Texas Tech is The Best Parts Of College Basketball in 2019, Distilled

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 5th, 2019

The last 10-15 years of college basketball have witnessed a number of changes. The impact of the NBA’s one-and-done rule has been obvious, but think about what else has shaped the game. There has been an influx of international talent as well as a sharp increase in undergraduate and graduate transfers. In practice facilities, coaching staffs have access to more data and video than ever before, and on the sidelines, the best coaches find a way to marry all of that information with the traditional scouting and player development on which their careers have been built to get the best possible results on the court. Yes, there remains a variety of ways to skin the cat, but not many, and especially not when it comes to rising to the absolute top. Texas Tech may not be the objectively best team left, and whether they’re the most talented team left is debatable, but when I watch the Red Raiders play, I see college basketball in 2019 crystallized into one team.

Texas Tech is the Likeliest Unlikely Final Four Team (USA Today Images)

Sure, Jarrett Culver is a sophomore rather than a one-and-done, but he was already on many 2019 NBA Draft boards after playing a perfect complementary role to Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans on last season’s Elite Eight squad. Last summer, the Red Raiders put Culver on a liberal eating regimen so that he could bulk up and carry the workload necessary to propel his team to a regular season Big 12 title. As a result, he earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors and has led Texas Tech to the sport’s final weekend as a prospective lottery pick two months from now. I guess you could say it’s worked.

Davide Moretti may not have the pro potential that Culver possesses, but he’s playing the same complementary role that Culver played last season, and maybe even better than he did. Despite not starting, the Italian sophomore owns a top-15 offensive rating on KenPom and is one of the most dangerous scorers in the country, capable of breaking opponents’ backs at all three levels at a nearly unheard-of rate: Moretti is one of just four players since the 1992-93 season to have shot at least 50 percent from the field, 45 percent from deep and 90 percent from the foul line while playing at least 1,000 minutes. He’s also a solid defender and capable facilitator who fits Chris Beard‘s scheme to a tee.

St. John’s transfer Tariq Owens helped propel the Red Raiders to the Final Four with two key blocks on Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, and senior Matt Mooney’s third and final stop in his college career landed in Lubbock, where the skills he honed at Air Force and South Dakota have translated just fine. Senior forward Norense Odiase is the only scholarship upperclassman who hasn’t spent time with another program, and seeing him persevere through two significant injuries in his career to thrive as the big man opposite Owens has been one of the most unheralded stories of the tournament. The pesky Buffalo team that many tabbed to make a run to the second weekend flamed out in large part due to Odiase’s 15-point, 14-rebound, 1-turnover performance in a Round of 32 laugher.

And then there’s the job Beard has done as head coach. Our Walker Carey did a great job summing up Beard’s journey and his worthiness of the RTC and AP Coach of the Year awards, so I won’t rehash everything here. But what jumps out to most about Beard has been his willingness to adjust his style of play to the strengths of his players and the current demands of the game. For example, with Moretti significantly improving his three-point shooting from a tepid 31.7 percent last year to a scalding 46.3 percent this season, and Mooney providing similar long-distance accuracy to what he provided in his previous stops, Beard realized that this team could lean more heavily on three-pointers than last year’s more athletic and bigger group did. Since Texas Tech’s January 26 game against Arkansas, 38.2 percent of the Red Raiders’ shots have come from three-point range. The team has lost just two games since then: a meeting at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks ran the table despite having one of their roughest seasons in recent memory, and last month’s fluky-as-all-get-out tilt with West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament. While Tech still prides itself on defense above all else, its offense has created a two-way attack that’s well-suited to keep up with Michigan State tomorrow night.

Like a couple of its Final Four brethren, Texas Tech isn’t a hoops program with a ton of cache beyond the close followers of the sport, but a lot of what they’re about right now is what college basketball is about right now, and it has the Red Raiders just two victories away from immortality.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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