Should I Bet on Texas Tech in the College Basketball National Championship Game?
People have looked for all sorts of different ways to express how unique and surprising it is that Texas Tech is in the Championship Game against Virginia on Monday night. My personal favorite is that there were 49 teams that received at least one vote in the preseason AP poll last fall, and Texas Tech was not one of them.
But we need to be careful. If we transport ourselves back to November, then where the team is and what they have done is truly incredible. But it is no fluke now. This team grew into themselves and embraced a system to an incredible degree. They have been impressive to watch. Not always exciting, but very impressive.
So, despite the very slow start, we are left with just one final question - should I bet on Texas Tech in the College Basketball National Championship Game? Here are six good reasons that it might not be a bad idea:
They don't have to score well to win: This is a team that doesn't have an offense within the Top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency. And at times in this tournament things have been just painful offensively for them. Against Michigan State they scored a fairly lethargic 1.02 points per possession. In the first half against Michigan, they scored at a pathetic 0.83 ppp. But they were mostly in command against the Spartans, and against the Wolverines they dominated - even in the first half when they couldn't score. They are able to set the tone and to drive a game by their smothering defense. Virginia is obviously a defensive team as well and a tough one to score against. Texas Tech won't be intimidated by having to find other ways to win. It's what they do.
They aren't going to be bothered by Virginia's tempo: Virginia's chief strategy in winning so many games is that they slow the pace down so much that they bore their opponents to death, You can't score when you are having a nap, so taking the air right out of the ball is working great for the Cavaliers. They are ranked 353rd in the country in adjusted tempo. Know how many teams there are in the country this year? If you guessed 353, then you are paying attention. A team that plays that slowly then it can be very disorienting for opponents. But not for Texas Tech. It's what they do as well. They rank 237th in adjusted tempo. So, while they are clearly higher tempo than their opponent here, they aren't exactly flying up and down the court. They see the tempo mind games they will be facing in the game every day in practice. They won't be caught off guard.
Chris Beard can coach: The third-year Texas Tech head coach has had an odd path to where he is. He took a winding path through the backwaters of basketball to an assistant job at Texas Tech under the two Knights. But then he left that after a decade and again headed into the backwaters, coaching in the ABA and at two junior colleges before a year at Little Rock and now three years at Texas Tech. It's been a long, strange trip, but along the way he has certainly learned how to coach. He took over a Little Rock team that was 13-18, and in his only year there he won 30 games and a NCAA Tournament game. Tubby Smith has led the Red Raiders into stifling mediocrity. It took Beard a year to get on track, but he was in the Elite Eight in Year 2 last year, and now here they are. He's up against a very good coach in Tony Bennett, but if forced to side with one of the two I'd take Beard. He's done more faster with less.
Nothing to lose: The Red Raiders are playing with house money. No one expected anything from them before the season. No one thought they would make it this far in the tournament. Few had them getting out of the Sweet 16. They have exceeded every expectation. There is no pressure here. Virginia has to deal with being a No. 1 team again. With avenging the setbacks of their epic loss last year, and of other disappointing early performances. Virginia has all the pressure here. That is a great feeling for a team.
They have passed a lot of tests so far: Virginia is a very solid opponent. That goes without saying. But this Texas Tech team hasn't fluked into the finals here. They have very much earned their spot. They stifled a Buffalo squad that was a sexy Cinderella pick. They humiliated a very good Michigan team. They got past top-seeded Gonzaga, even though the Bulldogs were better than anyone else has been at putting Texas Tech off their game. And they handled a Michigan State team that had a massive edge in institutional experience. Virginia is quite possibly the best team the Red Raiders have played so far, but not by much. This is a team that has been tested repeatedly by fire, and they are still standing.
Patrick Mahomes is in the building: It took the Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback just one season as a starter to become a legend. He's an NFL MVP, and he's a Texas Tech alum. He was right there in Minneapolis flexing and laughing during the Michigan State game. And you can bet he'll be there again for the biggest game a team from his school has ever played. The guy has the golden touch. If the Red Raiders are good enough for him, then what makes you think they aren't good enough for you?
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