Last Updated: 2019-04-03
There is a compelling argument to crown Chris Beard as the best coach in college basketball. As far as the NCAA Tournament goes, Tom Izzo is the best coach in college basketball. Those two bench bosses will lead their teams into battle at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the second of two Final Four games on Saturday April 6. Michigan State is the modest 2.5-point favorite with a total of 132.5 for what should be an outstanding game.
In our preview for Virginia vs. Auburn, I talked about the five keys to the game. This one isn’t as easy to handicap. This game looks to be a real defensive slugfest and the offense that finds more scoring options should be able to move on. By adjusted defensive efficiency per the metrics at Bart Torvik’s website, Texas Tech has the nation’s best defense and Michigan State ranks 13th. The Spartans are second in two-point percentage defense, while the Red Raiders are third.
Texas Tech ranks eighth in three-point percentage defense and Michigan State ranks 31st. The Spartans are a better rebounding team across the board, as they rank 24th in offensive rebounding percentage and 102nd in defensive rebounding percentage. Texas Tech is 189th on the offensive glass and 204th on the defensive glass.
But, it will be guard play that likely determines the winner of this game. Neither team ranks all that well at taking care of the basketball. Texas Tech is 147th in turnover percentage and Michigan State is 170th. The key difference between the two defenses is that Texas Tech was 10th in turnover percentage on defense and Michigan State was 341st.
On one hand, that makes Michigan State’s defensive performance so much more impressive because they were forced to defend in the halfcourt a lot more than Texas Tech was. Michigan State ranked fourth in rim protection, allowing just a 52.1% success rate on layups, dunks, and tip-ins. The Red Raiders weren’t that far behind at 55.1%.
Basically, we’re picking nits about this game. These are two remarkably solid teams. There are a lot of areas in which one team is slightly better than the other. It actually isn’t the stats that end up being the defining betting angle for this game as far I’m concerned. It is the makeup of the two teams.
Texas Tech has the best scorer in the game in Jarrett Culver, but Culver doesn’t really have a lot of offensive help. His usage rate is 31.9% and that seems unlikely to change in the team’s biggest game of the season. Culver has gotten help at times from Davide Moretti, Tariq Owens, and Matt Mooney, but he is the primary offensive weapon. Mooney had 17 in the win over Gonzaga, but that was his first game with more than 15 points since late January.
Moretti will be a big key to this game for Texas Tech because they’ll need somebody to knock down some outside shots and he is the best hope for the Red Raiders. He’s 5-of-9 over the last two games, but now goes to a much larger venue. He was a 48.6% three-point shooter in games against top-50 teams, so he did make the most of his opportunities.
With plenty of time to prepare and a lot of length and athleticism, we can reasonably assume that Izzo will have planned for Culver. That means that somebody else will have to beat Michigan State and that may be a tall task.
On the Sparty side, Cassius Winston is the facilitator of the offense, but there are a lot of guys capable of getting buckets. Matt McQuaid has taken more of a back seat in the tournament, but he did have 27 in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan. Xavier Tillman has double figures in all four wins. Nick Ward is starting to get some more playing time. Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry had some big minutes in the win over LSU.
The supporting cast that does more offensively will be in a good position to win this game. Winston and Culver will get theirs and will set guys up for open shots, but the team that gets those shots to fall should be moving on. That is what makes this game so much more difficult of a handicap. While there are schematic advantages and clear paths to victory in the Virginia vs. Auburn game, this game has a lot more grey areas to it.
The thing that could hurt Culver the most is that he is not a good distance shooter. Duke was able to get inside and have more success against Michigan State than most teams, but they have athletes and Zion Williamson. Texas Tech has some talent, but not to the degree of Duke. Culver shot just 31.6% from three during the season and was just 22-of-82 against top-50 teams from beyond the arc. He did his damage on the interior, successfully converting 67.8% of his attempts at the rim.
Can the Michigan State defense prevent him from getting to the rim? If Culver can’t, not only will it hurt him offensively, but it will tougher to get those kick-out open looks as well.
Beard is thought to be a brilliant defensive mind, and rightfully so, but can he concoct the proper offensive plan to get his best player in a position to succeed? That’s what we’ll be watching for on Saturday night.
Pick: Michigan State Spartans -2.5
This should be a close game down to the wire. Michigan State shot 75.2% at the free throw line during the season to this point and Texas Tech does have the propensity to send the opposition to the line. The Red Raiders ranked 265th in free throw rate against. It could be as simple as that in this game or it could be quite a bit more. Either way, there are just enough edges in the Michigan State department to take them to advance to Monday’s winner-take-all finale.
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