Two of the nation's best defensive teams collide in Orange County
Michigan's run to the national championship game a season ago went through Southern California. The Wolverines return, this time opening the West Regional against an opponent that fell short of its Final Four dreams a year ago, Texas Tech.
This clash of Big Ten and Big 12 teams features two of the very best defensive squads college basketball has to offer, with two of the game's premier coaches on the sideline. For Michigan's John Beilein, 2019 marks the seventh Sweet 16 appearance of his illustrious coaching career and fifth such trip at Michigan. The well-tenured Beilein has implemented a fluid brand of unselfish offensive basketball that complements the Wolverines' No. 2-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency.
Beard's overall track record is much shorter, but the 2019 Tournament is the third in four years in which Beard has coached a team winning at least one game. He led Arkansas-Little Rock to an upset of Purdue in 2016, and now in just his third season at Texas Tech has led the Red Raiders to consecutive Sweet 16s.
The next step for Texas Tech is to advance to the Final Four, while Michigan pursues its third appearance in the last six years.
West Regional: No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (28-6) vs. No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (30-6)
Time: Approximately 9:39 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Honda Center (Anaheim, Calif.)
Keys for Texas Tech
Texas Tech is the nation's No. 1 defense in KenPom.com adjusted efficiency, so it's not a revelation to posit everything starts and ends with imposing its will on that side of the ball. A central component of the Red Raiders' outstanding defense is it allows very few clean looks, particularly inside the 3-point arc. Opponents shoot an average of just 41.4 from 2-point range, the second-stingiest yield in the nation.
A key to Tech successfully employing this approach is to make its opponents play frantically. In this instance, the Red Raiders can turn offense into defense. The way of doing that is to establish an arm's length lead early.
Though a team defined by defense, Texas Tech has capable scorers. Jarrett Culver is an effective offensive weapon, and one of four different Red Raiders who has attempted at least 105 3-pointers on the season. Matt Mooney, Davide Moretti, and Brandone Francis have all been open to firing away, and Mooney and Moretti have hit on 38.1 and 45.4 percent of their attempts. Should Tech knock enough shots early to build a lead, it will feed directly into the Red Raiders' emphasis on causing defensive havoc.
Keys for Michigan
Michigan's offense is a thing of beauty. Quick ball movement, all five players on the court getting touches, few wasted dribbles, and the end result is often a good shot. The Wolverines aren't quite as scary on offense this season, lacking a scorer the caliber of Moritz Wagner. However, Jordan Poole shoots the 3-pointer effectively enough to spread the defense, Charles Matthews slashes effectively from the perimeter, and that leads to quality interior looks for center Jon Teske.
Perhaps most important to Thursday's matchup, Michigan commits very few turnovers. The Wolverines rank third in the nation in possessions resulting in turnovers (just 13.7), which contrasts starkly with Texas Tech's No. 10-ranked turnover-generating defense. One of the byproducts of the Red Raiders' excellent defense is that it forces the other team to make errant passes. Likewise, Texas Tech thrives when forcing opponents to take bad shots. Tech is 17th in the nation in shot-blocking, with Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase patrolling the paint.
Michigan's unselfish style of play and patience are the ideal counters to Texas Tech's issue-forcing defense. The Wolverines have to trust what's worked for them and not settle for rushed shots.
Expect a well-coached chess match in this showdown between Beard and Beilein. The similarities between their teams are evident, most notably on the defensive end. Both are also efficient on offense, but Michigan's just a bit more consistent in that regard.
The Wolverines are not vulnerable to scoring droughts, thanks to their methodical and balanced approach. Tech arguably has the best individual player in this contest, Culver, but Michigan's experience could make the difference.
Prediction: Michigan 65, Texas Tech 60