You probably don’t think of Texas Tech as a basketball power. But they’ve been to the Final Four more recently than Duke, 2019 to be exact, when the Red Raiders lost to Virginia in a close and controversial title game.
That’s not the only time Texas Tech and Virginia have been mentioned in the same sentence. Both programs have built their program on the defensive side of the ball. Tech calls it “no middle,” trying to push the ball to the edge of the court on every dribble, every pass.
And they play it with a level of physicality that belies even the vaguest adherence to the concept know as “freedom of movement.”
Think mosh pit. They are not after style points.
Chris Beard was their coach then. He’s moved on to Texas. He was replaced by his assistant Mark Adams, a 65-year old who worked his way up the food chain with stops at places like Clarendon College and Wayland Baptist.
The expression “paid his dues” could have been invented for Adams. The man is a lifer.
Texas Tech also is the most 2022ish team imaginable. Their roster includes transfers from UTEP, Oral Roberts, Winthrop, Arizona, Louisiana, Hampton, a juco or two, many of them 22 or 23 years old.
In many respects they are the opposite of Duke. Tech is old, Duke is young. Tech plays lot of people, Duke doesn’t. Duke wants an uptempo game, Tech does not.
And make no mistake. Texas Tech is very good at stopping people. They are near or at the national top in numerous defensive metrics.
Irresistible force meet immovable object?
Duke met with the media yesterday and not surprisingly much of the discussion focused on how a young Duke team can successfully get in the middle against a veteran defense designed to keep the ball away from the middle.
There is some good news. It appears Duke will have a healthy A.J. Griffin as part of the answer.
“He practiced yesterday,” Mike Krzyzewski said Wednesday of Griffin. “Minimal soreness today, and we’re getting ready to have a non-contact workout today. He’ll be ready to go.”
Mark Williams addressed the age differential.
“Those guys have played a lot of college basketball, and even though we’re younger, I feel like we also have experience. Played Michigan State just last game, high-level game. We played a number of those games with a lot of high-stakes, high-intensity. I think with us, we are young. but at the same time we’re really a together group. We know what it takes to win, and we’re willing to do that.”
Wendell Moore, Jr. said the final five minutes of the Michigan State game supports Williams’ thesis.
“I think the main way we kind of fought through was really just through trial and tribulations.
“A couple of other games — a couple of other games earlier in the season we were kind of in the same situation. When we were up or down late in the game we have a chance to fold or we have a chance to kind of come together and say we’re going to do this. I guess going down five with five minutes left, just looking at everybody’s face on the bench, nobody had a losing face. Everybody’s face was strong.”
About that Texas Tech defense.
“I think really the main thing is just being strong with the ball,” Moore said. “They’re a very physical team. They kind of force you into the paint where they have three, four guys waiting on you. I think if we are strong with the ball, play off two feet, really just play together, we’re going to have to make a lot of connecting plays. This can really be a game where you have a lot of assists, a lot of made shots. We all just have to be shot-ready because they leave people open sometimes, like around the perimeter, around the three. We’re ready to shoot, knock down some shots, then I think we’ll be in a good spot.”
Paolo Banchero is going to have to fight his way through that physical defense and put the ball in the basket for Duke to come out on top.
He says he’s ready for the challenge.
“Really physical. Really active. They swarm the ball. There’s two, three guys at the ball as soon as you get in the paint. So really not just trying to go one-on-one and isolate. There’s not going to be a lot of opportunities for that really with the way they play, so it’s really just going to come down to moving the ball, playing together, and taking quality shots as a team.”
Banchero added that he’s pumped to be in San Francisco, a relatively close 800 miles from his Seattle home.
There’s an old Texas expression “dance with who brung you” and Krzyzewski made it clear that Duke is going to do what Duke does best.
“We prepare the same for every opponent, and there’s just certain points of emphasis that you have for each opponent offensively and defensively, and on offense whomever we’re playing, you try to come up with an offensive menu that might work against the defense you’re going to face, whether it be Jim Boeheim’s zone, Tony Bennett’s pack line, a hard North Carolina place and high contests and all that. We’ll try to put together a short menu of things that we’ve done before, but that will try to score against them.”
Irresistible force meet immovable object.