The second half of Saturday’s Final Four will feature the Texas Tech Red Raiders of the Big 12 facing the Michigan State Spartans of the Big Ten. It figures to be a partisan Michigan State crowd in Minneapolis, which is part of the reason why the Spartans are 2.5-point favorites.
Tom Izzo’s team is fresh off their upset of Duke in the Elite Eight last weekend. Prior to that, the Spartans enjoyed a string of double-digit wins in the tournament over Bradley, Minnesota, and LSU. Of course, Michigan State also won the Big Ten Tournament, so they are currently on a 9-game winning streak, with eight of those wins coming against tournament teams.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, looked quite impressive in their upset of 1 seed Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. The Red Raiders have also notched wins over Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, and MSU’s in-state brother Michigan on their way to reaching the first Final Four in program history. Even after beating Gonzaga by six points, Texas Tech’s average winning margin in the tournament is 15 points, so they’ve won going away during their run.
All About Defense
Texas Tech has been nothing short of masterful during the past four games. Limiting Buffalo to 58 points was a great accomplishment, as was their performance against Michigan. However, they managed to hold Gonzaga to 69 points on 27% shooting from the perimeter while also forcing 16 turnovers against the Bulldogs. The Red Raiders have impressive athleticism at every position and commit to playing hard-nosed, team-oriented defense as well as any team in the country.
The question all tournament has been whether Texas Tech has the offensive chops to survive and advance. But they’ve answered those questions thus far. Jarrett Culver has answered the bell as the team’s go-to guy when asked, averaging 21.5 points per game during the tournament. More importantly, Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney have shot well from the perimeter and been reliable secondary scorers. The pair was a combined 8 for 16 from 3-point range during the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.
Pulling All the Strings
This isn’t the most star-studded team Izzo has had at Michigan State, but point guard Cassius Winston is definitely delivering a star effort during the tournament. His 20 points and 10 assists led the way against Duke. He’s also averaging 17 points per game and nine assists over his last three games. The likes of Xavier Tillman, Kenny Goins, Aaron Henry, and Gabe Brown have all stepped up at various times during the tournament, but Winston has been the one constant for the Spartans.
Of course, the Michigan State defense hasn’t been too shabby either. The Spartans forced 17 turnovers in their win over Duke and suffocated both LSU and Minnesota prior to that. With Nick Ward working his way back into shape after missing time with an injury, the Spartans also have the size and physicality to defend the paint and win the rebounding battle now that they don’t have to deal with Zion Williamson any more.
This game will not be pretty to watch with the way Texas Tech defends. However, Michigan State is a team that’s built to win ugly. They won’t stop Culver, but they’ll both Texas Tech’s other scoring options enough to keep them under wraps. In the end, Winston will do enough to get the MSU offense rolling against a strong defense. Bet on Michigan State to win and cover the 2.5-point spread.