Two games in, it’s right there Red Raider fans. Tonight, the Elite 8 looks the team straight in the face. Earlier in the season, I asked if this team could be the best men’s basketball team ever. With a win tonight, there would be no doubt in my mind that this team is that team. Tonight, the 3rd seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders take on the 2nd seeded Purdue Boilermakers in a contest of two very experienced team and coaches who have faced off in the NCAA tournament before.
Isaac Haas has been the rock down low for the Boilermakers this year. When he dislocated his elbow last week, it appeared as he would be out for the rest of the tournament and it appeared as if his career at Purdue was over. The engineers over at Purdue were tasked with building him a brace and it appeared to have worked as the NCAA has approved the brace for him to wear during the game tonight. The big question remains as to whether he plays tonight. The initial indication from yesterday is that it would be unlikely for him to play but as we know, some seniors will do anything to play in a game like this.
The Boilermakers are led in the backcourt by sophomore guard Carsen Edwards. Edwards averages 18 points per game and is their dominant scorer. This Tech defense will have to contain him to under 20 if they want to win this game. I also think going after Edwards on the defensive end will help them significantly as in their second-round game against the Florida Gators, the Red Raiders were able to get Florida point guard Chris Chiozza into foul trouble the entire game forcing him to be sat for a crucial stretch of the second half.
Vincent Edwards (no relation) has been the team’s best rebounder at 7 per game and also scores 14 per game. At 6’8 he plays the power forward position as Haas and Matt Haarms have solidified the center position. He may have to slide over and play some center tonight if Haas is indeed out. Matt Haarms, the 7’3 freshman is the one most likely to start if Isaac Haas doesn’t play tonight. He only averages 5 points and 3 rebounds per game. He is not a good offensive player as most of his points come off putbacks and dunks. Norense Odiase will be able to keep him under control, freeing up Justin Gray or Zhaire Smith to guard Vincent Edwards.
Niem Stevenson will be crucial in this game coming off the bench. I believe his role in this game is more crucial than everyone else on this team with the exception of maybe Keenan Evans and Jarrett Culver. Stevenson has played the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward at points in this season, has started and now comes off the bench and has become an energy guy. His stats weren’t great or eye-popping from the first two games of this tournament, but he provides so much great defense and has been able to run the offense well when Keenan Evans is on the bench.
I also think that the Red Raiders will play small ball for the majority of this game, with Zach Smith getting extended minutes at the center position. Since returning to full strength, he has been great on the defensive end, as he has 4 blocks in this tournament so far. He brings athleticism to the floor and that is what Coach Beard will be looking for in this game. I do not believe that we can try to play to Purdue’s size, but I do believe we have better athletes and will use those athletes to give Purdue fits on both ends of the floor.
Keenan Evans has stepped up in this tournament and I think he will again. PJ Thompson is the 5’10 starting point guard for the Boilermakers and will likely get the first crack guarding Evans. This is a huge advantage for the Red Raiders as Keenan thrives on getting to the bucket and getting tough layups to go in. Even if Edwards guards Evans and Thompson guards Culver, it’s a huge advantage.
This game for this team, this school, this fan base, this town is huge. As a current student and Red Raider, I have never been more excited for a game in my life. This run has been amazing and I don’t want it to end. I think the Red Raiders will pull this one out, in a close game and give this team their first Elite 8 appearance ever!
What do you think of the game tonight? Do you think the Red Raiders will win? Let me know in the comment section below. And as always, Wreck’em Tech!