A pair of hard-fought wins in the Round of 32 set the stage for an intriguing Sweet 16 matchup between the 3-seed Texas Tech Red Raiders and 2-seed Duke Blue Devils to see which team will move on to the West Region final. Texas Tech (27-9) sealed its third Sweet 16 berth in the last four NCAA Tournaments with a 59-53 win over Notre Dame, with Duke (30-6) taking down one of the program's longtime rivals as head coach Mike Krzyzewski defeated Tom Izzo and Michigan State in an 85-76 win in the Round of 32.
The final few minutes of Sunday's victories were quite positive for both sides, as the Blue Devils trailed the Spartans by five points with just five minutes to play before closing on a 20-6 run. Not to be outdone, the Red Raiders closed their win over the Fighting Irish with a 10-1 run in the final two minutes.
A win for the Red Raiders would bring Texas Tech to an even 20-20 in the NCAA Tournament, while Duke is making its 28th Sweet 16 appearance, the second-most by any program. On a personal note, Krzyzewski will be taking part in his 26th Sweet 16 — extending his own NCAA record — in Duke's second-ever meeting with Texas Tech and first in the Big Dance.
West Region: No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (27-9) vs. No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (30-6)
Time: Thursday, March 24 at 9:39 p.m. ET (approximately)
Where: Chase Center (San Francisco)
Spread: Texas Tech -1
Keys for Texas Tech
The backbone of the Red Raiders' success throughout the season has been their extremely tight defense that has held opponents to just 60.2 points per game, the best mark in the Big 12 and eighth in Division I. Only 12 other teams have allowed 61 or fewer points per game this season, with Houston the lone program to manage the feat for as many games (36) as Texas Tech.
That success can be attributed to a number of factors, including the Red Raiders' 292 steals (15th nationally) and top-25 rebound margin (+6.1 per game). Guards Davion Warren and Kevin McCullar both enter the Sweet 16 among the top 10 in the Big 12 in steals with nearly three per game combined. McCullar added a pair of steals against Notre Dame on Sunday, in addition to his 14 points.
But make no mistake about it: the Red Raiders are one of the toughest teams to score against, especially inside the 3-point arc. Texas Tech allows just 38.2 shooting from the field overall, which ranks fourth nationally. Teams also are connecting on 31.4 percent of their shots beyond the arc, which is why the Red Raiders are so stingy on the scoreboard.
Here's another way to look at it. Texas Tech is 2-4 in games in which opponents scores 70 or more points. And when the Red Raiders hold teams to 69 or fewer? They are 25-5. Combine that with a 22-4 record when leading at halftime, and the game plan when facing Texas Tech is clear: Start fast or suffer the consequences.
Keys for Duke
Even though the Red Raiders boast one of the toughest defenses in all of college basketball, such a matchup is hardly unfamiliar territory for the Blue Devils. Fellow Sweet 16 participant Gonzaga has allowed the second-lowest field-goal percentage (37.9) in Division I entering this round, and Duke was one of just five teams to eclipse 80 points against the Bulldogs and one of just two (Alabama) to pull out a win while doing so. In fact, looking at teams that were either ranked or receiving votes at the time of their meeting with Duke, the Blue Devils scored at least 75 points against all three — Kentucky (No. 10), Gonzaga (No. 1), and Virginia Tech (receiving votes) — and won by eight, three and 11 points, respectively.
Duke enters the Sweet 16 averaging just over 80.2 points per game and is just one of eight teams nationally to score at least 80 points per contest this season. Gonzaga (87.8 ppg, first in Division I) and Arizona (84.6 ppg, third) are the only other teams still alive in this NCAA Tournament. That productivity is driven quite heavily by the Blue Devils' two-pronged strength of sharing the ball and doing so only with those wearing Duke blue. The team's 1.64 assist-to-turnover ratio is third in the nation (Iowa leads at 1.74).
What some may find surprising, however, is that star freshman forward Paolo Banchero (17 ppg) is Duke's only representative in the nation's top 350 scorers this season … and even he falls just outside the top 100. Given Duke's scoring ability, it would seem logical that Banchero wouldn't find himself alone as the only Blue Devil averaging at least 15 points per game, but he's far from the only one to contribute to the team's overall success either.
Mark Williams leads the ACC and is fifth nationally with 104 blocks this season, one of the reasons why he was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year. A force on the boards too, Williams and Banchero are in the top 10 in the conference in rebounds, averaging a combined 15.3 per game between them. The duo has produced a combined 20 double-doubles this season, and their presence and production inside will be a critical factor to watch against Texas Tech's nearly unbreakable defense.
Even though Duke has been one of the top-scoring teams in all of collegiate hoops this year, Texas Tech will almost certainly provide one of the Blue Devils' toughest challenges. That being said, though, despite falling short in the ACC Tournament championship game to Virginia Tech, Duke's momentum from winning its first two NCAA Tournament games — with neither coming easily — has provided a nice rebound. Red Raiders head coach Mark Adams — the Big 12 Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award — has done a fine job himself, but his counterpart is going for his 100th career Tournament victory, and these Blue Devils aren't ready to see Coach K's tenure end just yet.
Prediction: Duke 69, Texas Tech 64
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.