Texas Tech has drawn a difficult first round NCAA tournament matchup in Utah State.
Making the NCAA tournament was a foregone conclusion for Texas Tech, so the main intrigue on Selection Sunday was finding out the team’s seeding and matchups. While some fans might be disappointed that the Red Raiders were given a six seed as opposed to a five seed, it’s the matchups more than the seeding that makes the difference.
As the six seed in the south bracket, Texas Tech will take on 11-seed Utah State in the first round on Friday. Should they advance, Chris Beard’s team will take on either third-seeded Arkansas or 14-seed Colgate in an attempt to reach the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive tournament. But to do that, they must first win their opening game, which will have its share of obstacles.
How Utah State Matches Up
The Aggies have a similar profile to the Red Raiders in that both are stronger on defense, as their points per game and opponents’ points per game are similar. The big difference is strength of schedule. The Aggies did not play a single Top 25 team until losing to San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament final, though they did defeat the Aztecs twice in the regular season when they were unranked.
Don’t let that strength of schedule fool you though. Utah State’s leading scorer is seven-foot center Neemias Queta, who’ll be a matchup nightmare. The junior averages a double-double (15 points and 10 rebounds) to go along with 3.2 blocks and 2.5 assists per game, so he is a force down low. Their second-highest scorer is 6-7 forward Justin Bean, who averages 11.3 points and 7.7 rebounds, so they have two guys who can score inside and rebound well.
The Aggies are 21st in the nation and first in their conference in assists per game and are in the top 50 nationally in both two-pointers attempted per game and two-pointers made, so they pass the ball frequently and do a lot of damage inside, which makes sense given their talent down low. That could prove to be difficult for the undersized Red Raiders.
The good news is the Aggies are not the best three-point shooting team, though they did shoot better in conference play. They just don’t take as many threes as some other teams, so Texas Tech’s defense should be able to handle Utah State’s guards. They’ll just have to find a way to limit the big men, both from a scoring and rebounding standpoint.
Keys to the Game
This is a game that could be won or lost on the glass, as Utah State is a good rebounding team on both sides. Texas Tech is giving up a lot of size to Queta, so I wonder if Beard will utilize big man Vladislav Goldin in this game, as both Marcus Santos-Silva and Tyreek Smith are five inches shorter than Queta. Regardless, it’s going to be hard to contain him offensively and on the boards.
If the Red Raiders can get Queta into foul trouble, that will help their cause immensely. They should be able to defend Utah State’s guards, and this isn’t a team that attempts a lot of three-pointers. That’s been the biggest weakness for Texas Tech defensively this year, so the main task on defense will be trying to neutralize or at least limit their big men.
On offense, obviously trying to score down low is going to be tough with Queta in the game. They can try utilizing pick and rolls and can take advantage when he’s on the bench, but the outside scorers will have to make shots. If Mac McClung, Kyler Edwards and Terrence Shannon can be efficient, the Red Raiders should be fine.
Turnovers will be key as well. Texas Tech takes better care of the ball and forces more turnovers than Utah State, so they’ll have to exploit that in a game where they lack size. Getting points in transition will give them easier buckets and limit the effectiveness of Queta. This is going to be a dogfight, which the Red Raiders are no stranger to.
So if Texas Tech can at least hold its own on the glass, win the turnover battle and make its perimeter shots, it should be able to advance to the next round. That may be easier said than done, so don’t overlook what a difficult matchup Utah State can be just because of their strength of schedule or seeding. Beard’s boys will have to be at their best to win this one.