Texas Tech vs. Michigan State Pick
Texas Tech Red Raiders (30-6 SU, 19-16-1 ATS) vs. Michigan State Spartans (32-6 SU, 27-11 ATS)
When: Saturday, April 6, 2019 – 8:50 PM ET
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Point Spread: TTU +2.5/MIST -2.5 (Intertops)
Total: O/U 132.5
Last Time Out: Texas Tech beat Gonzaga 75-69; Michigan State edged Duke 68-67
Scouting the Red Raiders:
The battle between the best offense and the best defense goes to the defense. Rather than follow the Saint Mary’s slowdown blueprint, Texas Tech suffocated Gonzaga its own way by forcing steals and blocking shots when the Bulldogs got close. Now they’ve played their way into the Final Four with a defense-first strategy that’s backed up by an offense that can get the job done when it’s required.
Make no mistake: although the Red Raiders play nasty defense and like a slower pace, this is not like the old Wisconsin teams that needed to grind out wins with scores in the 40s. Texas Tech can play that way if necessary, but with a genuine star in Jarrett Culver and a dangerous 3-point weapon in Davide Moretti, Texas Tech can win with its offense almost as well as it can with its defense.
Scouting the Spartans:
Experience does count for something, and Michigan State showed it by holding off Duke, riding its experience to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2015. Compared to the other three teams, the Spartans are old hats at this, as Virginia is in its first Final Four since 1984 and Texas Tech and Auburn have never gotten this far before. The reason Michigan State is here is because of Cassius Winston, who has put the Spartans on his back in the postseason by averaging 19 points a game in the tournament so far.
Beginner’s luck. Chris Beard is one of three coaches in the Final Four for the first time, which gives a major edge to Michigan State and Tom Izzo, the only coach left in the tournament who has previously reached the Final Four. Why does Izzo have the edge here? Because it’s very difficult and very rare for a coach to win a national championship on his first trip to the Final Four, unless he’s coaching Connecticut, which has done it twice with Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie.
Over the past 24 years, the only non-Connecticut coaches to win the national championship on his first trip to the Final Four are Kentucky’s Tubby Smith in 1998 and Kansas’ Bill Self, who did it in 2008. Overall, coaches are 4-32 in their first trip to college basketball’s grandest stage since 1996, with many of those coaches losing their national semifinal game. That’s because coaching in the Final Four is unlike any other situation in college basketball, and Beard will have to deal with distractions for the first time that Izzo has seen many times before. How well the Texas Tech coach handles them will determine how successful the Red Raiders are.
Texas Tech will Cover if:
The Red Raiders can force the Spartans into mistakes. What makes Texas Tech so difficult to play against is that the Red Raiders are so good at getting into passing lanes, blocking shots and forcing teams into bad decisions. On its path to the Final Four, Texas Tech played Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga, none of whom were known for having turnover problems during the regular season. All four finished with at least five turnovers more than their season average when they played the Red Raiders, and Michigan was the only one with fewer than 15 turnovers against Texas Tech.
That’s a terrifying thought for Michigan State, as the Spartans’ Achilles’ heel all season has been their inability to take care of the basketball. It showed up again in the second round against Minnesota, as Michigan State coughed it up 22 times in the win. The Spartans’ ballhandling was fantastic in two games in Washington against LSU and Duke, but neither of those squads plays defense like Texas Tech. If the Spartans’ ballhandling issues resurface against this defense, the Red Raiders will be playing on Monday night.
Michigan State will Cover if:
The Spartans can use their size to extend their possessions. Just like Michigan State’s biggest weakness plays into Texas Tech’s biggest strength, so too does the Red Raiders’ biggest weakness play into the Spartans’ biggest strength. Even though it lost the rebounding battle to Duke, Michigan State usually rebounds the basketball better than just about anyone in the nation, ranking fourth in the nation in rebound margin.
Texas Tech, conversely, does not rebound the ball well and can be bullied on the glass. The Red Raiders have been outrebounded in three of their four wins in the tournament, and the Spartans will need to do what Gonzaga could not: make those rebounds count by getting easy shots. It’s an effective formula, one that Kansas State and Iowa State both used to snag wins over the Red Raiders.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Michigan State is facing a completely different challenge than it did on Sunday. The Spartans were facing a group of individuals against Duke, and now they’re facing a true team just like themselves in Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are every bit as good as the Spartans at playing cohesive basketball, and they’re not going to be fazed by a team that plays as a unit the way that Duke was.
This is a battle of opposing strengths, and I think the Red Raiders’ defense gives them a slightly bigger edge than the Spartans’ rebounding prowess. This should be a great game from start to finish, but I want the Texas Tech defense here. Give me the Red Raiders and the points.