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Red Raider defense will be put to the test against hot-shooting Irish

Tech’s weakness has been defending the three - incidentally, Notre Dame’s biggest strength.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Montana State vs Texas Tech Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

I recently watched a Norwegian short film titled “The Tunnel,” in which a family drives through a tunnel designed to control population indiscriminately, trapping and eradicating those inside in random time intervals.

Those who see the other side of the tunnel can freely go about their lives, breathing a colossal sigh of relief that their families are safe.

Over the last two days, No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 5 Iowa, No. 5 UConnn, No. 6 Alabama, No. 6 LSU, and No. 6 Colorado State all found themselves on the wrong side of the barrier, getting crushed by the contents of what I would call the “tunnel of upsets.” It’s not fair to the victorious underdogs to say the upsets were random, but they certainly weren’t predictable and they’re always guaranteed to happen.

Texas Tech, meanwhile, escaped the tunnel unscathed in a 97-62 rout of Montana State. Bryson Williams and Terrence Shannon, Jr. scored 20 points apiece while Adonis Arms added 15 points. Kevin Obanor and Davion Warren each added 10 as seemingly everyone got involved in the offensive onslaught.

Tech’s season high on the scoreboard couldn’t have come at a better time as the Red Raiders prepare to face a team capable of scoring in bunches. Cormac Ryan is maybe Notre Dame’s fifth-best player, yet he led the 11-seeded-Irish with 29 points (including 7-9 from beyond the arc) in the 78-64 upset of No. 6 Alabama.

This is typical of a Notre Dame team loaded with streaky shooters. Rarely do the Irish have more than one player hot in a given game, but when they do, they have the firepower to beat just about anyone in the country.

The real x-factor Tech should focus on is freshman Blake Wesley, a South Bend, IN, product projected to be a first-round draft pick. He hasn’t been very consistent and has been an inefficient shooter (just 41 percent from the floor and 31 percent from three) most of the year, but the talent is noticeable from the first tip. He’s an elite athlete who can create his own shot and defend multiple positions on the floor.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Notre Dame vs Alabama
Blake Wesley is Notre Dame’s most talented player, but has struggled with efficiency throughout the season.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In the Alabama game, Wesley scored 18 points on 8-14 shooting. That’s the winning formula for Notre Dame - using Wesley as a secondary scorer rather than leaning on him as the Irish did for much of the early part of the year, which is why they lost five of seven games during a stretch in late-November, early-December.

However, shooters shoot best on fresh legs. That’s one commodity Notre Dame won’t have, even if it has an excess of momentum with two wins in two days. The last opponent any team on short rest would want to face is a team as physical and aggressive as Tech, which is why the Red Raiders are 7.5-point favorites according to DraftKings.

While the Red Raiders approached triple digits on the scoreboard Friday, we all know it’s not something they’ll be making a habit of any time soon. Tech isn’t built to win many shootouts, especially against Power-5 teams. A Big-12 style of game would serve the Red Raiders much better than trying to out-shoot the Irish. Slower-paced, physical basketball is the path to the Sweet 16 for Tech in this matchup.

One of Tech’s well-documented weaknesses is its struggles to defend the three. On more than one occasion, we’ve seen teams light it up from outside while Tech battled to try and keep pace - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The question is whether Mark Adams has solved this problem, and how the defensive guru plans to play this Irish offense.

Another potential advantage for Tech is its depth in the frontcourt. Notre Dame has one legitimate big in George Atkinson - the highly skilled Yale transfer - and there’s not another power forward or center on the Irish roster they can rely on to provide quality minutes or double-digit points. Meanwhile, Williams, Obanor, Santos-Silva and even Daniel Batcho can provide significant minutes and scoring for the Red Raiders.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Montana State vs Texas Tech
Bryson Williams should have a field day against a soft Notre Dame frontcourt.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

That’s something Tech needs to exploit, and the best strategy will be sending guards and forwards to attack the rim and hopefully get Atkinson in foul trouble early.

Prediction

Notre Dame is hot right now, but also likely exhausted. Tech is brimming with confidence after a thorough dismantling of Montana State. Once the Red Raiders introduce the Irish to Big 12 basketball, expect Notre Dame to fall out of its rhythm while Tech does enough offensively to move on to the Sweet 16.

Texas Tech 62, Notre Dame 55