November 13, 2008

Five Questions: Hoops season tips-off

Five Questions about Texas Tech Basketball

The 2008-09 season opens tomorrow night as Texas Tech hosts St. Franics of Pennsylvania. Pat Knight enters his first full year of coaching the Red Raiders - Rolf addresses five questions about the team and the season.

Can this team surprise in the Big 12?
Yes, and the reasons are two-fold: First, Tech is picked by most pundits to finish 10th in the conference. When a team is picked to finish that low, there's more room to go up than down and finishing eighth would be a "surprise" in that instance. Finishing seventh would be considered note worthy, and I have them at sixth as the season starts. Second, Tech returns a lot from last year's team. It's true that the Raiders missed all forms of post-season play, but it is equally true that they didn't miss by much in terms of points or games won. Consider that Tech went 16 - 15 overall, so they have a winning record working for them. Tech beat NCAA tournament teams Gonzaga, Texas A&M, Texas, and Kansas State - all good, quality wins. The Raiders lost to NCAA tournament teams Stanford and Oklahoma twice - all three by a combined five points. Scoring the eight more points necessary to bring home those three games makes Tech 19 - 12 overall and 9 - 7 in conference play, and gives Tech seven wins over NCAA tournament teams. Warrior Martin Zeno is gone, but Tech returns a lot of points and minutes from last year's team. John Roberson, Mike Singletary, Trevor Cook, Alan Voksuil, and Damir Suljagic all provide experience. Voskuil is as good a shooter as you'll find anywhere, Roberson is a fine point guard with a good looking jumper, Singletary is tough offensively around the basket. This team is not that far from being an NCAA tournament team.

Can this team win every pre-conference game?
Yes, but I wouldn't bet on it. Every game is a test for a team that didn't make the NCAA tournament the year prior, and this Red Raider squad gets a big test on November 28 - just two weeks from the opening tip tomorrow night - against Pittsburgh in the second semi-final of the Legends Classic. Pitt is 5th or 6th in the preseason polls. The next night Tech will play either Mississippi State or Washington State. Washington State was a four seed in the tourney last year and won two games before being ousted by North Carolina. Mississippi State was an 8 seed and won an NCAA tournament game before bowing to Memphis. The Raiders also travel to UTEP this year, which returns senior scoring machine Stefon Jackson. At home Tech gets New Mexico, a team that whalloped the Raiders last season.

Who steps up when the game is on the line?
The candidates are many and varied, and this is probably a good thing for Tech. Senior Alan Voskuil will likely get the first crack at a shot, but his limited ability to shoot off the dribble will mean an opponent has a better chance to defend him reasonably well. However, this will work for Tech too as one defender will not be available to help somewhere else. John Roberson and Mike Singletary are the other obvious choices. I anticipate that Nick Okorie and Tyree Graham will not shy away from taking a potential game-winner as well, and Trevor Cook hasn't passed up too many shots in his career. The list is pretty long of guys who will take the last shot, but as it stands going into the season we haven't seen if they can produce with that shot like a Jay Jackson or Ronald Ross.

Which newcomer will impress the most?
The newcomers are Nick Okorie, Tyree Graham, Corbin Ray, Robert Lewandowski, and Darko Cohadarevic. The hot talk is Ray is nursing a bad wheel and could redshirt, so he's out of this discussion. Cohadarevic gets a lot of attention because he plays with his heart on his sleeve and is very demonstrative, he's certainly a candidate to impress. I like one or both of Okorie or Graham to get the nod here, because this Tech team is going to be a unit that features the strengths of guys who can get down the court, handle the ball, and take good shots. Both of them do just that, and Okorie has impressed during the summer.

How will this team fare in the Big 12?
It's hard for me to understand how this team can be picked 10th in the league, or maybe it's not hard to understand and I just don't agree. Certainly any time a program gets a new coach there is an uncertainty about the immediate future due to the usual change in philosophy and routine that go along with it. Granted that, but the Raiders do return Roberson, Singletary, Voskuil, Cook, Suljagic, Prince, and Roberts. Rizvik will be back in the spring. Voskuil is as good a shooter as you'll find in basketball, not just the Big 12. Roberson is a good guard, certainly as an underclassman in the upper tier of guards in a guard-heavy Big 12 - so it's not like Tech has a bare cupboard from which to greet their new coach. Also, the new Knight has ten games under his belt - and that includes wins over ranked Kansas State and Texas. Kansas is down this year, therefore the Big 12 is down if not more evenly matched at the top. This Tech team is probably not ready to compete for the league crown, but they are closer to the middle than the bottom and I think they finish sixth. The league schedule works for Tech in that four of their last six are at home and against teams picked ahead of the Raiders.

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