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Texas Tech Homer Mounts Soapbox To Go Out On Limb

March 19th, 2019 · Tags:Uncategorized

Post Season Play — Lubbock Municipal Coliseum … Shorts Were Short & #15 Wasn’t Cool Yet In Tech Circles

 

Opinion piece, Editor’s Note:  Above all … I think Coach Chris Beard has obviously taken Texas Tech Basketball to new heights.  I think The Red Raiders have a chance to make it to the 2019 Final Four and even to win it all … IF everything is clicking on all cylinders.  Opinionated by nature … As great as the situation is, I think I see a few things that might need tweaking.  There is a very good chance that my opinions are wrong .. but I am not wrong for having an opinion.  Ha … never forget that:)

I am “drinking the Kool-Aid” … I just think the Kool-Aid needs a twist of lime …

Having spent a lot more time on the basketball court than playing other sports in my younger days — I usually don’t write about basketball.  That makes absolutely no sense. But #iiwii.  I guess, for me, there is something sacred about basketball. It’s definitely my first love — playing — but usually  not so much watching … except for when my alma mater (Texas Tech) is playing.  Watching basketball on TV makes me a little sad … an armchair guy missing the old “glory days” of playing and coaching at the schoolboy level.

So, until now, I have sat on my hands, and bit my tongue with all of the rave reviews for Texas Tech’s popular Men’s head basketball coach.  I repeat … He’s great … but always room for improvement, right?

First off, I am definitely a fan of Coach Beard in spite of our team being patterned so similar to the legendary Coach Bobby Knight’s program.  Yes, Coach Knight is a legend, but if I were ever given the options, I would have picked just about any other major program in the country, before going to Hoosier Land as a player.  Knight’s teams won … they won lots … but I don’t think I ever saw any of his players who looked like they were having fun in a game.  Instead, they looked as if they were counting how many times they passed the ball before a shot was permissible … or seeing how many picks they could set before touching the ball … Just my opinion … compared to many, many other NCAA champion men’s basketball teams who looked like they were having the time of their lives as they did no-look passes, behind-the-back extra passes for an assist or a rim-rocking, tomahawk slam dunk on a breakaway steal and fast break while winning championships.

Discipline is good, but it seems obvious to me that players who enjoy what they are doing, play better.

Anyone else ever notice that?

 

Coach (of the year) Beard has obviously turned around the Texas Tech Red Raiders basketball program.  But I really think that recruiting is the key to his success …. his strong suit.  I mean …   there is shooting guard Davide Moretti from Medici High, so to speak, some town near Florence, Italy — he’s Mr. Perfect from the free throw line (where games are won).  There’s a ball-handling machine of a point guard with huge hands and a soft three-point touch in Matt “Double Ts” Mooney … a grad-transfer from South Dakota … And there’s the shot-blocking, 15-foot midrange jumpshooter, free-throw shooting grad-transfer from St. Johns, Tariq Owens — And perhaps the biggest recruiting success … Jarrett Culver, a Lubbock homegrown product who stayed home on The South Plains rather than answering the call of the wild from bigger, more prestigious programs in state, and throughout the country.  And there’s Tech’s closest thing to an enforcer, with a big footprint and a big heart underneath — Norense Odiase of Fort Worth. That is quite an impressive cast … Then there is also a super-talented bench.  Don’t get me started about the untapped potential of Brandone Francis of The Dominican … Kyler Edwards from Arlington, Texas … Deshawn Corprew from Norfolk, Va., by way of South Plains College … and several others who are capable of slamming down an ally oop during trash time … if the other team insists on guarding them as time runs out:)

So … despite a phenomenal season, at times — even during games they’ve won — my Texas Tech Red Raiders have at times also played really stiff, and robotic and looked as if they are merely running plays from the  clipboard … with little room for creativity. (A page right from the Bobby Knight proven-yet-boring recipe for success …) That conservative strategy has won lots of games, and I think the lack of more fluid play has also lost Tech a few games.  But, it seemed to me that in the games in which Tech looked best and scored most, the team was given more freedom to creatively “express” their basketballs I.Q.s … and those games turned into blow-out wins for Tech.

I could be wrong.  Coach Beard may be the guy who tells jokes in the huddle to make the guys quit playing so “tight” … but I don’t think so.  But don’t go thinking I am against discipline.  I am not … But I do think there is a point where a great coach lets the team live a little … 

Again … just my opinion from afar, since I haven’t received an invite to sit on the bench beside coach:)

And that is all pretty nebulous … opinions … but I also want to include some more concrete observations.  Just some things that I thought could have made Beard’s excellent squad be even more invincible.

 

Could these be keys to winning it all?:

Culver At Crunch Time

In several games Jarrett Culver has been expected to carry the team on his back.  He has answered the call for several nice wins and also did so in the Big 12 tournament loss, ending the regular season on a down note. Nothing wrong with depending on your superstar player … however … when even the less-than-astute ESPN announcers know that Culver is going to take the ball to the basket every time in the final four minutes … I am pretty sure the other team knows it.  Am I suggesting another strategy?  Hell no!  Do that until they stop it … and when they do … start the drive to the goal and have “cutters” coming from all directions to be the recipient of a little dump-off assist from Culver … You know when two defenders take Culver … or maybe three … someone is wide open.  I saw none of this in the final minutes of the comeback effort and eventual loss against West Virginia.  I think everyone just sat back to watch and hope.  Kudos to Culver for being incredible.

Another Driver … Early In The Game

After a few games of settling in at the first of the season, Matt Mooney seems pretty much in charge when he has the ball.  In addition to his hot three-point shooting, and his nice little fade away jumper … he is pretty tough and elusive inside.  If he drives, the defense has to honor him.  He sneaks by for some good scores … but he is only so effective against bigger, more aerial-inclined.  But if Mooney drives … and is stopped … someone is open.  I bet if Mooney were called upon to drive the lane more and dumped it off he would have 30 assists a game.

The Hot Hand

Mooney is an anomaly.  When he is hot, he is near perfect … whether he goes in or out of the game doesn’t matter, or if he goes back to a role player playmaker, without shooting for five minutes.  However, many basketball players thrive on momentum and adrenaline.  I think sixth man Brandone Francis is one of those.  He needs rhythm on offense.  So what does Tech do after Francis hits a three-pointer?  Well … we either pull him out of the game or let him play five minutes without a touch, much less an open look.  His streaks tend to end at one. He’s there … open … on the opposite side corner, often times, but ignored.  I think that if Francis hits a shot, then gets the ball the next time down the court, he will hit another … But it hardly ever happens.  Have you ever seen a team that doesn’t get the ball to the “hot hand?”  Get the hot hand the ball until he misses two or three in a row.  It builds confidence and momentum … and also opens up other players.

Shot Clock

Texas Tech has gotten better about this toward the end of the season.  We still make nice, unselfish extra passes, and I love good productive ball moment — to get uncontested looks and also to wear down the defensive players.  But earlier in the season, Tech was passing up 3-4 good looks on many possessions, merely to run the shot clock down to 2-3 seconds and then throw up a bad shot as the time ran out.  I think this goes back to my point about letting the guys play a little … have fun … take the shot if it is there, regardless of the shot clock (you know, unless you have a good lead with three minutes left).

Effort

I just read an account of Texas Tech’s loss to West Virginia that described Tech players as uncaring.  What a crock! … If you watched that game, you saw Tech had four or five players — starters and guys off the bench — diving on the floor to tie up or control loose balls.  That is not the mark of a team playing as if they don’t care.  The simple truth is that Tech was so tight — having all the pressure on them and none on the nothing-to-lose Mountaineers — Tech couldn’t buy a basket.  And a West Virginia freshman had the game of his life, knowing there was nothing to lose.  Tech was cold as ice — not in a good way.  WV could do no wrong.  Long story short … did we see any first-half or for that matter, second-half adjustments administered by the Tech coaching staff?  I didn’t, other than asking Culver — the super-sophomore to carry the team — little change in the business-as-usual game plan.

Tech’s Full Court Press

When Davide Moretti and Mooney slipped into full-court press mode against West Virginia … it basically led to Tech having to backpedal quickly to avoid several three-on-two type transition opportunities for the Mountaineers. It was a bust. The Texas Tech press didn’t phase the WV freshman ball handler.  Did you notice that WV knew what to do against a press?  They left two ball handlers on the end of the court to inbound the ball … and had everyone else get the hell out of the way.  Bringing in more offensive guys to help inbound the ball in the backcourt actually helps the pressing team … clogging lanes and filling up open space that could otherwise be used to put a move on the defenders.  Think of a slot receiver in football.  Would you rather try to get the ball to a receiver with lots of room in space, defended one on one, or to a guy with four defenders playing zone to cover him … It’s kind of the same thing.

Tech When Pressed

By contrast, a couple of games ago Tech was seeing full-court presses challenge The Red Raiders in a close game … I could not believe Tech sent three or perhaps all four players to go “help” the ball handler break the press.  It was like giving the pressing team a gift.  “Please, come join us in clogging everything up.”  Tech broke the press — barely — for the most part, but made it much more difficult than it should have been … nearly getting tagged with a 10-second violation on one occasion.  A great team turns a press into a fast-break opportunity.

Boxing Out … My Soapbox

After six years of hearing “box out on the boards” from various coaches during my basketball career … it was actually a high school principal who taught me a new way of thinking about boxing out and rebounding.  Despite the length of this “basketball diary” — so far — I have not resulted in sharing my personal statistics for validity.  (Apologies that I feel compelled.)  Sure, I scored some points, but you will have to ask about that in private, if you really want details … But this statistic I will share, to support my premise … because I was such an unlikely candidate.  You see, when I was a senior in roundball, my team  had lost our starting “big man” to graduation.  He was 6-5 (pretty good size back then for the small school divisions), bulky, strong, and had a fade-away jumper like Dirk Nowitzky … some pretty big shoes to fill. Guess what.  I was only 6-2 and skinny as a rail.  But I had some leaping ability, so I was moved from shooting guard in my soph./junior years to center/forward my last year in organized sports.  I haven’t told you how many points a game I scored as a junior, but I will tell you that seven or eight of those — per game — suddenly disappeared from my stats, as I went deep into the paint for my new role on defense … no longer playing up toward the top of the key in our 2-3 zone defense and no more “getting rich” off those fastbreaks and layups and behind-the-back bounce-pass assists that added to my stats the previous year.  So … I was in the trenches … and I was the smallest center in our district.  The other teams all had centers who were 6-5 or 6-6 … I played a couple of non-conference games where I had to guard 6-7 centers from bigger schools.  See the picture?  I was outmatched.  But guess what?  Although my scoring output went down into the low double digits my last year … I led not only my team but also the district in rebounds.  (Rebounds, the silent statistic:)  That one meeting I had in the high school principle’s office showed me the light … a totally new way to think about boxing out to rebound and it worked exceptionally.

I mentioned I coached a little.  The rest of that story is that the school where I coached was small and we had to pull together guys from several underaged grades to put a team out on the court.  We spent a lot of time on free shots … and we devoted 15 minutes of every practice to a drill to emphasize this, the secret of boxing out bigger opponents. We didn’t win every game, but we held our own … even defeating one of the top schools in our area … a team comprised of all upperclassmen.  We had one upperclassmen and some pesky runts, underaged, who were relentless in the secret boxing out technique.  They got rebounds and they drew fouls when they had better position under the boards.

So when I watch Texas Tech, or most college teams for that matter, there is quite an effort by everyone to box out to rebound … But I don’t think I have seen anyone approach boxing out and rebounding as if they know “the secret.”

I would give anything to be able to pass this method on to Coach Beard and explain it to his excellent team … a team that with a few tweaks could be National Champions.  Think I am full of it?  Maybe … call my bluff … put me in touch with the Red Raider’s braintrust to share Boxing Out 201.

Know what I sayin?