Texas Tech basketball: The important question we must ask about Mark Adams

Texas Tech's head coach Mark Adams walks along the sidelines during the Big 12 men's basketball game against Baylor, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at United Supermarkets Arena.
Texas Tech's head coach Mark Adams walks along the sidelines during the Big 12 men's basketball game against Baylor, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at United Supermarkets Arena. /

After yet another frustrating and disappointing performance dropped the Texas Tech basketball team to 0-6 in Big 12 play, we could spend our time trying to analyze Tuesday’s 81-74 loss to Baylor in Lubbock.  But what would be the point?

After all, we would simply be repeating an all-too-familiar refrain.  No defense.  Not enough offensive firepower.  A lack of cohesion on the court.  Trouble rebounding.  It all adds up to another home loss and the continued tailspin of a basketball program that appears to be unraveling and hurling toward disaster less than one calendar year after reaching the Sweet 16.  And that’s all been said before – seemingly after every game Texas Tech has played against a team with any sort of pulse this season.

So instead of focusing on the obvious, that this team isn’t going anywhere but south this season, it would be more interesting and more useful to turn our attention away from the day-to-day woes of this seemingly lost campaign and instead ask a very difficult but necessary question.

If Mark Adams can’t coach a team to play defense, then what exactly does he bring to the table for the Texas Tech basketball program?

That’s not a question I pose lightly.  The implications of such a line of thinking are potentially significant, especially if such questioning is done by people who have the power to make changes.

However, it is a question that everyone associated with this program, especially those in positions of influence and authority must begin to grapple with.  That’s because the conclusion that one draws from such a question is going to determine just what one believes Adams’ future with this program should be.

It’s sobering to think that just under two years into his tenure as head coach, Adams is already in a position to have his capabilities as the leader of a major college program called into question.  However, an 0-6 start to conference play will bring about such lines of discussion, especially at a program that has invested as much money into being competitive as Texas Tech has.

Thus, given the state of things now, as Tech appears destined to miss out on the NCAA Tournament after only three weeks of Big 12 play, everything must be questioned.  That includes Adams.

Hailed as the mastermind behind the suffocating defense that propelled the program to the grandest stages of the game, Adams was a popular choice to replace Chris Beard when the former Red Raider head coach jumped ship for Texas in April of 2021.  That’s because it was assumed that Adams’ presence would help the program maintain its tough-nosed, defensive-minded attitude.

For a season, that assumption was proven correct.  Taking a roster that included nine newcomers and only three holdovers from the Beard era to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in his first year as Tech’s head man, Adams seemed to be headed in the right direction in his first stint in charge of a program in one of the six major Division I conferences.

Now, though, his capabilities are rightfully being called into question and it all begins with the fact that over the course of just one offseason, this program has managed to completely lose the identity that it spent the last half-decade cultivating.  A failure such as that begins at the top.

The blame falls firmly at the feet of one man, Adams.  That’s simply the nature of his position.

Somehow, a man who built his entire coaching career on coaching defense has managed to put together the worst defensive team this program has fielded since the 2016-17 season when, in Beard’s first season at Tech, the Red Raiders ranked just 56th nationally in the KenPom.com adjusted defensive efficiency metric.

Since then, Tech has finished no lower than No. 18 in that category while twice finishing tops in the NCAA.  However, this year, while again deploying Adams’ no-middle scheme, Tech sits at No. 47.

What’s more, in ten games against major-conference teams, Tech is surrendering 70.6 points per game.  But if one takes out of that equation the 38 points that the Red Raiders surrendered to Louisville, arguably the worst major-conference team in America, that number jumps to 74.2 p.p.g.

The cause of this jarring increase in opposition scoring?  Adams has failed to teach this year’s team how to fully execute his system.

Say what you want about the fact that this year’s team is smaller and less athletic at the guard positions.  While that might be true, the reason Tech can’t seem to stop good teams from scoring at will this year isn’t that the Red Raiders can’t seem to stay in front of opposing ball handlers, it is because, far too often, there is no member of Adams’ team to be found anywhere near an opposing shooter when the ball is put up.

What’s more, the players that can’t execute Adams’ defense are the ones he recruited and brought into the fold.  In turning to smaller, more offensive-minded guards, Adams turned his back on his defensive philosophy while potentially allowing his ego to convince himself that he could teach any player to play defense.  That hasn’t been the case.

After 18 games, this team looks as lost on the defensive end as it was when the season started.  There is no semblance of defensive rotations.  Cohesion is a fantasy.  Charges are a rarity.  And worst of all, the tenacity that once exuded from every member of this program has turned into passivity from a number of the team’s assumed best players.

Tuesday’s loss to Baylor was a microcosm of this year’s struggles.  The Red Raiders allowed the Bears to shoot 48.3% from the floor while creating only three…count ’em…THREE turnovers.

It is apparent that Adams can’t figure out how to get this collection of players to gel and compete on the defensive end of the floor.  So again, it must be asked – What exactly is the head coach bringing to the table this year?

Adams is not known as an elite recruiter.  Though he did land excellent true freshman Pop Isaacs, the rest of his freshman class and most of his transfer class have been passengers this year. That brings into question another aspect of his job as well, talent evaluation.

Likewise, Adams does not bring to a program any innovation on offense.  Rather, he seems to stifle any offensive creativity that his assistants may possess.  Just ask former assistant Barrett Peery, who Adams ran off after last season, and Steven Green, who is not being given the latitude to implement the creative offensive system that he made his name on at the JUCO ranks.

Even more concerning is the realization that Adams is not able to get his players to max out their potential, something that his predecessor did quite well.  Instead, players such as Kevin Obanor, De’Vion Harmon, and Daniel Batcho are all falling short of the type of productivity that their physical skills suggest they should be giving on a game-by-game basis.

Moreover, this appears to be a team that is not bought in.  Adams intimated as much after last week’s 34-point loss to Iowa State when he essentially threw his entire team under the bus by saying that they needed “major changes” in “toughness and attitude”.

What changes has Adams made though?  Certainly, none that we have seen on the court.  When Baylor’s freshman guard, Keyonte George was torching his team for 27 points on Tuesday, did Adams switch defenses, run double teams at him, apply full-court pressure, or deploy traps designed to get the ball away from Baylor before George could touch it?  Nope.  He simply sat back and hoped that the scheme that has carried him this far would magically start working for one of the few times this year.

It didn’t.  And Adams isn’t working as this program’s head coach thus far in his second season either.

Something has to change or else this program could, in one disastrous season, lose much of the momentum and goodwill it has built in the past handful of years. Adams has to do something different in order to salvage any hope for not only this season but the future of his alma mater’s most successful program.

But if he can’t figure out how to get this team to play defense, then what exactly will he turn to?  After all, defense is not only Texas Tech’s identity, it is Adams’ identity as a coach.  Unfortunately, neither seem to be living up to their reputations this year leaving many to wonder what exactly this program will hang its hat on moving forward.