More than any other team sport, basketball revolves around individual talent given that there are only five members of a team on the floor at one time. That's why basketball fans often engage in debates about who the greatest player of all time is and why awards like the NBA MVP carry so much prestige. On Tuesday night, in a loss to TCU, Texas Tech basketball fans got a stark reminder of just who is the most important player on their team and it isn't who most people would think.
Sure, guard Pop Isaacs leads the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game. However, the most important Red Raider is a player who doesn't lead the team in any major statistical category other than rebounding, Warren Washington.
Texas Tech is a different team when Warren Washington isn't on the court
It isn't that most don't understand what Washington is capable of. After all, he's averaging 10.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. However, those aren't the numbers of an MVP.
What he brings to the table, though, can't be measured by numbers alone. As the team's only player over 6-foot-8, his mere presence changes the entire equation for Texas Tech.
When Washington departs, Grant McCasland has few options to turn to since he is without Devan Cambridge, his do-it-all 6-foot-6 forward who could play the five spot for stretches. Instead, Tech has to lean on sophomore Robert Jennings who is only 6-foot-7 and who is a liability on both ends of the floor.
Tuesday in Fort Worth, we got a perfect look at how the Red Raiders wilt when Washington has to sit for long stretches. In fact, when Washington picked up his second foul in the first half of the TCU game, the entire contest changed.
Right after an Isaacs 3-pointer put Tech up 27-16, Washington was whistled for the second time in the game. That sent him to the bench and put Jennings into the fray with 7:12 to go until halftime.
After that, Tech fell apart. TCU would erase the Red Raider lead by the 4:33 mark and McCasland would be forced to take the risk of putting Washington back into the game after the under-four-minute media timeout.
During the roughly three minutes of game action that Washington sat out, Tech was a disaster. With no inside presence to turn to, the offense became heavily dependent upon the guards and Jennings to carry the load.
The problem was that Jennings would have a layup blocked, turn the ball over, and miss a pair of free throws. Meanwhile, TCU would hit two shots in the paint and grab a handful of rebounds that Washington may have been able to impact or corral himself.
At that point, the Frogs had withstood Tech's early haymaker and answered with one of their own. By halftime, the Frogs would hold a 40-36 lead, because, in part, even when Washington did return to the court, he was forced to play cautious basketball to avoid his third foul.
When Isaacs, Joe Toussaint, or any other player on the roster has to sit, there are ways McCasland can manage his roster to counter. But with Washington on the court, Tech has only Jennings to turn to and this year, he is 10th on the team in offensive rating (an estimate of the number of points a player scores or helps produce per 100 possessions) at 105.8. Washington is 5th on the team with a 126.1 rating.
On defense, Washington leads the team in defensive rating (the estimate of the number of points a player allows per 100 possessions) at 96.9. Jennings' defensive rating is 103.1, which is a massive difference.
Of course, the point here isn't to throw Jennings under the bus. After all, he's a sophomore who should still be developing as a player not going toe-to-toe with the big men of the Big 12. He plays hard and gives Tech all he has but his lack of prototypical post size and his average athleticism make him a vulnerable target for other teams to attack.
This past offseason, Tech saw two big men, Fardaws Aimaq and Daniel Batcho depart via the transfer portal after the calamitous end of the Mark Adams tenure. That left the program with no size inside and Washington came riding to the rescue from Arizona State.
However, Tech was unable to bring in any more size and that leaves Washington to be a one-man army in the paint. This season, he leads Tech in minutes played in Big 12 games and he's proving to be the most important player on the team. If that wasn't already clear before the game at TCU, it is now obvious to all who watched the Red Raiders' first half collapse in Fort Worth.