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Who Starts This Season for the Red Raiders?

Photo CC: Michael Johnson USA Today Sports

The Red Raider faithful rejoiced last month when Oral Roberts forward Kevin Obanor announced via Twitter his intention to transfer to Texas Tech for the upcoming 2021-2022 season. That announcement came nine days after 6’6 forward Terrence Shannon Jr. announced that he withdrew his name from the 2021 NBA Draft to return to Lubbock for a third season.

With Shannon being back in the 806 for another year and Obanor in the fold, we can expect the starting five to look a bit differently than previously expected going into the 2021-2022 season. Now that the dust has settled from those announcements, we can dive into how the starting lineup might look this winter.

For the record, I will mention a player’s perceived “ceiling” and “floor” multiple times throughout this list, with a player’s “ceiling” referring to how good of a season a player can have and their “floor” referring to how poor of a season a player can have. Typically they correlate in opposite directions meaning that if you have a higher ceiling you have a lower floor and vice versa. The higher of each, the better. I made these picks with the intention of both putting together the lineup I mostly expect to see (as of August 3) and feel would be the best and most entertaining.

Before we get into things, let’s take a quick look at the lineup Chaz Wright put together on June 1.

PG: Mylik Wilson

SG: Sardaar Calhoun

SF: Chibuzo Agbo

PF: Kevin McCullar

C: Marcus Santos-Silva

Doesn’t look too bad. So now with Obanor, Shannon, and Bryson Williams committed to Tech, what changes? Well, quite a bit actually. There is a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the backcourt play.

Point Guard – Mylik Wilson

The only player and position combo to remain the same in this lineup lie here, and for that reason, I have the least to say about this spot. I very briefly considered putting Kevin McCullar at this spot after Jon Rothstein reported Tech could look to use him in a facilitating role next season. But instead, I’m going with the obvious choice here. Wilson, who stands at 6’3, has to be the favorite to start at point guard for the Red Raiders next year.

In two seasons with the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns, he averaged 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. In that time, he also started in 50 out of 55 possible games. His two biggest skill sets are his athleticism and his defensive prowess, both of which seem to make him the natural fit as the table-setter in next year’s offense. 

Shooting Guard – Kevin McCullar

We’re here. Our first sort of change. McCullar was the biggest no-brainer on this prediction list. He, above everyone else on the roster, is the guy you pencil into the starting lineup months before the season is set to begin. For the record, McCullar and my starting Small Forward are interchangeable in their positions really because they are both wings who have the versatility to defend both on the perimeter and down low.

I just like McCullar at the two on paper more because I like the idea of him defending guards on the perimeter as much as humanly possible. Not too much to say here about him that has not already been said. Last season he averaged 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. He also consistently defended the opposition’s best perimeter player, and he separated himself as the team’s single most valuable player heading into the tournament. If the 6’6 wing can develop a more consistent three-point shot (28% in two seasons with Tech) then there is no telling how good McCullar can be in 2021-2022.

As I mentioned earlier, there has been word that the Red Raiders could try him out as point guard during the season. Personally, this news felt like confirmation of my thoughts that he is the most irreplaceable player in the lineup. Through all the random lineups Tech could roll out next year, it feels McCullar has to be part of it, even if it means him playing the one. I don’t know that I’ll believe it until I see it, but hey, it would not be the first time the Red Raiders surprised me with a starting lineup edit. 

Small Forward – Terrence Shannon Jr.

I’m afraid Sardaar Calhoun and Chibuzo Agbo have to head to the bench in this potential lineup. While I and many other Red Raider fans relish the sharp-shooting ability that Calhoun and Agbo possess, they have to be the odd man out with Shannon back and Bryson Williams and Obanor coming in.

Standing at 6’6, Shannon’s ceiling is the highest of anyone on the Red Raider roster. During a season where he was a finalist for the Julius Erving Award, he dropped 12.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists last season for Tech while coming off the bench in 15 out of 28 total games played. That’s right, the team’s second-leading scorer in 2020-2021 didn’t even start in more than half of his games!

As much as I love Mac McClung, I admit that he and Shannon were never a great roster fit together. Both of them are above-average scorers who do most of their damage with the ball in their hands. Together they just didn’t mesh terribly well. With McClung gearing up for the NBA Draft and Shannon another year older in Lubbock, I can’t help but get excited thinking about what Shannon’s ceiling can be as the focal point for the first time in his career of the Red Raider offense, especially with the next couple of guys coming into the mix. 

Power Forward – Bryson Williams

The decision of the starting bigs was tough. Any combination of Obanor, Santos-Silva, and Williams could have had a case here. It came down to Williams and Santos-Silva in the end because the next guy is a unanimous choice as a starter. I am more comfortable putting the 6’8 Williams in this lineup over Santos-Silva because I believe that Williams has a slightly higher ceiling offensively. A lower floor, but a higher ceiling.

Williams announced his intention to transfer to Tech in mid-June, just two weeks after Chaz’s first 2021-2022 predictions list was posted. Williams is coming to Lubbock following a two-year stint with UTEP where he put up 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He is a more typical post player than Shannon and Obanor, but he did shoot 32% off 2.8 shots per game from downtown with the Miners. 

William’s averaged nearly seven more points a game than Santos-Silva in 2020-2021, but that statistic can be misleading as Williams had a much higher usage rate in a non-power five conference. That being said, he has a bit more to his game offensively, particularly from downtown and at the free-throw line. That is why he beats out the returner here. 

Center* – Kevin Obanor

6’8 Obanor gets the unanimous starting big spot because his ceiling is simply the highest of any other “big” on the roster. He averaged 18.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game last season on a No. 15 seed Oral Roberts team that made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. During that time he shot a staggering 46% from downtown (you did not misread that number).

He also dropped 30 points and 11 assists on No. 2 seed Ohio State in the first round of the 2021 Tournament and then turned around and put 28 points, another 11 rebounds, and four steals on No. 7 seed Florida. He also started in every game for the Golden Eagles throughout their season. As Ryan Mainville mentioned in his recent breakdown of Tech basketball’s offseason, Obanor’s 2020-2021 shooting splits almost netted him a spot in the esteemed 50/40/90 club. He finished with 50/46/88 shooting splits in his 28 games. Yeesh.

Alright so after using an asterisk after the word “center” I should probably make some things clear. I do not like to use the word “center” with this iteration of Red Raider basketball because, as fans will no doubt point out, this group of guys is a particularly diverse bunch positionally. It could just as easily have been Obanor at the four and Santos-Silva at the five. It feels a bit awkward even putting this list together through the typical one through five models, but for the sake of this early predictions list’s ease, I’m sticking with the conventional mold this time. 

Final thoughts:

I feel obligated to dedicate a few more words to the most notable subtraction from the predicted starting lineup from June to August: Marcus Santos-Silva. The guy averaged 8.3 points per game to go along with a team-high 6.4 rebounds per game in 2020-2021 for the Red Raiders.

He was a huge part of Tech’s success last season, but again, Obanor just has the highest floor of the Red Raider bigs. That does not mean that Santos-Silva’s rebound prowess is not as good as anyone else’s in the conference. Because it is. Period. It’s also worth noting that Santos-Silva was one of just two Red Raiders to start in every single game last season, with the other one being Mac McClung. 

I’m going to be honest, my first lineup prediction last week only had one player change (Shannon over Agbo) in the whole list. Then, Obanor announced his transfer and I had to sit down and completely re-do my thought process. That decision turned into only three-player swaps and a couple of positional swaps. That is not a bad thing, in fact, quite the opposite.

Calhoun, Agbo, and Santos-Silva coming off the bench offer a level of talent off the bench that the Red Raiders have not seen since the beloved 2019 run to the Final Four. All of those three players should have a big role on the team and I would not put it past any of them to get a start or two once the season gets underway.

Oh, by the way, Tech also has guys like KJ Allen, Adonis Arms, Davion Warren, Daniel Batcho, Ethan Duncan, and returner Clarence Nadolny who will all be itching to make an impact in 2021-2022. Barring injury, this should be a really fun, entertaining season for Red Raider basketball.

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