(1) Villanova vs. (3) Texas Tech
- Matt Cox
Initial Thoughts: For those that didn't catch the Villanova / West Virginia tilt on Friday, don't be fooled by the inflated 12-point margin of victory - this was the polar opposite of a cake walk. The rock solid Nova backcourt for the first time all season looked flustered by frantic pressure, most notably Donte DiVincenzo. The 'Neers turned over the Wildcats 16 times, but it still wasn't enough to combat Nova's storm of 3s that poured in all night long at a hyper-efficient rate. The Wildcats hit 13 of 24 from downtown, led by burgeoning big man Omari Spellman who cashed in four triples of his own and likely carved out his own scene in 'One Shining Moment' with this sequence:
The Wildcats' struggles with the Mountaineer pressure was a bit alarming for a team that typically looks near-robotic handling the basketball. But let's be honest - 'Press Virginia' is just a whole different beast, and while Texas Tech's length and perimeter has stymied plenty of top-notch offenses this season - just ask Purdue how that went Friday night - my gut reaction is that the Wildcats will settle back into their surgical offensive rhythm today.
Villanova on Offense: The key on this side of the ball is the 1-v-1 on-ball defensive matchups for Texas Tech. What makes Nova's offense so lethal is their passing once the initial defensive structure breaks down. No team in the country makes the extra pass as willingly or as quickly as the Wildcats, which typically ends up in the hands of a wide open shooter.
These are two exhibits that prove how crucial it is that the athletic Texas Tech guards and wings shut down penetration. Few teams this season have been able to slow down the nation's most prolific offense, but forcing Nova to make tough, contested shots in isolation settings is the recipe for success. The size and lateral quickness of Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith, Jarrett Culver and Niem Stevenson should prevent any major defensive breakdowns, and the Red Raiders should be well equipped to defend dribble drives if they stay true to Chris Beard's packline-esque man-to-man defensive principles.
Texas Tech on Offense: While Texas Tech will gladly push the pace if the opportunity presents itself, the bulk of the Red Raiders' scoring comes via their methodical, screen-heavy motion offense. Typically the lead guard (either Evans or Stevenson) will initiate the motion with a point to wing pass and then fade off of a screen opposite the first pass - if you watch Tech's possessions closely, you'll notice a heavy dose of flare screening action in which a Red Raider will set up his defender by faking a cut into the lane and then pop back out to the perimeter off a pick to free himself up for a jump shot or exploit a hard close out...
But Chris Beard will throw in some timely wrinkles to their standard motion sets, two of which are shown below:
These are instances in which the Wildcat guards must be on high-alert and ensure they don't get lulled asleep by the repetitive screening action. The high IQ Nova backcourt shouldn't be privy to any mental lapses that would allow Tech to get easy buckets inside, but the Red Raiders did catch a sound Purdue defensive unit off-guard on multiple occasions.
Key Factor(s): Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall's effectiveness will be critical in this matchup against the length and athleticism of Tech's forwards. Not much has been made of Spellman's emergence this season for Nova, but his versatility on both ends of the floor has filled a much needed void in the middle with the departure of Darryl Reynolds. What makes him such a unique asset is the fact that he's blossomed almost into a big / wing hybrid with an ability to attack more plodding defenders off the dribble from the perimeter and knock down open 3s off a quick ball reversal. He and Paschall have both assimilated seamlessly into Nova's spread 5-out offensive attack, both of whom are more than capable shooting or driving from the outside.
But it's on the defensive end where they'll both be tested this afternoon - given Beard's propensity to play "small" with either Zach Smith or Justin Gray at the 5, Nova's frontcourt tandem must limit any 2nd shot opportunities on the defensive glass and defend straight-up without fouling. Offensive putbacks and the charity stripe are the two primary means in which Tech puts points on the board, so Paschall and Spellman will play major roles in shutting down those two avenues of scoring.
Final Predictions: While the matchup on paper leans in Nova's favor, Tech has athletes in spades that should be able to stay in front of the Nova drivers on defense, which should reduce the number of wide open, catch-and-shoot 3s stemming from drive-and-kick action. Tech should keep it close (and hopefully inside the number) but ultimately GQ Jay and the boys will advance to San Antonio in an ultra-competitive nail-biter.