Last Updated: 2019-03-21
Is Texas Tech turning into a basketball power? The signs are there. The school that put its program on the map by signing Bob Knight after he was fired by Indiana is at its pinnacle, and the Red Raiders are looking to turn another corner. They are looking to make their first trip to the Final Four, and they should have something of a home court advantage during the first weekend with games somewhat close to geographically isolated Lubbock. No. 3 Texas Tech is a considerable favorite over the No. 14 Northern Kentucky Norse in their West Region First Round tilt on Friday.
This is the first game slated to tip off from the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Texas Tech is a 13.5-point against Northern Kentucky, and the over/under in this West Region First Round game has been set at 137. The game is slated to start at 1:30 p.m. and it will be broadcast on TNT. The winner will go on to play the winner of Buffalo and Arizona State on Sunday.
Northern Kentucky was a Division II power throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and the Norse decided to make the leap to Division I in 2011. The Norse slowly became a Division I program over the course of four seasons, and since then they have made their presence felt. They have made it to a postseason tournament for three straight seasons, getting to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2017 (losing to Kentucky 79-70 as a No. 15 seed) and reaching the NIT last year. This is their third straight season with 20 wins or more.
The Red Raiders have been to the Sweet 16 six times, but last season was the first time they made it to the Elite Eight. Chris Beard has been an incredible success since coming over from Arkansas-Little Rock, and the program’s success has come full circle as he was an assistant for 10 years under Bob Knight and Pat Knight. Texas Tech was a No. 3 seed last year and knocked off Stephen F. Austin, Florida, and Purdue before losing to eventual champion Villanova.
How They Got Here
Like nearly every small conference school, Northern Kentucky needed to win its conference tournament to reach March Madness. The Norse had some opportunities to turn heads with a non-conference schedule that included UCF and Cincinnati, but they lost both games by 13 points and had to qualify in a conference where the home court edge is insane. Northern Kentucky finished tied with Wright State for the regular season conference title but had to sweat out conference tournament wins over Detroit and Oakland before beating Wright State for the automatic bid.
We didn’t really know how good Texas Tech was until conference play got under way. The only tournament team the Red Raiders played in their non-conference schedule was Duke, and the Blue Devils beat them by 11. They lost three in a row in Big 12 play at one point, but Texas Tech turned a corner in late January. They won nine straight games to end the season, and that was good enough for a share of the regular season conference title with Kansas State. That was good enough for an at-large bid despite a disappointing loss to West Virginia in the conference tournament.
Not many people are picking Northern Kentucky to pull off the upset here. The Norse had an average defense throughout the season, but they were very efficient on offense. Drew McDonald has been a lights-out shooter. The 6’8 250 pound senior is a match-up nightmare has he can use his frame to get buckets on the inside and he has the range to knock them down from the outside. He is hitting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
The Norse are one of the few small schools with size. Most of the time, they have three players that are 6’6 or taller on the court with Jalen Tate, Dantez Watson, and Chris Vogt often joining McDonald in certain lineups.
Texas Tech has the top defense in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, and the Red Raiders will be out to use their defense to shut down the Norse. They are very good at stopping opponents from getting anything going on the inside (allowing just 41.3 percent of two-pointers to be made), and they are very active in forcing turnovers.
On offense, the Red Raiders are above average, but they do have a player that is super involved in the offense in Jarrett Culver. Culver has been one of the best players in college basketball this season, and some are saying he’s a potential lottery pick. He is filling the stat sheet and hitting 48.5 percent of his field goals.
Pick: Northern Kentucky +13.5
I won’t call for the outright upset, but I think the Norse are good enough to stay within the number here. They will give the Red Raiders some match-up problems and put up more points than you would think.
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