As one of the most highly anticipated seasons in program history approaches, one question remains. How good is this team?
The Big 12 tournament was minutes away. The Red Raiders were getting shots up and warming up for a game against Texas that was probably a win-and-you’re-in for the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, that game never happened, and we are left with endless musings to think of how our season could’ve ended.
Texas Tech ended it’s 2019-2020 campaign with a 2-5 record in their last 7 games. Although the season ended on not such a high note, this season had plenty of moments where this team looked talented, determined, and skilled. I’ve talked previously about why I believe this team deserves more commendation than criticism, you can read that here. I stand by the support I gave this team. They were a very young team playing in a very competitive conference. There was a lot of excitement surrounding this season with grad transfers Chris Clarke and TJ Holyfield coming into the program. Although the thing that caused more excitement than anything was the recruitment of big time players Jahmi’us Ramsey and Terrance Shannon Jr. If you thought the excitement around this team last year was big, the buzz surrounding this team for the upcoming season is already getting started. With the additions of 3 very good recruits and the probable returns of talented players, this team has the potential to be a contender next season. Here are the position grades for your 2020-2021 Red Raiders:
Note: For these grades, I am going to assume that Jahmi’us Ramsey is going to the NBA due to him consistently showing up in mock drafts. Also, positions are based on what they are listed as on the roster, not where they lineup in the rotation (Example: Kevin McCullar is listed as a guard, but usually played the 4 or what’s considered the power forward this season).
Departures: Chris Clarke, Jahmi’us Ramsey (unconfirmed)
Newcomers: Nimari Burnett
Strengths: Three-point shooting, length and size, depth
Weaknesses: Not so much a weakness but a question mark, how will Burnett handle being the primary ball handler?
This position group is incredibly deep, which is a good thing considering Tech started 4 guards often this past season. This upcoming season has plenty of pieces to be excited about. Veterans like Moretti and Edwards, partnered with second years Shannon and McCullar, helping grow the freshman Burnett. All of these guys play very different types of basketball, which in my opinion is a great benefit. Even McCullar and Shannon could be lined up at forward, which they did well this last season. One of Tech’s biggest weaknesses at the guard position last year was the lack of a primary ball handler. Sure, Moretti and Edwards are more than competent at running the offense. Chris Beard’s motion freelance offense doesn’t require a distributing point guard. Despite this, having a distributor allows you to put your best shooters on the wings and get good looks from deep. When Chris Clarke wasn’t bringing the ball up last season, it was either Moretti or Edwards, meaning they weren’t able to get catch-and-shoot opportunities on the wing. This problem will be solved this season, with the addition of the highest rated recruit in program history, Nimari Burnett. At 21st in the ESPN 100 (Ramsey was #31, Shannon #94), Burnett has rightfully received plenty of hype. Burnett is everything you could want in a combo guard. With a strong frame, Burnett can drive into the lane easily and guard multiple positions on defense. One of my favorite things about Burnett is his pass vision and IQ. Since he gets to the lane so often, he can either score at the rim or kick it out to the wing. In Beard’s 4-out 1-in offense, this means Burnett will likely have Moretti or Edwards open on the wing when their defender fills the lane on help defense. Catch-and-shoot opportunities is where Moretti and Edwards can be so lethal, and if there is a guy who can give them opportunities it’s Burnett. Also, when the ball is in someone else’s hands, Burnett is a deadly shooter from the perimeter. His multidimensional game makes this Tech team especially deadly. Here’s some of his film to get you excited.
This group is really, really good. The guards are one of the main reasons this team is in the top 10 of multiple 2021 preseason polls. Moretti and Edwards can both focus on shooting and getting good looks as they move without the basketball. Shannon can slash-and-drive while McCullar takes good mid-range jumpers. Burnett can handle the ball and work the pick-and-roll game with one our big men. I am really excited to watch this group and think they have the potential to keep us in the top 15 all season long.
Forwards and Centers
Departures: TJ Holyfield
Strengths: Rebounding (you read that right!), quick defenders, shot blocking
Okay, this group is a little complex, so let me clarify some things. Although Joel Ntambwe and Tyreek Smith were both listed on the roster last year, neither of them saw the court so I’m listing them as newcomers. Also, I imagine that Agbo and Peavy could/probably will be listed as guards on the official Texas Tech roster but since they aren’t on the team yet I am basing their position on their 247 Sports profile. Now that technicalities are out of the way, let’s break down the group I’m most excited for.
Size was an issue last season right? Stay calm all, this season is going to be much different. Despite not playing a single minute this season, Joel Ntambwe was one of the most talked about Red Raiders this season. His three failed eligibility appeals caused lots of backlash against the NCAA, not only from Texas Tech fans but also those across college basketball. In his freshman campaign at UNLV, Ntambwe averaged 11.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 38.6 3P%. In Beard’s small-ball rotation, Ntambwe is the perfect stretch big for this system. Tyreek Smith is less of a shooter than Ntambwe, but is great around the rim on both sides of the ball. Smith averaged 17.9 PPG, 12.3 RPG, and 3.0 BPG in his high school senior season. This was the last season of basketball he played as he broke his foot right before the start of the 2019-2020 season. Normally I’d be nervous about the drop off of a player due to injury, but there is no one I trust more than Coach Beard and Coach Reilly to get Smith perfectly healthy (just like they did with McCullar).
Now for the true freshmen. Micah Peavy is your textbook slashing small forward. At 6-7, his height has made him a good rebounder and a strong finisher at the rim. Peavy is also a tenacious on-and-off ball defender. Peavy is ranked 31st in the ESPN 100. The question marks I have for Peavy is his weight and shooting. Peavy and Terrance Shannon Jr. are similar in their offensive focus of attacking the rim so I don’t believe shooting is too big of a worry. Peavy is very light as he weighs in at 172 pounds, also similar to Shannon who weighed around 185 pounds his senior year of high school. Coach Reilly got Shannon up to 210 pounds this season, and a little more weight for Peavy would be very beneficial in his finishing ability.
Next is Chibuzo Agbo Jr., the 6-7 forward. Agbo is also a great slasher, but has a better shot than Peavy. Although I believe Agbo will mainly be given the ball to drive, his shooting ability makes him a very dangerous wing on cuts. Not only is Agbo long, but he’s also tough at 215 pounds. Between Agbo and Peavy, these two give this position group not only some size but some serious athleticism. These two recruits in addition to Ntambwe and Smith, give this forward group a much more dangerous threat then they were last year. Russel Tchewa is always an option if the Red Raiders need more size, but I believe Ntambwe and Smith will carry the majority of the “five” role.
There are endless possibilities of what Chris Beard could do with these guys. He could run 9 guys, or go much deeper even running 12. If I were Beard, this is how I’d run the rotation.
Beard is a lot smarter than me, so I do not care if my prediction is different from what he runs with. It is simply an estimate as to what we could see next season. There are many variables that could change this rotation. Beard could decide he wants more size or more experience. Jonathan Kuminga could commit to Tech, reclassify to 2020, and join returning sophomore Jahmi’us Ramsey. Moretti could go to the LBA. There could be an injury, God forbid. Someone could come off the bench and drop 30 points a game. College basketball is one of the greatest sports on earth due to it’s endless possibilities, and this team has plenty of opportunities for surprises.
Despite all the variables a season can offer I know one thing is certain: this team is going to be damn good.
Source: Viva the Matadors