The Final Four is finally here, and everyone’s bracket has been busted. Number-one seeded Duke, stocked with freshman talent like Zion Wiliamson and R.J. Barrett, surprisingly lost to Michigan State. The loss sent the host hyped college team in years home early.
Aside from Duke’s dismissal, there’s been plenty of exciting basketball that’s been played. This year’s Elite Eight might have just been the best one ever. Texas Tech beat Gonzaga, and Auburn beat Kentucky, both in underdog upset victories. Virginia also shook off their demons from last year to it make to the Final Four for the first time since 1984.
The NCAA Tournament has always favored defensive, veteran teams. Now, there are four quality defensive teams that all have the capability to win it all. Two of those teams will face off in Minneapolis in what will surely be a must-watch game.
For analysis on the Auburn-Virginia matchup, check out this article.
Let’s take a look at what should be an intriguing matchup between Texas Tech and Michigan State:
The Road Traveled
(3) Texas Tech
Texas Tech dominated their way through the West region with stellar defense. The Big 12 co-champions took care of 14-seed Northern Kentucky in the first round before facing a tough Buffalo in the second round. The Red Raiders held the Bison to 58 points in a dominating 20-point win. Behind the great shooting of Jarrett Culver, and their stifling defense, Texas Tech put the entire college basketball world on notice through the first weekend.
The number-one rated defense in the country then followed that performance with an even better one against Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. The Red Raiders’ defense stifled a potent Wolverine offense, holding them to 44 points and 16 in the first half. Culver was a menace offensively, but it was Norense Odiase and Tariq Owens that provided the defense needed to win.
This win secured their spot in a second-consecutive Elite Eight where they faced off against top-seeded Gonzaga. In this game, Odiase and Owens weren’t nearly as effective guarding the paint. The big men were matched up against two studs in Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura. Yet, in a close, hard-fought game, Texas Tech with good shooting from Culver, Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney.
This will be the Red Raiders’ first Final Four appearance in school history. Third-year coach Chris Beard has built a defensive powerhouse in college hoops. In a relatively short time, Texas Tech has become a top program.
(2) Michigan State
Michigan State got back to the Final Four for the first time since 2015 by playing team basketball. They got off to a slow start by holding off pesky Bradley in the first round in the East region. It was in this game that coach Tom Izzo nearly lost his mind with the play of freshman Aaron Henry, sparking come controversy.
Perhaps Izzo’s frustration with barely scraping by fueled the team’s play in the next three games. First, the Spartans routed Minnesota in the second round with balanced scoring led by Xavier Tillman and Cassius Winston. Then, they easily handled LSU behind 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists from Henry.
In the Elite Eight, Michigan State faced its toughest test in mighty Duke. However, the Spartans and Izzo had no fear matching up against Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils. Winston and Tillman once again led the scoring, with Winston also taking over defensively. Winston ended up with 20 points, 10 assists and four steals, as the Spartans shocked the world by ending Duke’s season.
This should be a great matchup, considering how similarly the two teams play. While Michigan State isn’t the best defensive team, they aren’t bad. They rely more on their offense and ball movement to beat teams; this is what Texas Tech does as well.
Both teams have multiple shooters that can make big-time shots when needed. They also both rely on senior play, with Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins guiding the Spartans, while Odiase, Owens and Mooney lead the Red Raiders.
The point guard matchup should be one for the ages. Winston and Culver both won player of the year in their respective conferences this year. They are both very capable scorers, but Winston is the better play-maker. Therefore, I can see them canceling each other out with great performances.
The game will most likely be won in the paint. If Nick Ward and Tillman can provide pressure on Texas Tech in the interior, then Michigan State will have the advantage. Yet, no other team so far has been able to figure out the Red Raiders’ defensive scheme. Coach Izzo will have to out-coach Coach Beard, and Winston will have to put on another masterclass if Michigan State wants to advance and win their fist title since 2000.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, has bucked at history and would gladly topple another college basketball giant. With just enough shooting, and a suffocating defense, Culver and company can lead the Red Raiders to their first title ever–and cement their place in college basketball history.
In a tough-fought, defensive clash, I see Texas Tech narrowly edging out Michigan State. I think that it will be a very close game throughout, with neither side able to pull away. But I see Odiase, Owens and the rest of the Red Raiders’ versatile defense stopping Michigan State.
If Texas Tech and Virginia were to possibly match up in the final, it would be the greatest display of defensive basketball every put forth. Just goes to show, defense does tend to win championships.