Just a few simple weeks ago, this team was on a losing streak and a bad one at that. The team had just lost to a Kansas team and its hopes of a Big 12 Championship seemed all but lost. It’s amazing what a players’ only meeting and a change in mood can do to a team.
Saturday, this team faces an opportunity to do something no others have ever done in Texas Tech Men’s Basketball History, play in a National Championship. The team that stands in the way, the Michigan State Spartans, have been here before, their coach has been here before, and he will have them ready for the big lights. If there’s one thing I know, Chris Beard and his staff will have this team ready to play not only for a National Championship, but for one another.
Michigan State is considered to be a Blue-Blood basketball program. Tom Izzo is considered to be one of the best coaches in NCAA history. He has 2 NCAA Championships and has sent many players to the NBA including Draymond Green and Miles Bridges. He has his team ready to go and always seems to be in the Elite Eight or Final Four come the end of the season. His team is lead by a coach on the floor in Cassius Winston and has a ton of great talent on his team.
This team has been through adversity this season as well. They lost team leader Joshua Langford early in the season to a shoulder injury. He was averaging 15 points and 3 rebounds per game. Reserve guard Kyle Ahrens will also most likely not play on Saturday. The Red Raiders have been very fortunate this season and have not had any injuries affecting them so far. Here is a closer look at the personnel the Spartans will bring to the floor:
F: Kenny Goins: 6’7 - 8.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.3 APG
F: Xavier Tillman: 6’8 - 10.1 PPG, 7.3 APG, 1.7 APG
F: Aaron Henry: 6’6 - 5.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 APG
G: Matt McQuaid: 6’4 - 9.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.1 APG
G: Cassius Winston: 6’0 - 18.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 7.6 APG
These are their five starters. 6’8 Nick Ward comes off the bench and averages 13 points and 6 rebounds per game. Winston is their focal point as he is the main scorer and distributor on this team. He is very good at drawing fouls and splitting the defense to create shots for others. The Texas Tech defense will have to do a great job of deterring Winston and a great job of closing out on shooters when he passes out of the lane.
The Red Raiders will start their regular five, and they will be tough defensively. It will be a challenge for the Red Raiders to stop all of these weapons the Spartans have but with their superior length and athleticism, the Red Raiders have all the tools to do so. Offensively, the Red Raiders might have a slight advantage on the Spartans. The Red Raiders tout more size and strength than the Spartans down low and Jarrett Culver is a guy that is looking more and more like a top-5 Draft Pick come this summer.
Shooting of course will be crucial in this game for the Red Raiders. Getting Culver the ball in the middle of the floor might be the difference for the rest of the team shooting-wise as he is very good at passing out of the paint while driving the middle of the floor. With three guys shooting over 40% and two others shooting over 38%, the Red Raiders have all the shooters necessary to put a good game together. The great thing about this team is that when one guys has a bad night shooting, another tends to step up and take his place.
While Michigan State’s coach may have more Final Four appearances, the Red Raiders have the advantage in player experience. Four seniors and a lottery pick may be the difference for the Red Raiders in this game. If there’s anything this team has proven this tournament season, it’s that their defense will keep them in games, even if they go through scoring droughts (which they sure didn’t against you, Nate Oats). The Red Raiders don’t have to score in droves to be effective, their defense is their identity.