Jarrett Culver, 'no-middle D' and what else you need to know about Texas Tech
James Hawkins of The Detroit News breaks down five things to know about Texas Tech ahead of Saturday’s Final Four matchup against Michigan State at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis (8:49 p.m.; CBS).
Culver is a star
If you didn’t hear about Texas Tech sophomore wing Jarrett Culver during the regular season, that probably changed at some point over the last two weeks.
Culver, the Big 12 player of the year and a projected lottery pick, has powered the Red Raiders through the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament by averaging 21.5 points (41.7 percent shooting), 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks in 33.3 minutes.
He’s also riding an impressive scoring streak where he has reached double figures in 22 consecutive contests and has poured in at least 22 points four times in the last six games.
What’s it like trying to guard the 6-foot-6, 195-pound Culver? Here’s what several of his teammates told The Detroit News last week.
Fifth-year guard Brandone Francis: “It's hard to stop him, man. On any given night he could be a pass-first (guard), he could be a shooter, he could be a driver. He could be a lot of things. It's hard to guard a guy like that."
Redshirt freshman guard Avery Benson: "That's hard. Part of it is his natural ability and his natural given length and athleticism. But also, he has a smart IQ, like if he has his back to the basket, which way he probably needs to turn, which way he needs to go. He's crafty, too. He gives you a little hesitation and then he'll shoot it. He'll just straight elevate over you if he knows he can get it up. He's well-rounded in every aspect in the one-on-one concept."
Sophomore guard Parker Hicks: "He's just a three-level scorer. If you're not there, he'll take the shot. If you're there, then he's going to drive, make some move, some counter. He's just got so many things in his game that it's almost impossible to stop because if you cut off something he'll just go to the next thing."
In recent mock drafts, Culver is projected to be the No. 7 pick by ESPN and No. 11 pick by NBADraft.net.
The Red Raiders deploy a “no-middle” approach and the strategy is simple: Keep the ball out of the middle of the floor because it limits a team’s ability to pass it around the court.
However, having success against Texas Tech’s defense is far from easy. The Red Raiders rank No. 2 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (36.9 percent) and No. 3 in scoring defense (59 points).
Texas Tech is also aggressive — averaging 7.4 steals (No. 54 nationally) and 15.7 turnovers forced (No. 22) per game — and has one of the top shot blockers in the nation in big man Tariq Owens (88 blocks).
Add it all up and it’s proven to be a formula for success for the Red Raiders in the NCAA Tournament. They held Buffalo (58 points) and Michigan (44 points) to season lows in scoring and Gonzaga's top-ranked offense to 69 points, which is roughly 19 points below its season average.
In four Tournament games, Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga averaged 57 points on 37.4 percent shooting (23.4 percent on 3-pointers) and 15 turnovers.
“They are really good at reaching, poking and digging things out of there,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after Saturday’s Elite Eight loss. “This is the best team I've ever had for taking care of the ball. We've had games with four turnovers, three turnovers, which is unheard of, halves with zero turnovers. So, it's real. That defense is real."
While Jarrett Culver and the defense get much of the attention, one can’t overlook Texas Tech’s 3-point shooting.
The Red Raiders have six players who have made at least 20 3-pointers and four are shooting at least 38 percent from beyond the arc: sophomore guard Davide Moretti (69-for-149; 46.3 percent), freshman guard Kyler Edwards (28-for-64; 43.8 percent), redshirt sophomore forward Deshawn Corprew (20-for-49; 40.8 percent) and fifth-year senior guard Matt Mooney (43-for-113; 38.1 percent).
As a team, Texas Tech averages 7.2 made 3-pointers on 19.6 attempts per game and ranks No. 67 in the country in 3-point shooting (36.5 percent). The Red Raiders fell below those marks in the first three rounds against Northern Kentucky, Buffalo and Michigan (17-for-52; 32.7 percent) before bouncing back against Gonzaga (9-for-23; 39.1 percent).
The key number, though, is seven. Texas Tech is 17-0 when it makes at least seven 3s in a game.
While winning conference titles and making postseason runs is a familiar feeling for Michigan State, it’s uncharted territory for Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders won a share of the Big 12 regular-season crown — along with Kansas State — for the first time since conference began play in 1996-97 and snapped Kansas’ 14-year reign in the process.
Then after an early exit in the conference tournament, Texas Tech ripped off a 15-point win over Northern Kentucky, a 20-point win over Buffalo, a 19-point win over Michigan and a six-point win over Gonzaga to reach the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Texas Tech's 30 wins is also tied for the program record for victories in a season with the 1995-96 team that finished 30-2, won the Southwestern Conference regular-season and conference tournament titles and reached the Sweet 16 (NCAA violations eventually vacated two of those wins and the Tournament appearance).
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard took a winding path to get to this point — one that included nearly two decades in assistant coaching roles and head coaching stops at a community college, a junior college, a semipro team and a Division II school.
After Beard spent 10 seasons as an assistant at Texas Tech alongside Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight and his son, Pat, from 2001-11, he went on to earn back-to-back coach of the year honors at Angelo State in 2015 and Little Rock in 2016 before returning to take over the Red Raiders in 2016-17.
Fifth-year seniors Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens have also had well-traveled careers before landing at Texas Tech as grad transfers. Mooney spent one year at Air Force and two years at South Dakota, while Owens started his career at Tennessee and moved on to St. John’s.
On top of that, the Red Raiders have three international players on the roster: Davide Moretti (Italy), Brandone Francis (Dominican Republic) and Josh Mballa (France).