I haven’t had much of a chance to talk college basketball so far on the blog, so I’m excited to preview this big time matchup.
I wasn’t really sure how good this Texas Tech team would be this year… I thought it was absolutely absurd that they were picked 7th in the preseason big12 poll, but I also knew that it would be difficult to replace guys like Keenan Evans, Zach Smith, Zhaire Smith, and Justin Grey. Those guys helped lead this team further than its ever gone last year when they reached the Elite 8, where they lost to the eventual National Champion Villanova Wildcats. So my expectations were that this team would be good, but not as good as last years squad.
What I think people, including myself to a degree, weren’t taking into account is the fact that Chris Beard is not simply a good basketball coach, he’s one of the 5 best coaches in college basketball. I truly believe that. He’s also an incredible recruiter. He was able to lure both transfers and college ready HS prospects that have come into Lubbock and helped carry last years momentum right into this season. The additions of Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens have been huge, and the bench contributions from Kyler Edwards and Deshawn Corprew have been a nice surprise as well. But the overwhelming leading cause for the Red Raiders’ success so far is the play of Jarrett Culver. After a nice freshman season, Culver has stepped up and proved himself to be one of the top players in the nation. Averaging 20 points, 6 boards, and 4 assists, he’s lead this team to a perfect record going into this powerhouse matchup and finds himself in the conversation for national player of the year recognition. All of that has taken a team that was supposed to take a step back after losing so many contributors, to possibly being even better than last years team.
Duke, however, will have something to say in this game as well. As someone who has always liked and followed Duke basketball, it seems like every big game they play in, they play with something to prove. They’re the most hated team in America, they get under peoples skin, and they have to face this hatred face to face every time they play outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium. But even when they are at home, they know the entire country is watching and hoping they fail. So they’re used to these big time games and will not be fazed by the attention this game is getting.
Duke is built differently than Tech in almost every way you can think of. Duke is lead by freshman, Tech is lead by graduate seniors and an experienced sophomore. Duke wants to force turnovers and beat you in transition, Tech wants to smother you defensively and slow the game down. The best way to put it, Duke wants to play vertically, Tech wants to play horizontally. You can take the word “vertically” two different ways, by looking at two different players for Duke. You can look at the athletic phenom Zion Williamson, who literally can beat you vertically. By being able to jump higher than the offensive player and block his shot, or by leaping over defenders for unstoppable posterizing dunks. Or you can take “vertical” to mean up and down the court, which leads us to RJ Barrett (this applies to Zion as well, but not as much than it does Barrett). Barrett is the closest thing you’ll see to James Harden in college. He is better than anybody at his level at getting the ball and going down hill and getting to the rim.
This is in direct contrast to how Tech plays, both offensively and defensively. Offensively they want to spread the floor and space out defenders, giving lanes to attack in their half court sets. They also have been at their best when the ball rotates to find open shooters. Defensively, Tech runs what is called the “Pack-line defense.” This is a defense that prioritizes stopping dribble penetration. They want to force teams to drive into the help defense and either rotate the ball, or turn it over. They’re fine if you want to rotate it, because they know they can rotate with the ball and repeat the process. As you can see, this is going to be a match up of styles.
Payers to Watch
Tariq Owens: Owens has been a force at the rim all year. He’ll be tested by these athletic freaks for Duke tonight. If he can protect the rim like he has all year, Tech is in good shape.
Tre Jones: Everyone is going to be worried about both Zion and Barrett. Jones has been able to make some big shots this year, I think if he’s able to score between 12-18 points, Duke will have a really good night.
Right now it looks like Duke is the heavy favorite here at +10, I think thats far too high. I’m not a betting man (because I’m already broke), but if I were I’d be putting my money on Tech to at least cover. I think this game will be really close throughout. It’s a neutral site game so the crowd is kind of an unknown. I know Tech has a lot of fans going, but Duke fans are everywhere and they travel really well. If this game was at either teams home court, I’d pick the home team to win. Ultimately though, I think the players’ ability to execute their own style of play will be the key, and I think Texas Tech will be able to do that down the stretch. As long as they can keep it close, I think the Red Raiders get the W. If they allow Duke to get going in transition though, the Blue Devils could run away with it… I’ve got my Guns Up for this one though!
Texas Tech: 68