NBC Sports spoke with a dozen coaches in the last two days to put together a scouting report for each of the teams in the Final Four.
The coaches were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty.
EVERYTHING STARTS WITH THEIR DEFENSE
Texas Tech was the best defensive team in the country this season. But the way they play is unlike just about anyone else in college basketball, and fundamentally, it is the polar opposite of what Virginia does.
“When the ball is on one side of the floor they sell out to keep you on that side, putting pressure on the ball, active hands, icing side-ball screens. They’re going to make you play on that side.”
“They put four in the box. Imagine splitting the court in half, and whatever side the ball is in, they’ll have four in the box all of the time. And everything is going to get forced to the baseline, overplaying so much. They would rather get beaten baseline then allow the ball to be reversed. They’re going to have plenty of help, too. They take a ton of charges because they already have help on that side of the floor. Their weakside defenders will drop to the level of the ball.”
“They were switching everything against us. It bothered us. The thing is, with all of that, the overplaying defense, what they do is hand the ball off. It stops in one place, if it’s dribbled in one place, the ball doesn’t move. If the ball doesn’t move, people don’t move. If people don’t move, everything becomes one-on-one. They’re too good to beat one-on-one.”
“They’ve got their base defense that’s what they do, but they’ve done a really good job adjusting to different teams and different personnel. Normally they push ball screens down, but sometimes they switch and sometimes they take people out of rotation. They help sometimes, sometimes they don’t help at all. It’s all based on personnel and what you’re trying to do. They are always really, really prepared.”
“One thing that’s underrated is how much they get their hands on the ball. It bothered Michigan and Gonzaga.”
“[Tariq] Owens and [Matt] Mooney are the two keys, but it really is just a team thing. [Norense] Odiase gives them a level and physicality and toughness. They can even switch with him. His energy is huge. Mooney gives great effort and is great positionally. But it’s a team thing. Their personnel does not add up to how good they are. The whole is great than the sum of the parts. It’s a product of Chris Beard. They are fearless, mentally tough, the belief they play with.”
“They ‘ham and egg’ it. Like when you play golf. They pick each other up. When one guy has a bad game, they are two guys having a great game to pick them up. They are absolute rock stars in their role.”
SO HOW DO YOU BEAT THAT DEFENSE?
“You need to get crisp, solid passing. Tech does not let that happen. You have to run your stuff higher and wider, extend it out, run it wide. Position it so you’re behind on some of that stuff. Then try and get them in transition, get down the floor before they can get set. Michigan State can do that.”
“Get them in transition. Reverse the ball in transition, hit them with drag screens, pass-pass-drive. It has to be quick.”
“You have to be able to get the ball to the top of the key and then to the other side of the floor with good action behind it. Pull them away from the basket if you can, reverse it quickly and with action. Otherwise, they’re just going to switch it like a zone. He doesn’t care who is guarding who. There’s a saying in basketball, the man doesn’t beat you, the open shot does. That’s a Bob Knight thing, and Chris Beard worked with Coach Knight.”
WHAT HAPPENED IN FEBRUARY?
Texas Tech lost three straight games in the middle of January. They were smoked at Kansas on Feb. 2nd. Since then, the only game they lost came against West Virginia in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. They won their 13 other games, and saw their offensive rating on KenPom jump up from 107th on Feb. 2nd to 30th as of April 2nd.
“They’re making shots. Mooney, [Davide] Moretti, all the role guys, they’re shooting and playing with more confidence.”
“I think they’re doing a much better job of scoring in transition off misses and turnvoers. Now, it’s easy to say that when they’re making shots. That goes into it. A lot of teams in our league, they hit a tough stretch at some point during league play. Tech has done a great job of renewing commitment to the defensive end, and they also stayed healthy.”
“Beard isn’t a pick-and-roll guy. He’s motion to an iso. During that slump, they relied too much on the iso and too much on Culver.”
JARRETT CULVER IS SO GOOD
Texas Tech has a number of guys that can thrive in their roles. Mooney has been more aggressive and confident as a creator. Moretti might be the best shooter left in the tournament. Brandone Francis, Deshawn Corprew, Kyler Edwards. They can make shots. But offensively, everything is centered about Tech’s All-American Jarrett Culver.
“He’s so good. He’s does a great job picking spots. He hasn’t forced a lot of late, and they run a lot of motion to move him around. There are a few set plays for him. The hardest thing about him is that he covers a ton of ground. You feel like you’re staying with him, but you’re not. He just blew by you and got a bucket.”
“They got Culver. He can go get his own and pop off. He makes it look so easy. He’s so quick covering ground. When you watch him on film, you’re just like, ‘sh–, we’re not stopping that.’ He can get from here to there is 1-to-2 dribbles and then finish over the help. You’re not stopping that! He makes it look so easy.”
“Michigan State challenges everything in the paint. You drive, you get an offensive rebound, look at how many guys are making a play on the ball. It’s more than anyone. I think Culver is good enough to beat that.”
TEXAS TECH CAN BE PRESSURED
Maybe it’s not a coincidence that West Virginia beat them.
“They’re so pressureable. People have to press them. They don’t have a do-it-all guard. Moretti is solid, heady. Mooney is rock solid and can score. All those role guys that play their ass off. Even Culver isn’t a true point guard, a QB. They don’t have a QB.”
“When we played them, we knew you had to pressure them. Michigan State won’t extend their defense. They can’t extend their defense. Texas Tech has seen it more now, but they can be beaten because they lack a true point guard.”