Guess who’s back, back again, Sparty’s back, tell a friend…
That’s right folks, the Spartans are back in the Final Four after their thrilling one point win over Duke. The celebrations were fantastic and joyous, and went deep into the night as the Breslin Center was packed for the team’s return from Washington. But, there is still work to be done to achieve the final goal.
So, on this hump day we are officially turning the page to focus on the next team in MSU’s way, Texas Tech, who is making their first ever Final Four appearance.
School: Texas Tech University
Nickname: Red Raiders
Location: Lubbock, Texas
Conference: Big 12
Head Coach: Chris Beard (3rd season)
It has been quite an impressive run for Chris Beard in his third year in Lubbock. He has led Tech to their first ever Final Four, after an Elite Eight appearance last season before falling to eventual champion Villanova. The Red Raiders also won their first Big 12 regular season title since 1996.
Beard has had great success in the NCAA Tournament, going 8-2 in his first 10 games, which includes a 1-1 mark with Little Rock in 2016 when he knocked off Purdue in the first round as a 12 seed before falling to Iowa State in the second round.
Texas Tech is currently up to fifth in the KenPom rankings, partially aided by their impressive tournament run. They are the number one team in defensive efficiency by quite a bit. They are 28th in offensive efficiency.
We will start on offense where Tech is by far the lowest rated of the four teams remaining. Interestingly enough, they are grouped within a mass of teams that MSU has played this year. Kansas, Louisville, Nebraska, Maryland, and Texas are all bunch right around them.
Outside of the Kansas game, which was a lifetime ago, the Spartans handled the other four teams decently well, allowing an average of 66 points in regulation in five games against the other teams.
On to the four factors on offense, where Tech is solid, but unspectacular in most areas. Their best stat is eFG% where they are 52nd in the country. They turn it over a little under the national average, and shoot free throws a tick over the national average. On the offensive glass they are just a bit below the average. No glaring weakness, but also nothing that jumps out at you.
They are 67th in the country in both three-point and two-point shooting percentage, and are a solid 73.1 percent from the free throw line (95th overall) when they get there. They rarely have their shots blocked, just 6.9% of the time, good for 18th in the country. But they are susceptible to steals, getting their pocket picked 9.5 percent of the time, 248th overall.
They don’t shoot a ton of threes, 35.4 percent, which is 3.3 percent below the national average and ranks 261st. They are a little above average on assists per made baskets as well.
The bulk of the scoring for Texas Tech comes inside the arc, they get 52 percent of their points on twos. Less than 30% of their scoring comes from beyond the arc and only 18.5 percent at the line.
Again, solid, but unspectacular.
Now their defense on the other hand, that is a different story. The Red Raiders hold teams to the second lowest eFG percentage in the country, and have the 11th highest turnover rate. Those are their big strengths. Their weaknesses, if there are any, are on the offensive glass and with fouling.
Texas Tech is right around the national average in defensive rebounding, so they are prone to giving up second chance opportunities. They also are 268th in the country in opponent free throw rate, meaning they will tend to foul more than other teams.
This also shows up in opponent point distribution with Tech allowing the 26th highest rate of points at the free throw line in the country at 22.7 percent.
But it is not as big a deal when you are holding teams to the third lowest three-point shooting percentage and the ninth lowest two-point shooting percentage. It also helps to have the sixth highest block rate and the 34th best steal percentage.
There is no gimmick to the Texas Tech defense, they pretty much do everything well and make it tough on you from open to close.
Players to Watch
It really all starts and ends with Jarrett Culver. The 6-5 sophomore guard from Lubbock, Texas has led his hometown team to their first Final Four, and been incredible doing it.
The Big 12 Player of the Year is averaging 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. In the NCAA Tournament he is averaging 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.3 steals. So he’s been even better than he was during his player of the year regular season.
Culver shoots 54.2 percent on twos, but just 31.6 percent from three. Despite that he has taken more threes than anyone else on the team. He’s pretty good at getting to the free throw line, and shots almost 71 percent when he does.
After Culver the Raiders have two players averaging about 11 points per game. Davide Moretti, a 6-2 sophomore from Italy is at 11.6 points, and Matt Mooney, a 6-3 senior, is at 11 even.
Moretti is the team’s best three-point shooter at 46.3 percent, which is top-25 in the country. He’s also an insanely good free throw shooter at 92.2 percent, fifth best nationally.
Mooney is also a threat from outside, at 38.1 percent on the season, and is second on the team in assists at 3.3 per game.
After them it is the big man, Tariq Owens, who averages 8.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. Owens is 29th in the country in two-point shooting percentage at 67.4% and also shoots very well from the free throw line at almost 79 percent. He’s knocked down seven threes in 29 attempts this year so that’s not really his game but he has done it on rare occasions, including last game against Gonzaga, which was his first three since January.
Brandone Francis rounds out the starting five averaging 6.1 points per game.
Outside of those five the two real bench players for Texas Tech are freshman guard Kyler Edwards, who shoots 43.8 percent from three, and 6-8 forward Norense Odiase, who can crash the glass and block some shots.
The Red Raiders get only a quarter of their minutes from the bench, so the starters are pretty much it for them.
From a size perspective, outside of Owens, the only other regular player above 6-6 is Odiase at 6-8. So they aren’t going to kill you size wise. And Owens is just 205 pounds at 6-10, so he’s not exactly a big body as much as a long one.
This is a very good team, and they have been playing very well in the tournament. Teams that have not seen them have had a real hard time dealing with their defense. But Michigan State is about as battle tested as you can get when it comes to playing good defenses.
The Spartans have played 10 games against the top 21 teams in defensive efficiency, and won nine of them, with the lone loss being the season opener against Kansas. They are 6-0 against top-10 teams, with three wins over Michigan, two over Wisconsin, and one over Duke.
What’s more, in those six games, MSU has averaged 69.8 points per game, which is pretty good when you consider that Michigan and Wisconsin are two of the slowest teams in the country. Texas Tech isn’t fast, but they are basic warp speed compared to those other two.
KenPom says the Spartans have played the fourth toughest defensive schedule in the country, so while Texas Tech is by far the best, MSU has seen similar before.
For the Spartans to win this game, they are going to need to make their threes. They are likely going to be able to get some really good looks from three, they just have to connect on them. This has been an up and down area for MSU in the tournament. They struggled against Bradley and Duke, but were very good against LSU and Minnesota.
LSU might be a good example to look at. The Spartans took 32 threes, and made thirteen of them, many coming early to help build a lead. If they can do something similar on Saturday, they will be in good shape.
The offensive glass may also be an area where MSU can have some success with put backs and second chance points. And if they can get Owens in foul trouble they can really take advantage.
The magic number in this game is probably 70 points. If either team gets to 70 then they are probably going to win. The Spartans are the more balanced team and also the more experienced. The two stars will likely even each other out so it falls to the supporting cast to make the difference and I like the Spartans in that department.
This will have the feel of a middle to late season Big Ten game, and Michigan State has done pretty well in those types of games over the last two seasons.