If you read Kyle’s piece from Tuesday, you’ll know that Texas Tech had about a 15% chance to win the West Region in the NCAA tournament. However, the Red Raiders found themselves on top, despite having to play three conference champions, playing two Top 10 teams, and facing chalk along the way.
So how exactly did Texas Tech pull off their best season in program history? Well it took a masterful defensive philosophy, an alpha dog, some sharpshooters, great coaching, dedication, and experience:
Duh. I was thinking about writing about Mark Adams’ defensive philosophy earlier this year, but never got around to it. Fortunately, it became a big talking point on broadcasts and plenty of other people have wrote about it, so there’s a ton of info out there on it. Basically, for those who don’t follow the team closely or don’t really look at the X’s and O’s, Texas Tech runs a no-middle defense.
The thought process behind this is that the easier shots for a player typically come form the middle. The paint is the easiest place to shoot, just outside it is basically a free throw, and a straight away three gives you the benefit of a backboard. Not only that, but forcing someone to the outside allows a possible trap, and also makes it easier for players to switch whenever necessary because of less traffic.
Everyone has been playing pretty good defense this run, but a couple of guys have stuck out to me. The graduate transfers, Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens, have affected the opposition tremendously. Both have long wingspans, so both are able to deflect passes. Owens is a great shot blocker, and Mooney is one of the stronger guards in the country.
I mentioned this last week in a story, but every championship team seems to have their guy. Texas Tech’s guy is Jarrett Culver. Sure, maybe he wasn’t the most efficient scorer against Gonzaga, but he did score a team high 19 points and helped create some of the most important shots of the tournament. Remember that Moretti three pointer to put Tech up six with a minute and a half left? He was open because the Bulldogs were so scared of Culver, and he made the right basketball play.
His stats were pretty good this season, as he averaged 18.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.4 spg and 0.4 bpg. During the NCAA tournament though, he is averaging 21.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.3 spg and 1.3 bpg. Not only that, but Culver is playing some great defense as well. And this is against some great teams in Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga.
When Texas Tech needed a basket, Culver would go get one. When the game was in crunch time, Culver would control the offense. When the Red Raiders were dying for a bucket, Culver would get the chance to get them one. He’s the one of the keys to success.
Despite my last point, the offense can’t rely just on one guy. The season may start in November, but as I’ve said a lot over the course of the last few months, Chris Beard says that the season starts in February. Well, Texas Tech has had one of the best defenses all season long by many metrics, but did you know they’ve had one of the best offenses since February?
A big part of that has been the emergence of Texas Tech’s shooters. We all knew that players like Davide Moretti, Matt Mooney, and Brandone Francis were all known for their long range shots, but they hasn’t quite figured it out early on.
But after the Kansas loss, the offense started coming alive. Texas Tech became a juggernaut, defeating a majority of teams in their path by 20 points or more. We saw all that take place in the second half against Michigan, with Davide Moretti catching fire from deep. The same can be said for Gonzaga. Most people thought Texas Tech would lose if the game came down to a shootout. However, Tech went 9 for 23 from deep. That is good for 39%, which is almost as much as Gonzaga shoot from the floor altogether.
Moretti had the two biggest three pointers in Tech history, Mooney and Culver hit important momentum threes. Kyler Edwards even came alive with two big threes (and got fouled on another). The three point shot had given Tech the offense Beard has wanted since he came to Lubbock.
It’s impossible to succeed in college basketball without great coaching. We’ve seen teams in other leagues win championships with sub-par coaching, but rarely do we see this college basketball. Well, luckily for Texas Tech, they have one of the best coaches in the game in Chris Beard.
In fact, he’s done such an amazing job this year, that announcers started comparing him to some of the greatest coaches across multiple sports. The understanding of how a roster is built, the intelligence to come up with a successful game plan, the ability to get his players ready, and the awareness to make in-game adjustments.
Let’s take the Gonzaga game for example. Shortly after the game, the coaches were already preparing for arguably the best team left in the NCAA tournament. They came up with a way to attack the Gonzaga defense and create open shots for players beyond the arc.
He also had halftime adjusts, coming out with a zone defense to prevent an early run. That was crucial, as Tech and Gonzaga were tied with just a few minutes left in the game. There’s not many coaches who would be able to do all that just a couple days after a big win. Beard is one of those coaches.
There’s a quote we hear often from Chris Beard that his mentor Bobby Knight taught him. Most people have the will to win, but few have the will to prepare to win. Luckily for Texas Tech, it appears that the Red Raiders fall in the second category.
There’s been a lot of stories about that dedication and will to win from multiple national media outlets. Culver spent the whole summer redefining his game, knowing he would have to create more shots as the No. 1 option. Mooney transformed into one of the best defensive guards in college basketball. Owens began to develop an outside shot (and Tech sure did need it last weekend).
If these players just practiced like your typical D-1 athlete, they are probably somewhere between a No. 6-8 seed and may not advance to the second weekend. That drive to win gave Tech players extra skills that allowed them to become successful.
Have you noticed a trend among the teams remaining? Do you know how many freshman are starting out of the 20 starters? Just two. Do you how many rotation players are freshmen? Roughly just one of two.
That’s no mistake. It is hard to win with freshmen. Sure, Duke may have a bunch of future NBA All-Stars. And teams like the 2012 Kentucky team have won with one-and-dones. But most teams can’t pull a bunch of the top freshmen consistently, and it is tough to win without experience.
The four seniors (Francis, Mooney, Owens and Norense Odiase) have been huge providing leadership presence to the rest of the team. Not only that, but their skills have been developed over their past five years at the college level, more so than the Michigan team Tech faced in the Sweet Sixteen.
Not only that, but the experience of the Elite Eight run last year helped players like Culver, Moretti and Odiase perform well this time around. They’ve already been in this moment and weren’t starstruck or scared of the moment.
These six reasons is why Texas Tech is playing in Minneapolis this weekend. They are also the six reasons why the Red Raiders have a shot to bring another trophy back to Lubbock. Although they will be underdogs against Michigan State (and against Virginia if both teams win), they have as much of chance as anyone left in the field.