Chris Beard, in his first season as a Division I head coach, proved he could put together a winning puzzle. Last season at Arkansas-Little Rock, he took over a 13-18 team, patched together a roster of newcomers and led the Trojans to a 30-5 record and the second-round of the NCAA Tournament.
Following a brief stopover in Las Vegas, Beard became Tubby Smith’s replacement at Texas Tech and is again faced with a layered, multi-textured roster of players. With a mix of holdovers and newcomers, Texas Tech has six seniors and six juniors. The Red Raiders figure to be one of Division I’s most experienced teams.
“I think it could end up being part of our identity and a cool part of our story,” Beard said. “This year in our rotation are all juniors and seniors. Three of these seniors are graduate transfers. Many of these juniors have real game experience.
“We’ve been through some wars, so we should be pretty level headed. We’re a new team playing together. We lack experience playing together. But we do have experience.”
Beard expects all 12 to figure in the playing rotation. Last season at Arkansas-Little Rock, Beard had nine players who averaged over 13 minutes a game, and the two who played the most averaged just 30.
Senior guard Devon Thomas, junior guard Keenan Evans, senior forward Aaron Ross, junior forward Zach Smith and senior center Norense Odiase are the top returnees from last season’s NCAA Tournament team.
Texas Tech added three graduate transfers who bring instant experience — guard Giovanni Mclean (Quinnipiac) and forwards Thomas Brandsma (Arkansas Little Rock) and Anthony Livingston (Arkansas State).
“All three of those guys we look to contribute early and be a big part of our team,” said Beard, who spent 10 years at Texas Tech on the staffs of Bob Knight and his son Pat. “Not only on stats and production on a stat sheet and minutes played, but also in leadership, three guys who are very experienced who we think could be helpful to us early.”
Beard, a former junior-college coach, also has high hopes for 6-foot-5 guard Niem Stevenson, a two-time JUCO All-American. Beard believes Stevenson could be the Big 12 newcomer of the year.
“He’s going to be tough for people to lock down,” Ross said. “He is going to become known in this league. He’s big, can handle the ball, he can shoot and get in the lane. He can be a beast.”
Texas Tech at a glance
Coach: Chris Beard.
Last season: 19-13 overall, 9-9 in Big 12, seventh.
NCAA Tournament: Lost first round.
Key departures: G Toddrick Gotcher, G Devaugntay Williams.
Starters returning: 6-foot-8 Jr. F Zach Smith, 6-foot-3 Jr. G Keenan Evans, 6-foot-9 Jr. C Norense Odiase.
Top returnees: 6-8 Sr. F Aaron Ross, 6-foot-10 Sr. F Matthew Temple, 6-foot Sr. G Devon Thomas.
Newcomers: 6-foot-5 Sr. F Thomas Brandsma, 6-foot-8 Sr. F Anthony Livingston, 6-foot Sr. G Giovanni McLean, 6-foot-5 Jr. G Niem Stevenson.
Replacing Gotcher and Williams, two veteran guards, will be a challenge. However, Beard has plenty to work with. McLean figures to be in the mix at point guard where he’ll battle Thomas, a former starter, along with Evans, last year’s starter who led the team in assists. Stevenson, the JUCO transfer, could make an impact.
Beard likely will rely heavily on last year’s players. Smith is one of the top shot blockers and dunkers in the Big 12 while Ross was one of the conference’s most improved players. Odiase, who was sidelined for about half the season with a knee injury, can be an imposing presence in the low post.
With the 12 seniors and juniors, Texas Tech arguably has the deepest and most experienced team in the Big 12. The biggest question will be how the newcomers adjust to the rigors of Big 12 basketball. The three graduate transfers will be stepping up in class and competition.
Texas Tech will be an intriguing team to watch this season. Beard turned around a losing team in one season, but that was in the Sun Belt Conference. He’s familiar with Lubbock and the Big 12. Making all the pieces fit will be a challenge, but the Red Raiders could be a surprise team if everything comes together.