The Gonzaga Bulldogs are in the Elite Eight for the third time in five years. The one thing standing in their way from their second Final Four appearance is third-seeded Texas Tech, which manhandled Michigan 63-44 in the Sweet 16. The Red Raiders held the Wolverines to 1-of-19 beyond the arc and forced 14 turnovers. At this point, every team is elite and every team poses a challenge. Here’s what you need to know about Texas Tech.
#1 Defense in the country
Chris Beard has a somewhat unique defensive style that his kids run to perfection. They have been the number one defense in the country by most efficiency metrics for a good portion of the season. They held a top 20 offense in Buffalo to 58 points and just 0.88 points per possession in the second round. They held Michigan, a top 30 offense, to 44 points on Thursday night.
If you’ve never watched Texas Tech, their defense is geared to keep you on one side of the floor. They do not allow middle drives. Their help defense on baseline drives clogs the paint and they are the best charge-taking team in the nation. They have two really good rim protectors in 6’10 Tariq Owens and 6’8 Norense Odiase. For a more detailed outline, watch this video from the great Jordan Sperber.
This will be the perfect clash of styles as Gonzaga is the number one offense in the nation. Gonzaga is first in effective FG percentage and first in two-point FG percentage. Texas Tech is second in effective FG percentage defense and third in two-point defense. Gonzaga’s offense has the 11th lowest turnover rate in the country and the lowest block rate in the country. Texas Tech’s defense is top 10 in both categories. Literally everything you could want from an elite offense against an elite defense is what you’ll see in this game. The chess match is going to be absolutely fascinating.
Jarrett Culver is a stud
Culver is a 6’6 wing who will probably end up being taken in the top five in the upcoming NBA draft. He does everything on both ends of the court. He’s an All-American and number one in KenPom’s Player of the Year race. Zach Norvell has been shutting down guys the entire tournament. Darnell Edge, Makai Mason, and Terance Mann have done very little damage against Gonzaga because of Norvell’s efforts. Culver is another beast to deal with. You may see a very similar game plan against Texas Tech as you did against Florida State. In other words, Gonzaga will switch every ball screen and hand-off and try to eliminate drives.
Texas Tech, like Florida State, has been inconsistent from deep this season. But they’ve been hot down the stretch of the season. Their offensive efficiency has been in the top 10 the final six weeks of the year. They had a seven-game stretch before getting knocked out by West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament where they averaged an offensive rating in the 120s. Culver slashes and scores in traffic, Matt Mooney and Davide Moretti are both sharp shooters, Kyler Edwards and Deshawn Corprew both shoot over 40 percent from deep off the bench, and their bigs Odiase and Owens finish whatever is left inside.
Keys to the Game
Because the teams are so perfectly matched, the winner is probably going to be who can dictate their style of play the best. But what are the little advantages Gonzaga can look at in their favor?
- Rebounding Battle: Truly, the only statistic that stands out in any way is that Gonzaga can get to Texas Tech on the glass. Texas Tech is 189 in the country in defensive rebound percentage. Gonzaga has moved into the top 80 in offensive rebounding. Tech is not a very good offensive rebounding team, either, so if Gonzaga can get on the glass like they did against Florida State, they can get some second chance points and also start their transition game.
- Front Court Depth: Texas Tech only plays eight players. When Owens or Odiase go to the bench, they play small with the 6’6 Culver or the 6’5 Corprew as the “4” man. Gonzaga will have an advantage in the post for a majority of the game. When they get the chance to take advantage of smaller defenders, they have to capitalize.
- Get to the line: Texas Tech will foul you. They’ve given up 20+ free throw attempts in half their games. Combine a few offensive rebounds with some cheap fouls inside and you’ve got a recipe for free points.
Final Word: Texas Tech is the best defense in the country and has had a top 10 offense the last six weeks of the season. Gonzaga has the best offense in the country and has had a top 10 defense the final six weeks of the season. Both teams have three double-digit wins to get to this point and are playing high-level basketball. It has all the makings for an instant classic. For what it’s worth, the last time the number one offense took on the number one defense in the NCAA Tournament, the number one offense (Wisconsin) beat the number one defense (Kentucky) in the Final Four in 2015.