We made it. The place no one thought we would be, the one game no one thought we would get close to coming into this season. It’s down to 2 teams and the Texas Tech Raiders are one. They face the Virginia Cavaliers, a team that has been in the top-10 all season long. Both teams have made their way through the abyss of the NCAA Tournament and they are now meeting on the biggest stage the College Basketball world has to offer. It will be 40 minutes of grit, 40 minutes of tough, 40 minutes to a championship.
The Cavaliers are led by Tony Bennett, a coach that has won many awards, including a Coach of the Year award last season. They have beaten Gardner-Webb, Oklahoma, Oregon, Purdue, and Auburn to advance to the National Championship game. They’ve only lost three games this season, two of which were to Duke. They have talent stacked on the roster, including a potential top-10 pick in De’Andre Hunter. Here’s who they have to bring to the floor:
F - No. 25 Mamadi Diakite - 6’9 - 7.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.6 BPG
G - No. 12 De’Andre Hunter - 6’7 - 14.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 APG
G - No. 5 Kyle Guy - 6’2 - 15.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.1 APG
G - No. 0 Kihei Clark - 5’9 - 4.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.5 APG
G - No. 11 Ty Jerome - 6’5 - 13.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.4 APG
C - Jack Salt - 6’10 - 3.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.4 APG
G - Braxton Key - 6’8 - 5.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.0 APG
F - Jay Huff - 7’1 - 4.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.8 BPG
Looking at this lineup, you see most of their length comes off the bench. They have a relatively small starting lineup with Diakite being their longest player at 6’9. That doesn’t mean they won’t be able to compete with us inside as I see Jack Salt getting a ton of minutes against a bigger team like Tech compared to the meager minutes he got against a more guard-laden team in Auburn.
There are obviously three guys you need to stop offensively, but their offense runs through Jerome. If Tech can find a way to not only stop his scoring but his facilitation, they might be able to find a way to win this game. Obviously there are two main guys Jerome feeds to get his assists, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter.
Guy hit the three free-throws to seal the victory against Auburn in the semi-finals. He is their leading scorer and can score from anywhere on the floor. In order for the Red Raiders to stop him, they will need another excellent effort from Matt Mooney and Kyler Edwards in particular. These will be the two who will most likely match-up with Guy when he is on the floor.
De’Andre Hunter will match-up with Jarrett Culver. This battle might as well be for who goes higher in the draft. They are both pretty close on most draft boards. Hunter is a little bigger than Culver, but they both play pretty similar. Hunter shoots a lot better from behind the three point line, but Culver is better at getting in down low to post and getting to the rim. This match-up will be crucial for the outcome of this game.
Their bigs down low are there for one thing, defense. The Red Raider’s motion offense will help spread the Cavaliers out and get Culver and other guards good looks at the bucket. Diakite is a very good rim protector and getting him out on the perimeter when we’re on offense will be something that could allow these slashing lanes inside.
This game will be a slow one, with not many turnovers and not many points. It will still be a great game, but the winner will ultimately have to make some tough shots and play long stretches of defense not knowing when your next basket might come from. The coaching duel in this one will be one for the ages as both of these guys are up-and-coming and could be the ones to replace guys like Coach K and Calipari once they decide to retire.
Texas Tech proved last night that they can win without their best player having his best game. The tone will be the same Monday night. Everyone will need to be ready to step up if their name is called upon. Could we have a Matt Mooney-esque performance from someone else? We’ll find out on Monday night!