Here it is Y’all, uncharted territory. This is the first time ever that the Texas Tech men’s basketball team has made it into the Elite 8. Their opponent, the Villanova Wildcats, with a chance at the Final Four on the line today in Boston. The Wildcats have only lost four games this season while the Red Raiders have lost nine. Villanova has been penciled into the Final Four by some, some even go as far as saying the Wildcats got an “easy pass” to the Final Four in San Antonio. I can speak for the entirety of Red Raiders Nation and say that we humbly (or not so humbly) disagree. That being said, these Red Raiders will have to play their best game of the season to get past Villanova.
Jay Wright is one of the best coaches in the game today. He has this team playing at a high level and is looking to make their second Final Four in three seasons as they won the title in 2016. On the floor, they are led by point guard Jalen Brunson, a top-5 player in college basketball. I fully expect Brunson to be on an NBA roster next year regardless of where he goes in the draft. He is averaging 19 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists per game and is an elite defender. He is the best player that the Red Raiders have faced and they will have to play defense similarly to how they played the Purdue Boilermakers on Friday.
The thing making Villanova such a great offensive team is the fact their entire eight-man rotation can shoot the three-point shot. They also have six players averaging over ten points on the season, something that some NBA teams don’t have. Besides Brunson, forward Mikal Bridges has become a great scorer, averaging 18 per game. Bridges also gets 5.5 rebounds, 2 assists and is an excellent free throw shooter at 85%. This team scares me on the offensive side of the ball as all five starters are able to get hot at any time. Omari Spellman, a 6’9 freshman, usually averages 10 points and 7 boards per game but went off against West Virginia and poured in 18 and 8, including shooting 4-7 from behind the three-point line.
With this much three-point action that the Wildcats play, I think Zach Smith and Brandone Francis will get an increase in minutes due to their athleticism. Davide Moretti also got an increase in minutes against Purdue, something to look at as well. Moretti has gotten much better on the defensive end of the floor and could potentially help contain the great guard play from the Wildcats. Smith had arguably his best game of the season against the Boilermakers. If 2016 Zach Smith is back, watch out, we could be in for a show.
Offensively, the Red Raiders will have to play their best game of the season. The Wildcats have the 15th best defense in the country according to kempom.com. They are long and athletic, just like the Red Raiders. Keenan Evans, in my opinion, has become one of the best closers in all of college basketball. He elevates his game in the closing minutes of any game and has done so much to overcome his toe injury that is still nagging him a month after he suffered it. Other than Keenan Evans, look for three other Red Raiders to get in double digits, a goal Coach Beard has laid out in front of the team all season. He believes that if the team can have four different guys score in double figures, the team has a better chance to win due to their balance.
Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver have become crucial parts of this offense, and their presence on the floor helps the Red Raiders move the ball. They both have excellent basketball IQ, something not common in freshmen. I could talk all day about these two, but my main point here is that both need to score in double figures this game for this team to have a great chance to win. They are an excellent duo as both can drive and both have become better at shooting the three-point shot this year.
Turnovers have also become a huge part of the game for the Red Raiders as they forced 17 turnovers in their Sweet Sixteen game against Purdue. This created more opportunities for the offense, especially helping them pull away late in the game. This Villanova team turns it over an average of 11 times per game, something that the Red Raiders could exploit. If they can force over 15 turnovers like they did in the last game then the Red Raiders have a great chance to win this game. Depth could also help the Red Raiders as they tend to play 10 players and Villanova only plays 8 in their rotation. They always keep fresh legs on the floor and this strategy eventually wore out Purdue on Friday night.
This game is another shot at history for the Red Raiders. It would be the school’s first Final Four since the women’s team won the National Championship in 1993. Villanova is the best offensive team in the nation and I guarantee they haven’t played a defense as great as the Texas Tech Red Raiders. This will be an entertaining game to watch so watch, cheer, and emote Red Raiders.
What do you think of these elite Red Raiders? Where are you going to watch the game? Let me know in the comment section below!