The Texas Tech Red Raiders defeated the Michigan Wolverines and the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Thursday and Saturday in Anaheim to advance to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Tech’s defense stifled the Wolverines in the Sweet 16 in a 63-44 victory. The Wolverines did not reach the 20-point mark until nearly five minutes had gone by in the second half. Michigan shot just 32 percent from the field and only five players recorded field goals.
This was a showdown between two of the top defenses in the nation and the Red Raiders made it clear which was the toughest. Tech scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes but sealed another Elite Eight spot with 39 in the second half. Jarrett Culver led the Red Raiders with 22 points and three steals.
With a quick turnaround on Sunday came a matchup with top-seeded Gonzaga. In contrast to Michigan, the Bulldogs entered as one of the nation’s highest scoring units. Gonzaga also won over 30 game this season out of the West Coast Conference and reached the National Championship in 2017.
It is always difficult to know exactly what to expect from a team outside of a Power Five conference. The Bulldogs were a perfect 16-0 against the WCC in the regular season, but lost to Pepperdine in the league’s championship. This, along with the fact that they had not played a ranked team since December, made me question whether or not they were truly worthy of one of the top four seeds.
Still, Gonzaga is a proven force come tournament time against top programs. They were more than capable in a 72-58 over the ACC’s Florida State in the Sweet 16, but the one seed met their match in the Red Raiders on Saturday in Anaheim.
Tech and Gonzaga went back-and-forth in a gritty contest until the Red Raiders took a slim advantage in the waning minutes. Guard Davide Moretti, who grew up in Bologna, Italy, hit two critical three-point shots to extend Tech’s lead to two-possessions down the stretch. In the final minute, the Red Raiders hit nine of their 10 free-throw attempts to keep the Bulldogs at bay.
Texas Tech will now matchup with the Michigan State Spartans in Minneapolis on Saturday at 7:45 p.m.
Despite their two seed in the East Region, Michigan State played the underdog role to perfection on Sunday with a 68-67 win over freshman sensation Zion Williamson and the Duke Blue Devils.
Looking back, it was only a matter of time for Duke. Despite the dominance of Williamson and fellow top-ranked freshmen R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, who led the Blue Devils to an ACC Tournament Championship and the number one overall seed in the March, Duke has lived on the edge for quite some time.
The Blue Devils found themselves on defense with a lead of two points or less in their victories in the ACC Championship over North Carolina, the tournament’s second round over UCF and their Sweet 16 matchup over Virginia Tech. They benefited from an opponents missed shot at the last second of their final two tournament victories.
Michigan State was the team that ultimately dethroned a lineup that resurfaced fundamental questions of competitiveness in college basketball throughout the season with their NBA firepower. The 2019 Blue Devils, regardless of their dominance, will now join the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats as the most prolific failures of the one-and-done approach. Kentucky’s 2015 squad, which was comprised of four top-15 picks in the ensuing NBA Draft, fell to Wisconsin in the Final Four after a 38-0 start to their season. Williamson, Barrett and Reddish will all be selected in the top 10.
The University of Virginia seized redemption with victories over Oregon and Purdue to advance to the Final Four. Last year, Virginia became the only one seed in history to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a stunning 74-54 loss to the 16-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers.
Virginia will meet the tournament’s best Cinderella story: the Auburn Tigers. Auburn knocked off three of the country’s winningest programs in Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky to secure the school’s first ever Final Four appearance. The Tigers have won 12 straight with their last loss coming on Feb. 23 to Kentucky during SEC regular season play.
This matchup offers a very intriguing contrast in styles with the up-tempo Tigers and the defensive-minded Cavaliers. The two will tipoff in the early game in Minneapolis shortly after 5 p.m. on Saturday. The winner will battle either Tech or Michigan State for the National Championship on Monday night.