Every men’s basketball team descending upon Minneapolis later this week for the Final Four has a reason it has survived to this point of the season.
But if you’re looking for one defining trait for a team looking to capture that one shining moment Monday night, it’s this: Texas Tech and a dominant defense.
The Red Raiders are making their first Final Four appearance thanks in large part to a team defense that ranks at or near the top in several advanced metrics — a continuation of a theme from a year ago, when Texas Tech reached the Elite Eight.
• For starters, their opponents have the lowest offensive rating (86.5) in Division I. That means Texas Tech opponents, per College Basketball Reference, are scoring just 86.5 points per 100 possessions.
Kenpom.com, a great resource for advanced stats, takes it a step further. Texas Tech is allowing just 84.1 points per game in that site’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which takes into account quality of opponent. That’s again No. 1 in the country (though fellow Final Four teams Virginia and Michigan State are also in the Top 10).
• So what’s the secret to a defense built by head coach Chris Beard and assistant Mark Adams?
Well, it helps to not really have a weak link. As opponents have found out all year, Texas Tech’s rotation is packed with good individual defenders who understand team concepts. They’re a bunch of rangy athletes who can seamlessly switch on screens to take away passing lanes and limit good shots.
But the Red Raiders also are willing to adapt. Gonzaga was hurting them when they switched on defense in the first half of the region final, so Texas Tech didn’t switch as much in the second half.
Gonzaga, which led the country in offensive efficiency this season, was stifled in the final 20 minutes of a 75-69 loss.
• Statistically, Texas Tech’s defensive balance shows up in many ways. The Red Raiders have held opponents to just 29.3 percent shooting from three-point range, No. 8 in the country. But opponents are also shooting just 42 percent on two-pointers — the third-best defensive mark in the nation.
They’ve also blocked 179 shots, good for No. 7 in the country. And Texas Tech is No. 2 in the country in limiting foes to a .428 effective field goal percentage, a stat that takes into account the difference in value in long-range shots.
• If there’s a weakness, it’s found on the glass. Texas Tech is No. 131 in the country in total rebound rate (per College Basketball Reference), so an opponent might get some second-chance opportunities.
Michigan State, their opponent in Saturday’s semifinal, is No. 6 in total rebound rate so watch the battle on the boards.
• But just because Texas Tech emphasizes defense doesn’t mean the Red Raiders play at a crawl. They are No. 250 in the nation in adjusted tempo, per barttorvik.com — so they don’t play fast. But more than 100 schools have played slower this season, including fellow Final Four entrant Virginia, which ranks dead last in that category among 353 Division I schools.
“We don’t want to play slow, you know, but we want to control the tempo and take shots and play March basketball,” Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney said after the Red Raiders knocked off Gonzaga.
What works in March should work in April, too.