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Scouting Final Four teams: How to beat Texas Tech

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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. 

We started with Virginia. Then we gave you Auburn. Up next, Texas Tech.

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.”

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SO HOW DO YOU BEAT THAT DEFENSE?

“Not easily.”

“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.”

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)