the post.
Scoring remains a chore
The more the roster changes in Raiderland, the more circumstances seem to remain the same. In other words, even after this summer’s roster makeover, Tech still has trouble scoring points.
That’s been a problem for this program on some level going back to the start of the previous coaching regime’s tenure, if not longer. However, Adams tried to take steps toward fixing that issue this summer.
Bringing in assistant coach Steve Green to re-design Tech’s offensive attack and providing him with players that were expected to fit his scheme, even at the detriment of Tech’s overall team defense, the belief was that the Red Raiders would not be as offensively challenged this season.
Unfortunately, in Maui, we once again saw this program struggle to put the ball in the bucket against physical teams. Sure, Tech could have hung 90 points or more on Louisville had Adams left his regulars in for the entire game. However, against the two competent teams that Tech saw, Creighton and Ohio State, the Red Raiders averaged only 69 points.
Just as in previous seasons, Tech appears to struggle to score when its defense can’t force a ton of turnovers from the other team. For instance, when Creighton went the entire second half without giving the ball away, Tech mustered only 34 points in the final 20 minutes of play, nine fewer points than the Bluejays put on the board. Similarly, when Ohio State committed only 10 turnovers on Wednesday, Tech only got to 73 points.
There are two problems plaguing this offense right now. First is that there are only two players, Pop Isaacs and Harmon, who can create their own offense off the dribble. Second, is that the 3-point shots aren’t falling. For the entire time in Maui, Tech shot only 16-54 (29.6%) from deep.
One major issue is that two players who were brought into the program to help remedy Tech’s long-running 3-point shooting issues, Kerwin Walton and D’Maurian Williams, are giving the team next to nothing. In Maui, that duo was just 2-9 combined from 3-point range and scored just 10 total points, all of which came from Williams in Tech’s victory over Louisville.
Without those players contributing, Tech is having to rely more heavily on freshmen such as Lamar Washington and Robert Jennings to pick up some of the scoring slack off of the bench and that’s a big ask for such young players. Therefore, it is fair to wonder if putting the ball in the basket is going to remain a significant problem for this team for the duration of this year.
The defense lacks its typical size on the wings
One area where Tech sacrificed in the name of offense (and specifically shooting) was when it came to size, athleticism, and length on the wings. That came back to haunt Adams’ team in Maui as a pair of opposing wing players torched the Red Raiders.
Creighton’s 6-foot-7 Arthur Kaluma scored a game-high 18 points on Monday while Ohio State’s 6-foot-6 Justice Sueing had a career day with 33 points on Wednesday. In both cases, the defenders that Tech threw at Kaluma and Sueing were too small, too weak, and too short to put up much resistance.
Unfortunately, Jaylon Tyson (being a redshirt freshman) is just not strong enough to match up with players as physical as Kaluma and Sueing. However, he is one of the only players Tech has with the size to try to check athletic and dynamic wings one-on-one. Thus, those players were able to do almost whatever they wanted against the Red Raiders.
Last year, Tech ran out three guards in Kevin McCullar Jr., Terrence Shannon Jr., and Adonis Arms, who were 6-foot-5 or taller and who were elite-level athletes capable of guarding elite offensive players. This year, Adams’ team doesn’t have that type of length on the wings and that proved to be a problem in Maui.