There is no denying that new Texas Tech basketball head coach Grant McCasland is stepping up in competition this season. Leading a program in the Big 12, the toughest basketball conference in the country, for the first time will truly test his coaching chops.
One area where he knows he needs to evolve and improve is on the offensive end of the floor. Last season, McCasland oversaw a North Texas team that was by some metrics the slowest-playing offensive team in America.
Averaging only 60.1 possessions per 40 minutes, UNT was the second-slowest out of the 357 teams that played Division-I basketball in 2022. Only Virginia averaged fewer.
What’s more, UNT’s 64.5 points per game was good for only 337th nationally. The saving grace, though, was that the Mean Green gave up only 55.8 points per game, the fewest of any team.
McCasland knows he has to pick up the pace at Texas Tech
Speaking to the media ahead of Sunday’s exhibition game against No. 15 Texas A&M in Denton, Texas, McCasland acknowledged the need for his team to be more dynamic on the offensive end of the court.
“Obviously, tempo is a discussion that we’ve had a lot,” he said, “and especially since our staff has been a part of some of the slower tempos in the country the last few years. What I will tell you is, a lot of it depends on our defense and if we can get stops. I think that will determine the tempo of the game.”
Of course, the defensive-minded McCasland immediately brought defense into the discussion. That’s the end of the floor that has carried him to this point in his career and that identity is one reason why he was able to land the Texas Tech job. The belief is that he will be able to continue to keep the Red Raiders among the elite programs in the game on the defensive side of the ledger, something that has become synonymous with the program over the past decade.
However, playing elite offense has not been a calling card in Lubbock. That’s because elite offensive players are much tougher to find and recruit.
Defense is all about effort, timing, positioning, and desire. While athleticism is also necessary, a player who is athletic but not necessarily skilled with the basketball can still play high-quality defense if he so desires and puts in the necessary work.
However, truly gifted offensive players don’t grow on trees. Players like recent Red Raiders Mac McClung or Jahmi’us Ramsey were highly sought-after because of their ability to put the ball in the basket. Meanwhile, teams were willing to live with their defensive flaws. It’s the balance that teams must try to achieve when putting together a roster and many times over the past several seasons, Tech has been too heavy on defense but too light on scoring.
Since the 2016-17 season, the highest Tech has ranked in the KenPom.com adjusted offensive efficiency rating (the average of how many points a team scores per 100 possessions) was 25th nationally in 2018-19. While that is not dreadful by any means, in recent seasons, that ranking has fallen to 32nd in 2020-21 and 42nd in 2021-22.
In the Big 12, McCasland knows that holding teams to 60 points or fewer on a consistent basis is unlikely. Even the 2021-22 team that led the nation in defensive efficiency rating only held the opponent below 60 points in seven conference games. In other words, it is still imperative to score points to win games in the Big 12.
So how will McCasland manufacture offense? He gave few clues on Tuesday and instead referred back to what he knows best; defense.
“If we can’t get stops, it’s difficult to play in transition,” he said. “We have practiced pushing the ball on misses and trying to create opportunities off of misses. So, really, I think out defense will dictate a lot of our pace.”
What’s interesting is that no member of the current roster averaged over 12 points per game last season. However, Chance McMillan, Pop Isaacs, Darrion Williams, Joe Toussaint, Warren Washington, and Devan Cambridge all averaged at least 7.7 per game a season ago.
Will one of those players emerge as an elite offensive force this year? Perhaps Isaacs is the most likely candidate after putting up 11.5 points per game as a true freshman to earn Big 12 All-Freshman honors.
Or, will this be a team that relies on balance? Will the Red Raiders have multiple scorers who can take over a game on any night thus making it difficult for the defense to key on just one player? It seems like that would be preferable to most coaches.
No matter how it happens, Tech has to be better on offense this season. Ranking just 7th in the Big 12 last year at 73.3 points per game was not good enough.
That’s why some Red Raider fans were not as enthusiastic about the McCasland hire as others were. His reputation as one of the most defense-obsessed coaches in the game, one who has sacrificed offense for the sake of slowing down the tempo and limiting possessions, didn’t make him an obvious choice to correct what has been this program’s biggest flaw for several seasons.
Instead, Tech leaned hard into its defensive identity with the hire. Regardless of how well McCasland can get his first Red Raider team to play defense, though, he knows he’s going to have to put up more points this year than he got away with at North Texas. How he goes about doing that will be worth monitoring as the season begins.