The first ticket to the Final Four will be punched in Anaheim Saturday evening as the top seed Gonzaga Bulldogs face the 3 seed Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Bulldogs are listed as 4-point favorites to advance.
After being 30-3 heading into the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs have won all three of their tournament games by comfortable margins. Gonzaga cruised past Fairleigh Dickinson and Baylor during the first weekend of the tournament before holding off a feisty Florida State team in the Sweet 16, ultimately winning with a 14-point cushion.
Texas Tech has won their three tournament games with similar ease after winning a share of the Big 12 title during the regular season. The Red Raiders knocked off Northern Kentucky in the first round before dominating a strong Buffalo team in the Round of 32. Texas Tech was even more impressive in Thursday’s Sweet 16, taking down a strong Michigan team 63-44 to advance to the Elite Eight for the second straight season.
Dominating with Defense
Texas Tech’s performance on the defensive end during this tournament has been utterly amazing. The Red Raiders have allowed less than 60 points per game this season, but they’ve taken it to another level during the tournament. They held a dynamic Buffalo team to 26 points below their season average. They then put on a masterclass against Michigan, who made just one of their 19 3-point attempts and shot less than 33% from the field.
Of course, the Red Raiders have also done a fine job on the offensive end. Sophomore Jarrett Culver is becoming one of the breakout stars of the tournament. After scoring 19 points per game on the season, he’s averaging close to 25 points over his last five games despite struggling to shoot from the perimeter. Fortunately for the Red Raiders, Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney give them a pair of capable outside shooters who have stepped up and provided some offensive support for Culver during the tournament.
The Ultimate Test
As well as Texas Tech has played defensively, facing Gonzaga will be the ultimate test for them. The Bulldogs are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Despite playing in a mid-major conference, Gonzaga’s offensive prowess can’t be overlooked. The Bulldogs have three players who average 15 points or more per game, including versatile forwards Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, who can create mismatches against almost any team in the country. There’s also no overlooking Gonzaga’s guard play with the way Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell have played in the tournament.
On top of all of their offensive firepower, the Zags have been great on the defensive end during the tournament. They have size at every position and do a great job of guarding the basket. In the Sweet 16, they held Florida State to 3 of 20 shooting from 3-point range and kept them to 17 points under their average, proving that the Bulldogs can get it done on both ends of the court.
Can’t Beat Balance
Texas Tech’s defense will keep them in this game, but they’re also going to have to perform at a high level offensively to beat Gonzaga. The Bulldogs may be slowed by Tech’s defense, but they’ll find a way to score points. Gonzaga will also force the Red Raiders to beat them from the perimeter. In the end, the Bulldogs can win on both ends of the court while Texas Tech’s offense isn’t reliable enough. Bet on Gonzaga to win and cover the 4-point spread on their way to the Final Four.