Texas Tech basketball: Red Raiders that will be X-factors in 2023-24

Texas Tech basketball: Red Raiders that will be X-factors in 2023-24
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Texas Tech’s head men’s basketball coach Grant McCasland watches practice, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at the United Supermarkets Arena.

We are less than three weeks away from the start of the 2023-24 Texas Tech basketball season.  With Big 12 media days taking place this week, it is time we start to get geared up for the beginning of the Grant McCasland era.

Arriving off of a successful six-year run at North Texas, McCasland is bringing to Lubbock the best resume any Red Raider head coach has arrived with since Bob Knight in 2001.  Many fans might not be aware of that, though, given that North Texas isn’t top of mind to most people in West Texas (or anywhere else in the state for that matter).

The Eagles have been playing basketball since 1921.  Only 13 of those seasons have seen the program amass 20 or more wins.

Interestingly, five of those seasons were led by McCasland.  That includes last season when the Eagles set a program record with 31 wins as they won the N.I.T.

Making what McCasland did in Denton even more impressive is that he took over a program that had gone five seasons without a winning record.  However, by his fourth year on the job (2020-21), he would help guide UNT to its first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament, a 78-69 overtime upset of No. 4 seed Purdue.

Throughout his career, McCasland has been known for producing elite defensive teams. For instance, his team ranked 18th in the nation in the KenPom.com adjusted defensive efficiency rating.  That’s a metric that analyzes a team’s defense by averaging how many points a team allows per every 100 possessions.  Using that formula takes variables such as pace of play out of the equation and gives a clearer and more honest look at how teams play defense.

Last year, UNT allowed 94.0 points per 100 possessions.  Meanwhile, Texas Tech was only 60th nationally allowing 98.7 points per 100 possessions.

The year prior, when Tech led the nation in that metric at 85.0, UNT was also excellent sitting at No. 22 in the country (92.8 points per 100 possessions).  In other words, McCasland seems to be a good fit for a Texas Tech program that has been built on the strength of its defensive prowess.

Of course, McCasland isn’t the only new face in the program this year.  Now in the era of the transfer portal, every team in the country is remade on an annual basis and that’s especially true of those that make coaching changes.

Counting KyeRon Lindsay, a transfer from Georiga who arrived for the spring semester last season but who had to redshirt due to NCAA transfer rules, there will be eight newcomers on the team with six of those players being transfers from other Division-I programs.

That leaves only five players returning from last season’s disappointing and turbulent ride.  So let’s start to familiarize ourselves with this revamped roster by taking a look at which players might be X-factors this season in the sense that we aren’t really certain what they will provide.  Each could have an important role to play for McCasland and how well they perform could be what determines whether or not the new man in charge will get off to a positive start in Lubbock.

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Last year, Tech was only sixth in the conference at 34.5% from downtown.  What’s more, the season prior, when the Red Raiders reached the Sweet 16, they shot only 32.1% from 3-point range to rank 256th nationally.  Imagine what that team could have accomplished if it was able to be a top-100 team in that area.

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This year, Tech could again be elite defensively.  The rangy and versatile athletes McCasland has brought into his program could allow him to deploy a suffocating defense.

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However, someone is going to have to score and it would be terrific if someone other than Pop Isaacs could be a reliable 3-point option.  Of course, we just talked about how McMillan was a good outside shooter last year but imagine what this team could be if Kerwin Walton could figure out how to be a consistent contributor as well.

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What makes Walton such a tease for Texas Tech fans is that he has already been an elite shooter while playing in a major conference.  In 2020-21, while a true freshman at North Carolina, he averaged 8.2 points per game while shooting 42% from deep.  He averaged 4.2 long-range attempts per game and that led to him being one of the most intriguing freshmen in the ACC that season.

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However, he’s struggled since then because he simply isn’t willing or able to play defense.  Over the past two seasons, he’s struggled to see the floor because of his defensive lapses.

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In fact, a season ago, he was the worst defender on the Red Raider roster according to the defensive rating metric, an average of how many points a player surrenders per 100 possessions. Anything below 100 is excellent in that category but Walton’s rating was a woeful 107.4.

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Still, when he did play, he was able to hit 3-pointers at a 41.1% rate.  That’s a skill that is so valuable in college basketball.

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I honestly thought that Walton would leave the program when the defensive-minded McCasland was hired.  He stuck it out though so he might as well contribute while he’s here.

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At some point, Walton is going to have to decide if he wants to dedicate himself to being a decent defender so that he can see more of the court or whether he is simply content to watch games from the bench.  Hopefully, he picks the former because he has something to offer that this team could really use.

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Texas Tech’s KyeRon Lindsay rebounds the ball during the team’s first practice, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at the United Supermarkets Arena.

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KyeRon Lindsay could be a versatile weapon for Texas Tech

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Maybe the most fascinating player on the team in terms of potential is Georgia transfer KyeRon Lindsay.  A Denton native who is returning to his native Texas after playing one semester with the Bulldogs last year, the 6-foot-8 wing might be the most gifted athlete on the roster, and he could be a Swiss Army Knife for McCasland.

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We really don’t know what Lindsay is as a player.  He’s appeared in only 10 games and has yet to play in a conference game.

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On the other hand, he did show out against ACC opponent Wake Forest.  In just his second career game, while making his first start, he scored 10 points and grabbed five boards in 31 minutes of action.

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What makes the lefty such an intriguing player is his athleticism and size.  He may remind some Texas Tech fans of former forward Zach Smith, in fact.

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While he isn’t quite as explosive of a leaper as Smith was during his Red Raider tenure, he is quick off the floor and can block shots as both a primary and a help defender.  That means he could be an asset in the lane where, as we’ve already discussed, Tech needs to find someone to help support Washington.

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Lindsay has the potential to be one of those defenders who can guard almost any position on the court.  Being able to put him on larger players is possible given his wing span and his jumping abilities while his quickness could allow him to check opposing wings and guards.

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According to 247Sports.com, Lindsay was a talented prospect coming out of high school.  Rated a 4-star recruit, he was a top-100 national player and the No. 18 power forward in his class.

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If he is able to live up to that billing and develop to his full potential, he could become a star for the Red Raiders.  Lindsay has been in the program since January but like every player on the roster, he’s still learning McCasland’s system.

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He has the look of a player that McCasland can utilize in a variety of ways, which is what the coach was known for doing at UNT where he had a roster full of lanky, athletic, versatile players.  Last season, Lindsay averaged 6.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in his short stint in Athens, Georgia.  Maybe those numbers are just a preview of what he could develop into in Lubbock.

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