It’s been 711 days since Texas Tech played in an NCAA Tournament game. On that night, they came up short. After clawing back into the game late, they were unable to beat Virginia in overtime, losing in their first ever national championship appearance. Little did anyone know that there would be no tournament the next year. Since that game, a lot has changed throughout the world. A pandemic has ravaged our entire globe for over a year, the United States elected a new President, and well... Chris Beard grew a beard and has sported it all year. Point being- it has been a while, but the Red Raiders are back and ready to make a splash in the tournament.
The selection committee did Tech no favors in giving them a six seed and Utah State to face. Utah State is the highest rated 11 seed on both Barttorvik and Kenpom, and they have a top ten defense to boot. They also have a big in Neemias Queta that presents all sorts of schematic challenges for Tech, which I will get into in a bit. Regardless- it is good to be back watching college basketball in March. Covering the tournament run in 2019 was one of my favorite sports memories in my life, and I cannot wait to see what this team will do.
Unlike most games in the regular season, I am only going to be focusing on Utah State in this preview. I will have quite a bit of Tech-based thoughts throughout this piece, but I feel like taking a deeper dive into what Utah State is as a team will give more insight than talking about a Tech team that we have probably watched all year. Anyways-
Utah State Aggies (20-8) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (17-10)
Location: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Indiana)
Game time: 12:45 CST
Odds: Tech -4
About Utah State
Stats: 15.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 3.3 BPG, 1.1 SPG
I caught flack earlier this week for saying that Queta was the best big that Tech has faced all year, but that has not done anything to change my opinion. Queta is a legitimate seven-footer with decent mobility, incredible vertical ability, and a ridiculously long wingspan. His most impressive traits for me though are feel-based. He is great at timing blocks perfectly, has a great understanding of space defensively, and can anticipate passing lanes very well.
The most unique ability that Queta has compared to Big 12 bigs is his passing ability. Queta averages 2.5 assists per game, and that does not really account for the additional skip passes he can create from his post touches.
Neemias Queta with a very high level pass. He's generally a good big at the college level when it comes to post scoring, but his passing is unique and something Tech has not seen from bigs in the Big 12. pic.twitter.com/iQ5wj9IsrY— Emory Lyda (@Eracer41) March 15, 2021
This is one of my favorite plays by Queta. He anticipates the double in the post, is patient enough to wait for the rotations to commit in a sense, then throws a beautiful pass right to the shooter’s pocket in the corner. The shot did not go down, but that ability from Queta is something that other bigs that Tech faced simply do not have in their arsenal.
Another nice pass- this time off a roll. Miller is a competent shooter but misses a good look here.— Emory Lyda (@Eracer41) March 15, 2021
One thing I've noticed from my limited film study- Queta almost never actually sets a good screen. Seems worse than when I watched him as a freshman in that sense. pic.twitter.com/K9Y6mNDwwV
Here is another pass, though this one was a bit more simple. Most guys would have tried to force something up with the shot clock going down, but Queta is patient and finds another good look in the corner. As mentioned in the tweet- Queta is not a good screener, which may be surprising given his size but I believe the back injury he struggled through last year has a lot to do with that. Utah State does not run a lot of PnR because of their lack of effective driving guards, so the skill deficiency is somewhat mitigated, but still there are issues there.
Overall, Queta is an absolutely a weapon offensively. He can pass well, can score efficiently in the post, can rebound really well on both ends, and even has a pretty nice looking midrange shot, which is an area where he shoots 38% on the year. With all that said- his main impact is on the defensive end, where Utah State ranks top ten in adjusted defensive efficiency as a team, and where Queta is top five in both DBPM and Defensive Win Shares nationally. The most staggering stat for me is that Utah State allows 51% of their opponents two-point looks to go down when Queta is off the court, but when he is on that number is less than 40%. That is the difference between being the 227th best interior defense and being the best interior defense nationally. I’ll save you the time of going through a lot of clips or words, but just watch these two plays:
I mean... there's like five guys in America that have the processing speed, timing, and athleticism to make this block happen. pic.twitter.com/fzWuhhyRg8— Emory Lyda (@Eracer41) March 15, 2021
Queta gets called for the foul here but this was a pretty good possession, both on the hedge and the switch. @RMainvilleLBK noted that Queta can struggle in PnR defense and on switches. Certainly think that's true, but I'd say it's isolated to faster/more decisive PBHs. pic.twitter.com/a4DfJFg3ZX— Emory Lyda (@Eracer41) March 15, 2021
A guy who can move his feet well and position himself effectively while also being able to make absurd blocks like in the first play? That is a problem, and I hope people do not underrate Queta because of the competition. He played well vs. BYU and San Diego State, which are two teams that are as good as Tech. He might not have a great game, but it certainly will not be due to a lack of talent.
Other notable players
Stats: 11.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals
Bean is probably the best perimeter defender on the team. Kind of a funky wing in his play style, as he does not have a good handle, good athleticism, or a reliable shot, but his ability to position himself well defensively and also keep his hands active are very impressive. I suspect he will match up with either Terrence Shannon or Kevin McCullar, so watch out for those matchups.
Stats: 9.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 37% from three
Miller is the best three point shooter on this team, but does not do much else for them. He made 55 threes, which would have led Tech as well, and he attempted 68 more threes than anyone else on the team. He is a very confident shooter with great range, but sometimes can get very questionable with his shot selection. He is the x-factor for this Utah State team. An outlier-good shooting night from him could spell trouble for Tech in this one.
Stats: 10.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists
Anthony is a really interesting player. I consider him the glue guy for this Utah State team, as he does a little bit of everything for the. The transfer from Virginia is not a particularly good shooter, but he is at least hitting a reasonable 34% of his attempts from distance. He is not a natural facilitator, but similar to Kevin McCullar he has the ability to create offense for others on non-set plays. Finally, he fights for almost every loose ball and has a knack for being at the right place at the right time. Anthony’s defense is a little overrated in my opinion, as he gets blown by quite a lot, but he is great off the ball and is a good communicator. That holds value, and he is still a very intriguing piece in this game. Oh, and he apparently chose his number because of the Wendy’s 4 for 4 deal, which makes me respect him even more.
Keys to the game for Tech
- Slow down Queta. Common logic would dictate that leaning on Marcus Santos-Silva, Tyreek Smith, or even Vlad Goldin might be smart against Queta, but I feel like small ball might be the way to go. Colorado State and San Diego State both tried this strategy in games that I watched, and I thought it worked pretty well. If you are going to get out-muscled by Queta, you might as well play with lengthier, more athletic guys that can disrupt him on the catch. This worked against Purdue in the 2018 tournament, and Tech has used the strategy against some of the bigger West Virginia teams in recent years, with varying success.
- Force turnovers. Utah State relies on two freshman point guards to run their offense, and really does not have any guard that can drive, pass, and shoot effectively. They are sub-200 in turnover percentage, while Tech ranks top ten nationally in forcing turnovers. Creating transition opportunities and flustering the Utah State guards will be paramount, and in a game with two teams as tough as these are it is easy to see an advantage like steals playing a major factor.
- Rebound the ball well. Utah State is top 20 nationally in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. You probably will not beat them on the boards, but at least being competitive in that regard should help a lot in winning this game for Tech.