Texas Tech basketball coach Grant McCasland deserves Big 12 Coach of the Year consideration

After leading his team to a 20-win season despite injuries and a rebuilt roster, Texas Tech basketball head coach Grant McCasland deserves to be the Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Texas Tech v West Virginia
Texas Tech v West Virginia / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages

In all sports, but especially in the world of college athletics, all coaching hires are essentially a coin toss. Time and again we've seen hires that were supposed to be a sure thing fail and hires that were widely panned when they were made turn out to be wild success stories. That's why no one really knew what to make of the Grant McCasland hiring last spring. Now, a year later, it appears that Tech has hit on its latest coaching move as McCasland should warrant Big 12 Coach of the Year consideration for what he's done in his first season with the Red Raiders.

Now, let's just get this out of the way first. McCasland isn't going to win the award. That's because the voters almost always give the honor to the coach of the team that wins the regular season crown. This year, that will likely be Houston's Kelvin Sampson.

Certainly, Sampson has done a solid job in guiding the Cougars through their first Big 12 season. However, isn't that what he was supposed to do?

After all, Houston was picked second in the preseason Big 12 poll. Thus, Sampson has merely met expectations, or at best, exceeded them ever so slightly.

McCasland has done more with less at Texas Tech this year

Meanwhile, consider the job McCasland has done in Lubbock. In just his first year with the program, he's managed to not only get Tech into the NCAA Tournament (unofficially) but he's made the Red Raiders far more relevant in the Big 12 than anyone thought they would be.

Remember, the Red Raiders were picked 8th in the Big 12 preseason poll. The next two teams in the rankings were West Virginia and Oklahoma State, two teams that turned out to be cellar dwellers this season. Thus, Tech wasn't exactly thought of in the highest of regards.

Of course, the entire preseason poll turned out to be laughable. Kansas was picked first and they are currently in 6th place at 9-7 in the league (the same record that Tech has). Texas was picked third and the Horns currently sit at just 8-8 and in 7th place.

On the other end of the spectrum, Iowa State, which is currently in second place, was picked 7th, one spot ahead of Tech. What's more, fifth-place BYU was slotted at No. 13 to begin the year.

Still, perhaps no team in the conference has done more with less than Tech. That's why McCasland deserves to be recognized for doing the best coaching job in the Big 12 this year.

Remember, almost everything the Red Raiders have done this year was accomplished without the services of forward Devan Cambridge who played in only eight games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. At the time that he went down, Cambridge was fourth on the team in minutes played per game (26) and third on the team in points per game (10.5) and rebounds per game (4.5).

Though Tech fans haven't really been able to see it yet, Cambridge is a jack-of-all-trades, a positionless player who can stuff the stat sheet in a manner similar to what Darrion Williams has proven capable of doing. What's more, he's an elite defender who can guard just about any spot on the floor, including opposing big men. That type of player would have been a godsend this year.

Then, in the heart of the Big 12 race, McCasland lost his only true big man, Warren Washington. Suffering a toe injury against Kansas on February 12, the senior has played in only one of the past five games and there is no telling when he will return. What's more, when he does return, there's reason to worry that he will be far from 100% given his extended layoff.

Still, the Red Raiders have kept their heads above water despite having to rely on 6-foot-7 sophomore Robert Jennings to start at center and 6-foot-8 true freshman Eemile Yalaho to be his primary backup. Without Washington, McCasland has still coaxed his team to a record of 2-3 to keep Tech in fourth place in the league race. That is despite a prolonged shooting slump from leading scorer Pop Isaacs, as well.

McCasland has proven to be adaptive

Fourth place is a spot no one expected this team to be in with only two games left in the regular season. In fact, many were skeptical that McCasland would find his first foray into a major conference to be more than he could chew.

It was believed that he wouldn't be able to put the defensive clamps on opponents the way he did so successfully in the Big 12 and that his style of play wouldn't translate to success at this level. But McCasland did something that only great coaches do, he adapted.

This year, Tech has played a different style of basketball than McCasland's teams at North Texas played. Knowing that he didn't have the size or athleticism to play elite defense, he hired Canadian college basketball coaching legend Dave Smart to design an offense that would work for Tech's personnel and as a result, spacing the floor, pushing the tempo, and shooting the 3-pointer liberally have become the hallmarks of this year's Red Raiders.

We've seen other coaches at Tech (namely Chris Beard and Mark Adams) refuse to stray from the formulas that made them successful despite what their personnel dictated. But McCasland has been a chameleon this year and that's allowed his team to succeed.

Of course, it is also impressive that McCasland has done all of this in just his first season with the program. Think about how other coaches have done in their first year. Chris Beard missed the NCAA Tournament in 2016-17. Sampson went 13-19 in his first season at Houston. It isn't easy to win right away at a new program, especially after inheriting the mess that McCasland did after last season when the program saw five of its top six scorers depart.

However, voters won't take the time to really understand all that McCasland has done this year at Tech. Instead, they will just look at the overall records and give the award to Sampson or T.J. Otzelberger at Iowa State.

Still, Red Raider fans know and appreciate the unbelievable job that McCasland has done this year. He's been the best coach in the league, even if no one outside of Lubbock recognizes it. Perhaps someday, he'll win a Coach of the Year award in the Big 12 but for now, he'll have to settle for knowing that he's squeezed every ounce of juice out of his team that he can and that's the definition of a great coach.