Big East Coast Bias: Let’s start with an easy one. Texas Tech was 18-14 last year. What the heck happened this season to cause the huge improvement?
Viva The Matadors: I think one of the most important keys to Tech’s improvement has been Coach Beard and the staff that he brought on. For brevity sake I’m not going to highlight each one but Coach Mark Adams has definitely been the guy when it comes to explaining how impressive Tech’s defense has been this season. On top of that one thing that was missing from last season was the ability to close games - so the entire offseason focused incredibly on finishing everything all the way through and I mean everything. There’s also been a big chip on the shoulder of seniors like Keenan Evans, Justin Gray, Zach Smith in spite of that inability last year to finish games. That motivation, as we all know, can really drive a team to excel in the following season. All in all Beard is obviously not new to the idea of success, and his basketball philosophies have served this team incredibly well. You might see the phrase 4 to 1 around the internet before/during this game and that means the mental is to the physical as 4 is to 1. As cheesy as it may sound it really has improved the ceiling of this 2017-2018 Red Raider basketball team (who was picked to finish middle of the pack in the Big 12 and maaaaaybe get to the tournament).
BECB: Jalen Brunson is likely the National Player of the Year. Mikal Bridges is likely a top 10 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. Texas Tech has had an awesome defense all year, but this is probably their biggest test yet. How can they slow down Brunson, Bridges, and the rest of the Nova offense?
VTM: One thing that Texas Tech can do very well is continually disrupt the offense. All credit to West Virginia and their press scheme but with Villanova obviously the most offensively proficient team in the NCAA with a PPG of over 80 (are you KIDDING me) I think 9 times out of 10 the press will fail you at the end. Texas Tech is without a doubt top five defense, and may be the best defense with who is left in the tournament. That identity comes from the ability to always be on the ball and to force players into shots rather than giving them open looks. This is one of the reasons that Tech has a very good defense against 3 point shots, and gave teams like Kansas and Purdue who do very well from outside the arc some trouble. I’m not saying players like Brunson and Bridges aren’t gonna get their points - they definitely will. Texas Tech is just going to make them work for it the whole game. One of the possible things that could make the difference in this game is Tech’s ability to draw fouls on both sides of the ball, so if Nova is having a hard time outside the arc and decide to drive to the basket then you might see prominent players rack up fouls quicker than usual.
BECB: Big East fans will remember Tommy Hamilton from his time at DePaul. What has he brought to the table for Tech?
VTM: TOMMY! So I would put Hamilton in a special group (of my opinion) that most teams won’t know who he is until it’s too late. Hamilton is a leader, and does a very good job on the offensive side of the ball to get open guys good looks. Even though he’s coming off the bench for Tech that means absolutely nothing. If Coach Beard could start all the guys he thought would give this team the best chance going forward then our whole team would be out there. Another thing Hamilton has been able to do this season is nail those crunch time three pointers. Opponents definitely key up on players like Evans and our Freshmen Jarret Culver/Zhaire Smith when it comes to the “offense” of this team and that is where we tend to see Hamilton get most of his points from. On the flip side of that, when Hamilton does start to heat up - we have seen time and time again opponent’s big men have to move out to the arc to respect his 3 point game… and then all it takes is one pass to get that clean layup for guys like Evans. He’s a special piece of this team that has been the hard-working backbone for this season’s success.
BECB: Other than the players you’ve mentioned, who could be an X-Factor for Tech in this one?
VTM: That’s a good question. If you were able to catch any of the game against Purdue then it might be Justin Gray. The senior is an absolute stud defensively, and that’s something I think teams have become accustomed to - but he had two dunks against Purdue and I can honestly not remember the last time Justin went up to the basket like that. He has a 50/50 jump shot he likes to take near the “long two” range that I never feel comfortable with but can and has pulled Tech out of a scoring drought. During our game against Kansas in Lubbock, he came out in less than a minute with a concussion (thanks Azadooki’s shoulder) that probably ended up deciding that two point loss. Gray is just a super athlete, a huge team player, and a guy who has his foot on the pedal the whole game. When he plays well, Tech does well. Another guy I might keep an eye on is Niem Stevenson. The guy has games where he doesn’t do much and then games where he just knocks down three after three after three after three after three and you’re sitting there like: Who the hell are you, and please stay for a while. He hasn’t had one of those games in a while so it may be time.
BECB: Finally, who wins and why?
VTM: This is going to be a fun game. Villanova and Texas Tech have proved time and time again that they are second half teams in the best possible way. For Villanova, I definitely have pause because of their ability to go on these insane runs and make basket after basket which just demoralizes opponents. For Texas Tech I have never had as much confidence in this team to be able to beat anybody than I have this year. We just don’t go away. There’s a lot of things in this game that are going to end up making the difference - and let me just say I am so thankful that we’re playing in the afternoon and not midnight. I’m looking at ESPN’s spread for the game right now and it’s at -6.5 for Villanova. This might just be Villanova’s year to win the whole thing (aka the only hope left in my bracket) but their biggest test in the remainder of the tournament comes Sunday against Texas Tech. You beat Tech and you’re cruising to a championship (IN MY OPINION, go away hot takes).
BUT I simply cannot doubt my Red Raiders now, we are team built to fight and fight we shall! My prediction is that Texas Tech and Villanova fight it out for the entirety of the game but it comes down to who has Keenan “The Closer” Evans and who doesn’t. My favor goes to Texas Tech to escape Villanova by a mere 78-77 so that we can come back to Texas and compete in the Final Four.
Bonus: Sportsday put out an article titled “a bandwagon fan’s guide to Texas tech basketball” and it has some stuff in there for further reading! sportsday.dallasnews.com/college-sports…