Duke is playing Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen and while Chris Beard is now in Austin, Duke did play Texas Tech in 2018 in the Garden when he coached the Red Raiders. Of course Duke had Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Tre Jones.
That game was close until Duke pulled away late, winning 69-58.
We’re pretty sure the only guy who was on either team who is still playing is Joey Baker, and he wasn’t actually playing at that point (he gave up his redshirt later in the year but got it back due to Covid).
Texas Tech’s rotation goes 10 deep and is largely built through the portal.
Kevin McCullar is a 6-6, 210 lb. junior from San Antonio. Kevin Obanor you may remember from Oral Roberts last year. He’s a 6-8, 235 lb. senior. The wonderfully named Adonis Arms is a 6-5, 200 lb. senior.
Super-senior, according to the official Texas Tech site.
And there are a bunch of super-seniors.
Bryson Williams is a 6-8, 240 lb. super-senior. Terrence Shannon is a 6-6, 215 lb. junior. Davion Warren is another super-senior. He’s 6-5 and 205. Mylik Wilson is a 6-3, 175 lb. junior who came over from Louisiana-Lafayette. Clarence Nadolny is a 6-6, 210 lb. junior. Marcus Santos-Silva is a 6-7 super-senior who transferred in from VCU. And Daniel Batcho is a 6-11 redshirt freshman who transferred from Arizona.
You probably see a couple of patterns here: five seniors, four juniors and one freshman and everyone is basically between 6-5 and 6-8 except for Wilson and Batcho.
And maybe you missed this, but they defend very, very well.
Coach Mark Adams took over when Beard left for Austin, and he’s a lifer. He’s coached at small colleges and JUCOs from 1981 to 2013 when he came back to Texas Tech as Director of Basketball Operations, then joined Chris Beard at Little Rock. And of course he followed Beard back to Texas Tech in 2016 where he helped build Tech’s rugged defense.
He didn’t get his big break until this year, when he was 65 and so far, he’s more than justified the faith AD Kirby Hocutt showed when he promoted him.
The Red Raiders are 27-9 and are a handful to say the least.
They’re not huge down low but to an extent they remind us of some of Mike Krzyzewski’s more interesting squads like the 1986-87 team which was similar in size although Tommy Amaker was quite small in comparison.
Or perhaps Lou Henson’s Final Four team at Illinois where every key player was between 6-4 and 6-8 and which presaged the concept of positionless basketball by a couple of decades.
The basic idea behind Adams’s No Middle defense, as we understand it, is to seal off the middle and force you to the outside and to the baseline. Tony Bennett has similar goals at Virginia but he does it differently with the Packline.
Somewhat like Virginia, we suspect, Adams’s No Middle defense is designed to neutralize or overcome superior talent. And look what it did against Gonzaga: Tech limited Drew Timme to four shots earlier in the season and just seven points. Chet Holmgren was just 1-4. Rasir Bolton, Andrew Nemhard and Anton Watson bailed the Zags out with 41 of 69 points.
Okay, so how about Kansas?
David McCormack got three shots, four points and six boards the first time. The second time, he had 13 points in a double OT win. And the third time, he had 18 points on 5-10 from the floor.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Duke only has the one time to play Tech.
Just out of curiosity, we took a look at how the other team did on threes in Tech’s losses.
- Providence: 6-20/30 percent.
- Gonzaga: 13-31/41.9 percent
- Iowa State: 7-25/28 percent
- Kansas I: 10-26/38.5 percent
- Kansas State: 9-26/34.6 percent
- Kansas II: 8-23 percent/34.8 percent
- Oklahoma: 13-28/46.4 percent
- TCU: 6-16/37.5 percent
- Oklahoma State: 5-23/21.7 percent
- Kansas II: 5-19/26.3 percent
And just out of curiosity, let’s look at foul shots in those games:
- Providence: 28-38
- Gonzaga: 8-10
- Iowa State: 14-19
- Kansas I: 15-18
- Kansas State: 5-7
- Kansas II: 22-30
- Oklahoma: 11-15
- TCU: 13-23
- Oklahoma State: 9-13
- Kansas III: 25-32
So clearly taking threes, which Adams wants you to do, is one way to beat the defense, as long as you hit them. So assuming he’s ready to go after his ankle issue against Michigan State, this could be a big game for AJ Griffin and anyone else who gets hot from outside.
Another way might be to just go over the top, which Duke, with Mark Williams, can do. And another way is to get downcourt before the defense can get set.
Duke is obviously much younger than the Red Raiders but physically matches up reasonably well, other than Williams, who has had trouble with smaller inside players and powerful front court players of varying sizes, and Roach, who is smaller than his Red Raider counterparts (although Roach showed elements of his game against Michigan State that were revelatory).
Which leads us to the fourth way to beat that defense: play yours better.
After watching a few videos of that defense, it’s obviously a major challenge. But we did notice a few things. The most important is this: the less dribbling the better. People constantly get in trouble when they try and drive and, as previously noted, Texas Tech likes to push you to the baseline and trap you. It ends up drawing fouls and causing turnovers.
The best way we can see to beat it, if not in transition, is to keep the ball moving. And by moving we don’t mean dribbling. We mean passing it quickly to move it around and then find holes. No defense can move faster than the ball does when it’s passed and the basic idea, always, is to get it off balance and find your shots. Three point shots, mid-range shots or alley-oops to Williams, it’s all the same ultimately, assuming you can make it work.
We imagine that part of Coach K’s approach, as it so often has been over the years, is what Jeff Capel said earlier this season. It won’t be fancy or technical. He’ll want his team to fight.
And we think they will.
Keep this in mind though: if Duke does advance, they’ll face either Gonzaga or Arkansas in the regional finals. Texas Tech could wear anyone down on a Thursday-Saturday turnaround.
Nothing is going to be easy in San Francisco. But here’s a sort of silver lining: Duke already knows Gonzaga. Getting Texas Tech first could simplify things. They’d be very tough as the second game.
One last thought. We don’t mean to demean Texas Tech because we have a ton of respect for that team. Consider this though: their defense gets a ton of (deserved) credit. Their offense does not. What if the way to beat it is just to shut down a not-great offense?
Draft Kings, incidentally, has Texas Tech by -1.