Photo CC: Texas Tech Athletics
Texas Tech Basketball enters 2020-21 with the very highest of expectations, and rightfully so. The program played for the last national championship game that was held and came extremely close to bringing home the pinnacle of hardware. Chris Beard is widely considered to be among the best coaches in the game, and this season, he will have a collection of blue-chip talent to work with like never before.
Santos-Silva is the kind of transfer you dream of. He has already more than proven his ability at a high level of basketball and shows up with a bachelor’s degree in hand, here to compete for the title and to raise his NBA stock even further. Marcus is a walking double-double whose game needs little to no development. At 6-7 and a solid 245, he doesn’t exactly need to hit the weight room, either. Santos-Silva simply needs to find and embrace his role on Beard’s team and buy into the culture, none of which appears to be a cause for concern. Marcus comes in ready to be an immediate contributor at the very least and likely a solid starter. Better yet, he addresses a roster need and brings some very welcome experience to a position that would otherwise be without it following the loss of T.J. Holyfield and Russell Tchewa. Still, Santos-Silva thankfully won’t have to do it alone in 2020-21 under the basket.
Smith is a guy who has been a bit forgotten as he has dealt with an injury, but if you’re wondering who the guy on the roster is that will be the year’s surprise breakout star, look no further. Beard’s offensive and defensive schemes operate vastly better with a dominant inside presence on both ends. Notable recent examples of Red Raiders who have excelled here are Tariq Owens and Zach Smith. Tyreek has the size, aggressiveness, and athleticism to protect the rim defensively and throw it down on offense. What separates good and great Forwards is the desire to own the paint, and Tyreek has that attitude and mentality. He isn’t on the national radar or even a name the Tech fanbase is talking about right now, but that may change soon. Smith was a highly recruited, top 100/150-level talent, and this year will be his chance to shine. Expect him to factor heavily in the rotation and push Santos-Silva for playing time as they both prove to be quality options under the rim.
Ntambwe is another piece of the roster that was dearly missed last season. His Texas Tech tenure thus far has been dramatic, although through no fault of his own. The brief recap of that is that Ntambwe followed Beard from his very brief tenure at UNLV, UNLV remains openly bitter about how things unfolded in losing Beard, and UNLV decided to be petty about it at Joel’s expense in successfully convincing the NCAA to ultimately deny his waiver to play last year. Additionally, his brother Jonathan Kuminga, as the very definition of a blue-chip recruit, had to make a decision on whether to play for Tech or opt for the G-League, and ultimately chose the latter. Many thought Ntambwe would forgo his college eligibility to join him there, but Ntambwe decided to return. While he isn’t quite the paint player you might expect, he is a versatile scoring threat and is a quality rebounder. He is athletic and makes for some mismatches because he’s more fluid than most players his size. I can’t imagine that there is anyone on the roster more ready to get on the court than Joel, and Tech fans ought to be excited about seeing him out there.
McClungs waiver (finally) coming through is Christmas come early for Texas Tech basketball fans. Normally, expectations for incoming transfers should be tempered a bit, but it’s impossible not to get excited about what McClung brings to this team. It’s a rare situation where you find an elite talent who also fills a very real need, but that’s precisely what Beard landed with Mac. Much of the video out there on McClung focuses on highlight-reel dunks, but that’s a disservice to the rest of his game. Mac can both pass and shoot, and he is fearless in getting to the basket. Playmaker is an apt descriptor of his game. His energy and agility will significantly open up the motion offense, which at times can struggle to penetrate against a well-executed zone defense if it lacks someone who creates. Conversely, having a player who can slice through a zone will wreck opposing defenses. Mac has the potential to run the point and bring what Keenan Evans brought. Tech basketball needs an “alpha” like McClung, and he will be a quality scoring threat whose presence will open up spot-shooting opportunities for the rest of the team.
Edwards is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of McClung’s addition to the roster. Edwards had a bit of a Sophomore slump as he and Davide Moretti played a bit of a similar role last season. As the two best pure shooters on the team, Edwards and Moretti necessarily found themselves hanging around the perimeter perhaps too often. Davide’s size and stature prevented him from being a true threat to drive the basket, and defenses figured out that they could trust their big men to own the paint and focus on closing out Edwards in his shooting opportunities. Kyler ended up shooting more contested and off-balance three-pointers than usual, and his numbers unsurprisingly suffered. With McClung around to demand attention, Edwards will have more open shots. A return to his fine shooting form as a Freshman certainly appears to be a possibility, if not a probability.
McCullar was the story of last year. He was a bit of a forgotten man on the roster as he dealt with some injury issues early on in his Tech career. Then he started to get a few more minutes and began showing his promise. The lightbulb fully came on for him about midway through the season, and Beard correctly observed that he was our best player in the latter half of the season. McCullar plays like a veteran. He has a good sense for being in the right places at the right times, plays terrific defense, and has really come into his own as a smooth offensive threat as well. Kevin’s game towards the end of the shortened season looked like the high-effort, mistake-free basketball that you see from upperclassmen in the tournament as they play the last few games of their college career, as he has polish and intelligence beyond his years. There’s an argument that McCullar is currently the best overall player on the roster, and at minimum, he provides a solid, reliable all-around producer who does all the things well that you expect a Chris Beard-coached player to do.
Terrence Shannon Jr
The other name that would merit significant consideration in the “best player on the team” discussion is Terrence Shannon, Jr. Shannon had a breakout season and is already rocketing up future draft boards. He proved himself to be a consistent scoring threat and an excellent shooter last season at 47% overall. Terrence is also the team’s best ball-handler and probably the toughest player to defend, as he can pull up and score from just about anywhere. Tech’s time with Shannon is likely short, as he’s on track to follow Jarrett Culver, Zhaire Smith, and quite possibly Jahmi’us Ramsey in Texas Tech’s string of first-round draft picks. Red Raider fans should enjoy it while it lasts, and don’t be surprised if Shannon leads the team in scoring in 2020-21, even among some very real incoming talent.
Speaking of incoming talent, Burnett likely needs no introduction as the highest-rated player to ever sign with Texas Tech. His potential for greatness is obvious, and he could be a one-and-done if he comes close to living up to it. Still, this is a roster filled with talent, and Beard isn’t one to hand out starting roles unless they’re earned. The competition for playing time at the guard spots will be particularly intense. That said, Burnett is an all-around star, and it will be tough to keep him off the court. His high-school and international basketball career featured plenty of buckets, so he’s likely to challenge Shannon to be Tech’s leading scorer in 2020-21. Nimari also comes in as a capable defender, which is a must to see consistent minutes on a Chris Beard roster. There’s a reason that he could have played just about anywhere he wanted to, and he is likely to be ready to make an impact early on.
Burnett, however, is not the only highly-regarded incoming Freshman. Micah Peavy is another blue-chip who many college programs hoped to have on their roster. What jumps out on his tape is that he plays very much in control, with soft-touch for a player his size. Micah finishes well near the basket, and his overall game reminds you of Tim Duncan. How his game translates to the college level will likely depend on if he can adjust to the speed of D1 basketball. Peavy isn’t overly quick, which could lead to him making less of an immediate impact, but his quality fundamentals will give him a chance to be great once he gets used to the physicality of Big XII basketball. Expect him to quietly put together some quality minutes as he develops and take on a bigger and bigger role as the season goes on, similar to what we saw from Kevin McCullar last season.
Chibuzo Agbo Jr.
Agbo Jr would be a recruit coming in with a great deal of hype on most rosters and in most years here, but he’s been overlooked a bit in this class due to Burnett and Peavy. Agbo is a great get and a very talented player in his own right. Chibuzo lives at the gym and possesses far better handles and shooting ability than you’d expect of a player his size. Much of the tape on him is reminiscent of Zhaire Smith, although Chibuzo has a few more inches on his frame than Zhaire. Agbo doesn’t project as a true post at Tech unless he’s needed there, but that’s a credit to the intangibles in his overall game. He moves well and uses his length defensively to often come out of nowhere and swat a ball into the stands. It will not be at all surprising if he’s contributing early, as there’s so much to like about the combination of the polish of his game with his great size and athleticism. Many opponents will struggle to put a player on the floor that can defend him, while Chibuzo will also give them fits on the other end.
Benson is as close to a known quantity as there is on the roster. He’s a beloved team-first guy who will provide leadership in keeping the other players grounded and focused. While it seems likely that the overall talent on the roster will cut into his minutes, Benson will step in and provide a spark when needed. Avery has proven plenty capable in this role, as he was the player of the game in last season’s best win of the year over then-number one Louisville. Beard recruited Benson back in his Arkansas-Little Rock days, so Avery’s presence serves as a reminder of the program’s roots. If any player tries to give less than 100%, Benson will be on the floor replacing them because every coach, fan, and player knows that Avery is going to leave it all out on the court. He is a player everyone roots for, and for good reason.
Nadolny has shown some flashes early in his career, but this may be a make-or-break year for him. As mentioned above, guard minutes in 2020-21 on this team are going to be fiercely battled over, and Clarence will need to elevate his game to remain in that mix. Nadolny does have the edge on the incoming players in experience, so he will need to leverage that to his benefit. However, the reality is that he will be competing for playing time against guys with better size and athleticism. Clarence will need to make the most of his minutes, as he finds himself suddenly among very talented teammates on what has rapidly become a powerhouse basketball program. The cream will rise to the top, and the competition will make everyone better, Nadolny included.
Burton would be an instant starter in most years, but on this roster, he may be saved for later with a redshirt. That’s not even a knock on him in the slightest, as Burton is a very talented player. It would just seem wise to save his abilities for next season when we’re likely to lose several guards to the NBA ranks, rather than having another player in the guard mix fighting for limited minutes. It speaks to the quality of this roster that Tech potentially has this luxury. That said, it’s worth noting that Jamarius did receive a waiver to play immediately, so he could very well contribute in 2020-21 if Beard decides he’s needed or is too good to not use this year. Either way, Burton is a quality scorer and terrific passer who is likely to shine when his opportunity comes.
Goldin serves as this roster’s “break glass in case of emergency” option under the basket. He replaces Russell Tchewa in this role for 2020-21, and is also a product of Putnam Science Academy. At a staggering 7’1” tall, he certainly has the size. While it’s a tad unfair to make presumptions about his abilities based on prior play of others, it has often been the case that players from the Euro ranks have needed time to adapt to the physicality and pace of Big XII play, and many never do. Goldin will need to play tough around the rim to excel at this level. Vladislav is likely to see limited minutes this year as he develops, but will provide some valuable depth in the paint and potentially more than that if he can pick up this style of play.
Making predictions towards a starting five is a bit of a fool’s errand, as Beard prides himself on positionless players and will certainly leverage this roster’s tremendous depth by rotating players in and out often. That said, there are a few players who are likely to have defined roles. Mac McClung is seemingly the obvious choice to run the point. Santos-Silva and Smith will share time under the basket. Kyler Edwards and Terrence Shannon, Jr. will be shooting guards. Kevin McCullar will be the do-it-all glue guy. Again, there will be a rotation with even these key players, but there are predictions that can be made in terms of the minutes each player could see, which is perhaps a better metric for this roster.
McClung is likely to log significant game time because he provides a role and dimension that no one else does. Down low, something along the lines of a 65/35 split on playing time between Santos-Silva and Smith seems reasonable. While Edwards and Shannon aren’t likely to ride the pine much due to their talent and experience, it would make sense for Beard to situationally employ the length of Ntambwe, Agbo, and Peavy depending on the opposing players on the floor. All three of those players bring some ability around the rim as well, so Tech won’t necessarily have to play a true post down low all the time. Burnett projects in a sixth man role of sorts to spell whoever of Edwards, Shannon, and McCullar needs rest or gets into foul trouble.
In terms of projecting the minutes each player will play from most to least, Shannon probably leads the group, followed by McClung, McCullar, Edwards, Santos-Silva, Smith, Burnett, Ntambwe, Peavy, Agbo, Benson, Nadolny, and Goldin in that order. This assumes a redshirt for Jamarius Burton, but if he plays this season for Tech, he slots somewhere around Peavy and Agbo. This is Beard’s deepest roster yet, and it’s also arguably the deepest in the conference. Tech will be able to legitimately play ten guys with little to no dropoff in their ability. For the grind that is the Big XII slate, this positions Tech very well for a huge 2020-21. The sky is the limit. Everyone in the program has the same goal in mind, and it’s already been proven that Tech basketball can get there. This roster certainly looks the part.