A showdown of two No. 1s determines the West Regional's bid to the 2019 Final Four, as the top-ranked Texas Tech defense faces the nation's best offense in Gonzaga.
The third-seeded Red Raiders and top seed Bulldogs advanced to Saturday's Elite Eight at Honda Center with double-digit-point margins of victory in the Sweet 16, but the nature of their victories differed dramatically. Gonzaga used a balanced offense to overcome Florida State's length and defensive prowess, ultimately pulling away from a four-point deficit late in the game.
Texas Tech physically battered Michigan and stymied every look the Wolverines had at the hoop. The Red Raiders' overwhelming defense turned into offense in the second half, as star Jarrett Culver spread the wealth en route to a lopsided win.
The clash in styles sets the tone for this Elite Eight showdown.
West Regional: No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (29-6) vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs (33-3)
Time: 6:09 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: Honda Center (Anaheim, Calif.)
Keys for Texas Tech
The best defense in college basketball demonstrated exactly why it holds such distinction in the Sweet 16, just as it did in the Round of 32 against Buffalo. Both the Bulls and Texas Tech's Sweet 16 opponent, Michigan, came in with top-21 offenses in terms of adjusted efficiency. Both were taking away from their plan when Tech punched them in the mouth early.
"We played the defense we've been playing all year and their shots [weren't] going in," Culver said. And that's no exaggeration: Michigan failed to make a single 3-pointer the entire contest.
Gonzaga's much less reliant on the deep ball, with just 26.5 percent of its point distribution coming from behind the arc. That's not to suggest the Zags won't shoot the 3-pointer; a couple of Zach Norvell Jr. triples were critical for Gonzaga's win over Florida State. But Texas Tech's defensive efforts will focus on keeping the Zags from attacking off the dribble.
Turnover generation figures to be a potential key for the Red Raiders. They rank No. 11 in the nation in creating takeaways and were again excellent against a Michigan offense that typically avoided them. Gonzaga's 11th-best in college basketball in ball security.
Keys for Gonzaga
Gonzaga scored 72 points against a top-10 adjusted defensive efficiency opponent in the Sweet 16 vs. Florida State. The Zags were able to push the tempo and attack the Seminoles' excellent defense with a multifaceted approach. Four of five starters scored in double figures, with the fifth — Corey Kispert — putting up seven points.
Another, similarly balanced effort is essential against the No. 1-ranked Texas Tech defense. The space created with some timely, outside shots opens looks closer to the rim. Pulling away Texas Tech's rim protectors, like outstanding shot-blocker Tariq Owens, is a must. That Gonzaga's forwards — Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura — can capably face up and attack off the dribble opens the floor.
Against Florida State, their ability to create space off the bounce also opened up opportunities at offensive rebounds and put-back points. Texas Tech doesn't have many weaknesses on defense, but one is that the Red Raiders allowed opponents offensive boards on 28.5 percent of possessions. Put-backs could give the Zags better point-blank looks than any play they might run against Tech's defense.
A Final Four berth coming down to the top defense and top offense should be enough to make a basketball fan salivate. If that's not enough, the fact that three legitimate NBA first-round prospects will be in action, between Culver, Clarke, and Hachimura, only adds to the excitement of Saturday's affair.
After a pair of games won by double digits, the West Regional is due for a nail-biter. The final should deliver. Gonzaga's a team with remarkable poise, which it demonstrated pulling away from Florida State after the Seminoles cut into the lead. Texas Tech has overachieved all season long and needs to one more time against an opponent that's both the most overall talented it will face this campaign, but that's equally cohesive.
The old cliche says defense wins championships; that might very well be the case. But Gonzaga's offensive firepower just may be enough to send it to the program's second Final Four.