Texas Tech basketball: Former Red Raiders having big starts to 2023-24 season

Dec 2, 2023; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) reacts after a three point basket against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 2, 2023; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) reacts after a three point basket against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

With the college football regular season now concluded, NCAA basketball is going to take on more importance for many fans around the nation.  That’s certainly with case with Big 12 teams facing off with Big East programs in the battle between the two conferences (the Big 12 currently leads 6-3 with one game remaining).

What’s more, the Texas Tech basketball team has only six games to go until opening Big 12 play at Texas on January 6.  However, some fans are starting to notice that several former Red Raiders are having huge seasons for other teams around the country.

Two members of Texas Tech’s 2019 freshman class have become stars

Perhaps the two hardest pills for Texas Tech fans to swallow might be the success of Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. and Illinois wing Terrence Shannon Jr.  Both were freshmen at Tech in 2019-20 and each showed flashes of being excellent players over multiple seasons in Lubbock.  However, each has taken his game to a new level for their new programs in 2023-24.

McCullar has started all eight games for the No. 2 Jayhawks and he’s having the type of season that some in Lubbock weren’t sure he was capable of.  Always a great defender, while at Tech, McCullar was merely an average offensive player who lacked scoring punch and who was a dreadful outside shooter.

This year, though, he’s putting up 18.5 points per game to go along with 7 rebounds and 5.1 assists.  That offensive output is over eight points per game more than he ever averaged at Tech.

Most remarkably, McCullar has made himself into a decent 3-point shooter.  Hitting at 35.5% from behind the arc (a career-best), he is knocking down 1.4 shots from deep per game.  At Tech, the best he ever shot from deep was 31.1% and he never averaged more than 1.0 makes per game.  Already this year, he has scored at least 20 points in four games including 24 against top-5 Marquette and 21 against defending National Champion UCONN.

Similarly, Shannon is proving to be one of the nation’s top scorers. His 21.6 points per game is a career-high and over seven points per game more than he ever averaged at Tech.

Though his jump shot is still far from being picture-perfect, he has found a way to make it work.  In fact, he’s hitting at an impressive 45.8% rate while making on average, 3.1 shots from beyond the arc per game.

Shannon also has four 20-point games this year and, on Tuesday, he exploded for 33 points in a win over No. 11 Florida Atlantic.  And speaking of the Owls, there is a former Red Raider big man thriving for that program as well.

Former Texas Tech big men are playing well

Playing opposite Shannon on Tuesday was Vlad Goldin, the 7-footer who had one season as a Red Raider (2020-21).  In the losing effort, he put up 23 points, four rebounds, and a blocked shot to continue his fantastic play this season.

It is hard to imagine that the same player we saw average 1.9 points per game in only 10 appearances as a true freshman at Tech is now putting up 16.2 points and 6.7 boards per game. Last year, he helped Florida Atlantic reach the Final Four and now, he is one of the better big men in the game.

This season, he’s scored in double figures in all but one of his team’s nine games.  That includes 19 against Butler and 14 against Virginia Tech.

Meanwhile, out on the West Coast, Fardaws Aimaq is healthy and playing some quality basketball.  After fighting through a broken foot that cost him half of last season, his only season in Lubbock, he put up a respectable 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

This year, though, he’s thriving at Cal where he’s averaging 16.1 points and 10 rebounds.  He’s shooting 36.4% from deep and he’s even dishing out 1.3 assists per game.

Many Red Raider fans feel negative about Aimaq and the way he allegedly threatened to transfer at the end of the first semester last season only to return.  Though those reports were not substantiated in an official capacity, there is a faction of Tech fans who feel that Aimaq is nothing more than a hired gun.  Of course, in the era of N.I.L. payments, aren’t most players?

Another former Red Raider big who is playing well is Daniel Batcho at Louisiana Tech.  Averaging 13.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, he is another 7-footer who got away.

Seeing these big men play elite basketball in a season when Tech is desperate for more size in the post is not easy.  If any of these former Red Raiders were still on the roster, it would do wonders for what Grant McCasland would be able to do with his rotation. But, unfortunately, Tech is going to have to navigate this year with only one big man (Warren Washington) in the mix.

Other former Texas Tech players who are playing well

When the Red Raiders played Michigan in the Bahamas, they saw former McDonald’s All-American Nimari Burnett, the highest-rated player to ever sign with Texas Tech when he came out in the class of 2020.  Though he made almost no impact in that game, he’s still averaging 10 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game as a starter this year.

Out at Boise State, Chibuzo Agbo is also having his best year as a collegiate.  Scoring 13.1 points and 6 rebounds per contest, he’s playing the way we all hoped he would in his two years at Tech (2020-2022).

Also, after initially being ruled ineligible this year only to have that decision reversed by the NCAA, former Tech wing Jaylon Tyson is putting up 20.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.  Playing alongside Aimaq at Cal, he’s also taken his game to new heights this season.

Ultimately, each of these players left the toxic environments created by former Texas Tech head coaches Chris Beard and Mark Adams.  Thus, it is tough to blame any of them for looking for new opportunities.

One has to wonder how each would be able to help the Red Raiders this year given that Tech is in desperate need of more depth in McCasland’s first season.  In fact, these players would make a pretty solid squad were they all playing together.  Of course, all we can do now is to focus on the current Red Raiders, who face Omaha in Lubbock on Wednesday night, and hope that the current team gels in time for Big 12 play, which arrives in exactly one month.