As we near the beginning of what should be a tremendously exciting tournament for Texas Tech fans, our staff has discussed a few key topics that will determine the Red Raiders’ success in March.
1. Which role player would you choose to play absolutely out of their mind over the next few weeks?
ZACH MASON: Somebody absolutely has to step up and take some of the burden off of Jarrett Culver, and the most likely candidate is Matt Mooney. While Davide Moretti provides a nice scoring boost, most of his points come from three pointers and free throws. Mooney can actually score in a variety of ways, which is paramount in a tournament where defenders will be guarding at an infinitely higher level than normal.
JERAMEY GILLILAN: Davide Moretti. I’d love to see the guy go off with all of the national attention at the helm.
MICHAEL MACON: Matt Mooney. Davide is the focus of a lot of attention after Culver but this team is at its best when all three guards are over 12 in a game.
ANDREA CORNAGLIA: Matt Mooney. In my opinion he hasn’t totally showed his scoring abilities he demonstrated to have with South Dakota.
EMORY LYDA: Davide Moretti. If he shoots at a 55/55/90 clip on decent volume like he did at the end of the regular season it will be extremely difficult for teams to shift their defense to counter both Moretti’s lethal offensive game and Culver’s elite off ball skills.
LIZ RODRIGUEZ: Matt Mooney, but he would really need to step up and show up. He is capable of shooting threes and driving to the basket, but he needs to do it more often. The tournament might be enough motivation for him.
2. What’s one thing you want to see during this tournament from Tech that you haven’t seen enough of all season?
ZACH: I’d like to see Kyler Edwards command more playing time by getting into a rhythm offensively. Ever since the Oklahoma State game, his playing time has fallen dramatically. He’s a four-star talent and should be gaining more playing time as the season progresses, not less. Chris Beard isn’t going to play him if he’s not producing, so he needs to step it up for the sake of himself and for the team, which could really use his athleticism on both ends of the floor.
JERAMEY: It started getting more consistent towards the end of the year but offensive efficiency. The droughts kill us every time they occur and that can be lethal in the NCAA tourney.
MACON: Francis actually hitting those dang threes. Nothing is harder than watching him throw up open threes and miss, when those shot fall the offense is just leaps and bounds better. He’s your sixth man and our bench has been super underwhelming lately. We need him to get hot now.
ANDREA: Nothing in particular. After 32 games we know how this team plays, its strengths and weaknesses, so we know what we can expect.
EMORY: I want to see Jarrett Culver have a slightly lower usage, ironic as it sounds. The team is 21-1 when Culver has a usage rate of 32 and lower (32% is still in the 99th percentile nationally), however they are only 5-5 when Culver has a usage rate of 33 or higher. A lot of this has to do with Culver’s ability to play off ball. While Jarrett is probably the team’s best playmaker, his true strength has been showcased in an offball role, where he shot 39% from three last season and a similar rate this year. Utilizing Moretti, Mooney, and Edwards as primary ball handlers allows Culver to play more efficient basketball.
LIZ: Consistency. We have seen what Tech is capable of when they are playing at their best. They had a four-game winning streak where they won by 20+ points, but we have also seen them at their worst in that three-game losing streak where they couldn’t even make a lay-up.
3. What does Jarrett Culver need to average (PPG, RPG, APG) to send Tech to Minneapolis?
ZACH: he needs to be Kemba Walker in 2011. He needs to drop 27 or more per game. Rebounds and assists won’t matter as much, so maybe 5 and 3. But Culver’s primary responsibility is to carry this team offensively, so he needs to average nearly 10 more points per game than his season average to lift this team to the Final Four.
JERAMEY: Culver putting up 18 PPG, 5 RPG and 5 APG would help stir up the other players to succeed as well (or at least, I hope)
MACON: 17.5 PPG 6 RPG 4 APG. This stat line to me means the offense isn’t becoming too one dimensional, but culver is still a dominant force in the game
ANDREA: 22 PPG, 4 RPG, 2 APG. The team has other good rebounders (Owens, Odiase) and assist-men. Culves must have the goal to make buckets.
EMORY: 19 PPG, 6 RPG, 3 APG. The team needs him to be efficient more than anything. Techs best offensive outputs have come when Culver plays in a more pure scoring role. When he has to be both a playmaker and a scorer it usually means the offense is too iso- based. The rebounds are significant only in the sense that the first two teams Tech faces will have bigs that can shoot, which clears the lane for more Culver rebounds.
LIZ: 22 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG. The whole team needs to step up in RPG honestly, especially Odiase and Owens.
4. In your bracket, how many opponents does Tech face where they will potentially be outcoached?
ZACH: Mark Few is the only coach in my bracket who I’d label as “better” than Chris Beard, but only because of his extensive experience and history of winning. Now, potential opponents with better coaches? Tom Izzo and Coach K. That’s it.
JERAMEY: In my bracket: Michigan State. If Syracuse makes a big run, then that would make two. People might want to argue that Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton is as good a coach as Beard but I lean towards “he’s as good as his recruits.” That’s still sticky ground.
MACON: None really, Beard is as good a coach as any. A few have more experience, but Beard coached a great run last season and know how’s to get it done.
ANDREA: I don’t think coach Beard could be clearly outcoached. At this level coaches are awesome and players too, so there are other factors that decide between a W and a L.
EMORY: Coaching ability is a very subjective area to look at in college athletics, as gameplans are extremely player oriented. I’ll say this much: there’s no coach in the west bracket that has the defensive mind of Chris Beard and his staff. The flip side is that ultimately this team will be judged on it’s offensive output, which we have seen Beard struggle with in rare cases. If Tech gets bounced early it will likely be because Nate Oats or Bobby Hurley are outstanding coaches that forced Beard out of his comfort zone on offense.
LIZ: Two - Michigan and Gonzaga. I think Michigan will be their first real challenge. They are one of the top teams in their conference and the first team Tech faces that is a higher seeded team. If they make it past Michigan, they’ll have to face Gonzaga which will be difficult for obvious reasons.
5. How many games does Tech need to win for this season not to be considered a disappointment?
ZACH: When you win a Big 12 championship for the first time in school history, expectations are going to be sky-high, regardless of where the team was projected to finish at the beginning of the year. This team is clearly not the group of mediocre players and Jarrett Culver the media thought it would be. That said, I think - and I don’t subscribe to this idea myself, but I think Tech fans will be disappointed with any other result outside of a Final Four appearance. I know it’s unreasonable, but Lubbock is a different kind of fan base.
JERAMEY: Zero; the fanbase (at least the majority of normal people) has really come around to Coach Beard’s brand of success and down-to-earth mentality. If we lost to Northern Kentucky then there would be immediate disappointment, but this is a team that lost a lot from last year and still managed to win the regular-season Big 12 title.
MACON: Sweet 16 bare minimum, but an elite 8 run is going to be expected after the regular season they had
ANDREA: Big 12 title will sweeten the pot anyway, but I think Sweet 16 is the necessary goal.
EMORY: From a long term scale Tech is playing on house money at this point. This team has established itself as perennial Big 12 contenders, and given where Tech was picked in the preseason a tournament run is not necessary for this season to be considered a success. It would sting to get knocked out in the first weekend, but sometimes strange things happen in the NCAA Tournament.
LIZ: They already have the fans’ respect and adoration for the season. Ideally, I would love to see them at least reach the Sweet 16.
6. Objectively: who kicks Tech out of the tournament (if anyone) and who wins it all?
ZACH: My eventual champions Gonzaga will be the team that eliminates Texas Tech, simply because of the quantity of offensive threats and size they possess in every position. It’s just a really, really tough matchup for the Red Raiders and I don’t see them providing enough offense to keep pace with the Bulldogs.
JERAMEY: Depending on where you’ve got Tech going, I see it happening from either Gonzaga (if they survive Syracuse and the rest) or from Michigan State.
MACON: I’ve made my call, 70+ and Tech wins the natty. But really, Duke is the biggest threat. Tech has consistently shut down top offenses so the Zags are going to be an issue but only Duke’s defense and incredible transition game worries me.
ANDREA: I’ve made my call too, I fear Buffalo will outscore Tech in the second round. And Duke will cut down the nets.
EMORY: UNC is the only team in this tournament that I believe has both the offensive versatility to challenge Tech’s packline-drop hybrid scheme and also defend well enough to limit Moretti and Culver on offense. I could see any one of Gonzaga, Duke, or Michigan State ending Tech’s season but I trust that the supporting cast will push Tech over Duke or Michigan State, and I believe Gonzaga’s lack of versatile playmakers offensively (Perkins is the only player with an assist rate over 15%) and deep shooters makes them susceptible to Tech’s defense. I have Tech losing in the final game of the tournament to the Tarheels.
LIZ: Gonzaga will kick Tech out of the tournament, unfortunately. Duke will win it all.
7. Who wins player of the tournament?
ZACH: I’ve picked Gonzaga to win it all this year and a big reason for that is the outstanding play from junior forward Rui Hachimura. He’s incredibly dynamic, a great shooter, and a consensus lottery pick. He’ll dominate the bracket and steal Zion’s thunder as he earns tournament MVP honors.
JERAMEY: Unless Duke gets knocked out in the first round, and even then maybe still, it’s going to be Zion. (barf)
MACON: Zion will, it’s a guarantee even if Tech eliminates them his stat line each game is going to be monstrous.
ANDREA: Zion. Too much media hype around him and a no. 1 pick written in the stars.
Liz: Zion because who else can blow through a shoe?
EMORY: Coby White. Rarely does the player of the tournament come from a non-champion, and while Zion will put up huge numbers White will fit the mold of a superstar guard coming alive in March.