Typically in basketball, for better or worse, a team is only as good as their best player. Obviously there’s 13 scholarship players and a coaching staff that has to be good, but it is hard for a team to win a National Championship without any obvious alpha dog.
Three out of the last 11 champions had the Wooden and Naismith Award winner on their team. Three more of them played in the National Championship game. Others winners or final four contenders have had players that were finalists for these awards.
The point I’m trying to make is that you need a guy that can take the game over in order to make a run at the Final Four and if you are fortunate enough, a national title. Texas Tech had one last year in Keenan Evans, but Evans was dealing with a bum toe and wasn’t fully himself. He went 3-14 with 12 points and four assists against Villanova after shooting 54.8% with 20.3 ppg the other tournament games.
Jarrett Culver undoubtedly has been that guy for Texas Tech this season. The sophomore from Lubbock is averaging 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 48.6%, 33.1% from three and 69.6% from the free throw line. In comparison, Evans was 17.6/3.1/3.2 while shooting 47.1/32/81.7.
And much like how Keenan was outstanding in Texas Tech’s biggest games, Jarrett Culver has been outstanding as well. Some people may consider Evans more clutch, but that was because he often had more opportunities. This Red Raiders team played in blowouts for most of the non-conference and half of their Big 12 schedule, so Culver hasn’t gotten as many chances. But when he gets the chance, he typically shows up.
Against Duke, the game was a single digit game until the very end. Culver scored 25 points on future Top 5 picks and was above 50% shooting until the end. At West Virginia, he scored 18 points on 75% shooting, including the dagger at the end. Against Oklahoma, he took over in the final five minutes and scored 23 points on 62% shooting.
The best example of Culver showing up was the game at Iowa State. A Big 12 title was on the line, and the Cyclones were always tough in Aimes. But it was no big deal for Culver, who made 63% of his shots and scored a career high 31 points, including a lot of key buckets down the stretch.
In the Big 12 tournament, he went 26/10/4 with five steals on 46% shooting. In the Northern Kentucky game, he set a Texas Tech record with 29 points in a tournament game, along with eight rebounds and seven assists. And finally, against Buffalo, he went 16/10/5 with two steals and three blocks. He only shot 38%, but made some incredibly hard shots.
We’re going to need this Jarrett Culver to show up in Anaheim if we hope to see the Red Raiders make the voyage to Minneapolis. Unfortunately, the biggest test Texas Tech has seen all year is next with the Michigan Wolverines, and I can’t imagine Tech moving on unless Culver had a big game.
The reason why? Much like Texas Tech, Michigan boasts one of the best defenses in the nation. They are two and three respectively in points per game allowed, one and two respectively in defensive points per possession, and Tech is second in defensive FG% while Michigan is fifth in defensive 3FG%.
Charles Matthews may not be a Naismith Semifinalist for Defensive Player of the Year (that would be teammate Zavier Simpson, who will likely limit Moretti or Mooney), but he is one of the better defenders in college basketball and the national media has been focusing on that one-on-one match-up more than any other.
There likely won’t be many points scored in this game, so Tech is going to need a big scoring night from Culver to move on. If they are fortunate enough to do so, the next match-up is likely Gonzaga. They are 31st in scoring defensive and 17th in defensive points per possession. More importantly, Culver would be guarded by Brandone Clarke, who is a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.
And not to look two far ahead, but if the tournament went chalk, Culver would be matched up with two other finalist for that award in Zion Williamson of Duke and De’Andre Hunter of Virginia. The point is, Culver is going to have a tough match-up the rest of the way, and he’ll have to try and win those match-ups for Tech to have advance each round.
Stars are made in March. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier of Connecticut, Gordon Hayward of Butler, and Trey Burke of Michigan just to name a few. It’s time for Culver to make his moment.