Scouting Joel Ntambwe fit with Red Raiders

Joel Ntambwe #24 of the UNLV Rebels is fouled (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

After watching a full game from Joel Ntambwe’s freshman season, let’s discuss what he might bring to the 2020-21 Texas Tech basketball team.

When the next Texas Tech basketball season tips off, the most anticipated debut of any newcomer on the roster will be that of transfer forward Joel Ntambwe.  After all, he has already been quite the topic of discussion around Lubbock despite never having played one second for the Red Raiders.

The drama surrounding his eligibility after transferring in from UNLV last offseason was one of the defining storylines of 2019-20 and had every Texas Tech basketball fan and plenty of people around the nation talking for most of the winter.  That’s because he became the symbol of what is wrong with the NCAA’s transfer process.

As the only one of five members of the 2018-19 Runnin’ Rebels to be denied immediate eligibility to play last season after transferring out of Vegas in the wake of the firing of former head coach Marvin Menzies, his story brought to light the inconsistencies of the NCAA’s subjective waiver approval process.

Three times Texas Tech filed an immediate eligibility waiver on Ntambwe’s behalf and each time the result was the same.  Despite having essentially the same reason for leaving UNLV as his four teammates, Ntambwe was denied the right to play.

Not required to give public reasoning for its decision, the NCAA will never reveal why Ntambwe had to redshirt his true sophomore year.  But it isn’t easy to surmise that hard feelings towards Chris Beard on the part of UNLV officials that are the residue of Beard’s departure from Vegas after less than a month on the job in 2016 to return to Texas Tech are what kept the UNLV higher-ups from cooperating with Ntambwe’s request.

Because of this case and a number of others of a similar nature, so much opposition to the current NCAA transfer process has been raised that there will be a vote later this month on whether to grant every athlete one transfer without penalty.  That measure could be passed as soon as May 20th according to reports.

In the end, Texas Tech was actually fortunate that Ntambwe didn’t get to play this season given that there was no postseason thanks to the current coronavirus pandemic.  Many thought that Ntambwe might be ready to jump to the NBA after a year in Lubbock (he went through the NBA Draft evaluation process after his freshman year only to decide to head to Tech instead) meaning that had he played this past season, he might have never been able to help Beard’s program in the NCAA Tournament.

But while this is one rare instance in which the unfortunate current global health crisis took an advantageous turn for Texas Tech basketball fans, there’s no question that Ntambwe was treated unfairly only because of bad blood that remains from an incident that took place when he was still in high school.

Thankfully, that mess is now in the past and we can look forward to Ntambwe’s return to the floor.  But recently it occurred to me that most Red Raiders are excited about this newcomer simply based on what we’ve heard and not what we’ve seen given that most of us do not consume too any UNLV basketball games.

We can easily look at his stats from his freshman season and see that he averaged an impressive 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game to help him earn Mountain West Conference All-Freshman honors.  But I wanted to know what his game looked like beyond the stats.

So I decided to watch the only full UNLV game from 2018-19 that I could find on YouTube.  It was a February 2, 2019 blowout loss at Utah State 82-65.  You can watch the first half here and the second half here should you feel inclined.

This proved to be a nice game to use as an evaluation of Ntambwe’s game because Utah State was one of the surprise mid-major teams in the nation that season.  A physical veteran squad, they went 28-6 overall and 15-3 in MWC play to win the conference title and earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament where they lost to Washington in the first round.

I also like that it wasn’t Ntambwe’s best game nor was it his worst game, thus, it gave us a decent baseline for what he is on the court.  He ended the game with 18 points to lead his team but to say that his scoring was a bit hollow might be an understatement.

That night, he had only four points in the first half as Utah State built a 20-point halftime lead and by the time he scored his first bucket of the second half with under seven minutes to play, the game had long been decided.  But it was interesting to see what he was able to do against one of the teams in the Mountain West that most resembles a Big 12 team in the way it plays and how the roster is constructed.

So let’s go inside Joel Ntambwe’s game against Utah State from his freshman year and look at what it reveals about the transfer upon whom quite a bit of expectation is being heaped by Texas Tech basketball fans.  Naturally, we will begin with the end of the court that Chris Beard prioritizes.

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