The motorcycle spill should have been a dead giveaway.
For the Texas Tech Red Raiders’ Midnight Madness, Tubby Smith rolled into the arena, dressed as Shaft, atop a motorcycle while flames signaled his entrance. It was wildly original and cool ... until Smith did a slow slide to the floor, his motorcycle crashing in slow motion.
He was fine, but maybe the coach should have seen it as a sign of what was to come: The rest of the season was a failure for the Red Raiders as well.
Texas Tech finished 13-19 overall with a basement-dwelling 3-15 in the Big 12.
The problems were many, most notably in the scoring department. The Red Raiders simply couldn’t, averaging barely 60 points a game, good for 316th (out of 345 teams) in the nation.
The shooting, no surprise, wasn’t much better (298th), nor was the rebounding (216th) and, well, you get the idea.
Perhaps the year could be best summed up by a four-day span in January.
On the 24th day of the month, the Red Raiders upset a streaking Iowa State team 78-73, sinking 11 3-pointers in the process.
Court-storming and all the typical euphoria followed.
On Jan. 28, Texas Tech lost to Oklahoma by 45 points, sinking only three 3-pointers and setting a Big 12 record for ignominy, scoring only 36 points.
A tail-between-the-legs walk off the court and reality crash followed.
And so if you are Smith, do you replay the joyful game tape against the Cyclones or pay more attention to the horror show against the Sooners?
The smart move would be to hold his nose and stick with the Norman Massacre because it is more critical to fix what ails the Red Raiders than enjoy the outlying 40 minutes that went right.
The good news is there is nowhere to go but up, and as rough as the year was, players gained valuable experience (the bulk of Tech’s roster was made up of freshmen and first-year players). Smith loses but one regular -- Robert Turner -- and returns five of his top six scorers, including junior college transfer Devaugntah Williams, who led the Red Raiders in scoring.
What the immediate future holds: This will be about baby steps for a while, so anyone looking for an NCAA tournament appearance ought to simmer down. The Big 12 is too competitive, the gap too wide for the Red Raiders.
But there is more than ample room for significant improvement and brighter hope. Along with Williams, big man Norense Odiase returns. The freshman suffered growing pains as he tried to find his way this season, but the bright side is a late-season surge that saw him average 10 points and 5.6 boards.
Toddrick Gotcher saw significant time last season, averaging 7.3 points per game. He needs to improve his 3-point shooting (he hit 37.5 percent this past season), but he could combine with Williams to give the Raiders an injection of offense if he does.
The biggest question mark is at the point. Turner handled the duties until his graduation, but even with his experience, the Red Raiders were plagued by turnovers, averaging 13.8 per game. Junior college transfer Devon Thomas, a late commit, could challenge returner Keenan Evans for the starting gig. Thomas averaged 16.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals at Cloud County Community College, and would be an instant shot of adrenaline offensively and perhaps as a floor leader.
Again, patience will need to rule the day for a while in Lubbock. Before you can ride a Harley, after all, you have to be able to handle a tricycle.