Two of the best defense’s in the country have drug themselves into this year’s Final Four. Texas Tech is led by Norense Odiase on the defensive end of the court, while Virginia has Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter.
These two defenses have been the primary reason that the Red Raiders and Cavaliers have advanced to this point. The two squads have been able to overcome off offensive nights with consistently elite defensive play throughout the NCAA tournament. It’s this elite defense that has led these two squads into the semi-finals.
For Michigan State and Auburn — the two teams that will face Texas Tech and Virginia, respectively — offense has been the more important tool as these two squads have marched through March Madness. Now these haven’t been elite offenses, but they’ve been damn efficient and that’s one of the major reasons that they’ve been able to get one game away from the title game.
Both of these games will be on Saturday, with the championship game being on Monday.
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Texas Tech, 5:49 PM on CBS
The Spartans enter this semi-final matchup after working their way through Bradley, Minnesota, LSU, and pre-tournament favorite Duke to reach the Final Four. MSU’s offense has carried them through the first four rounds of the tournament, which is in line with what they’ve done all season long. Kenpom’s adjusted efficiency stat rates the Spartans as the fifth most efficient offense in Division 1 basketball and they did it while facing some of the best defenses.
Offensively, forward Nick Ward has been a major contributor for Tom Izzo’s squad. The junior forward pulled in 10.6% of all offensive boards for the Spartans, which has given them a lot of second chances…including quiet a few put backs; which has led to a solid offensive rating of 107.4, 52nd best in the country, according to Kenpom’s computers. For Michigan State to have an opportunity against that aggressive Texas Tech defense, Ward is going to need to give his offense all of the second chances he can.
Tech’s defense is stifling and good at limiting team’s from getting off open shots. The Red Raiders have held opposing teams to an effective field goal percentage of 42.8%, the second best in the nation; they’ve done that by forcing turnovers on 23.1% of defensive possessions while also blocking 15.5% of shots attempted against. Opposing teams have been facing the problem of taking bad shots that will probably be blocked, or attempting a pass that could be picked off all season and that’s been a major part of the reason Tech has been so good defensively.
Tariq Owens has been the biggest driver behind Tech’s defensive efficiency. Owens has pulled in of 16% of defensive rebounds, second highest rate on the team, while blocking 12% of shots. Even more impressive is his offensive rating of 126.1 (36th best in the country). The senior has primarily been used as a difference maker off of the bench, and its a role that he’s excelled in.
I just have a hard time seeing MSU’s offense overcoming the dangerous and aggressive Texas Tech defense. The Spartans turn the ball over on about 18.5% of possessions (roughly average), but their going up against a defense that excels at forcing them. There’s going to be a couple of turnovers late, which will force Izzo’s squad to foul and those shots from the free throw line will allow the Red Raiders to pull away late.
Texas Tech – 65
Michigan State – 57
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 5 Auburn, 3:09 PM on CBS
Auburn’s emergence in the tournament arguably the most surprising storyline thus far. The Tigers defense is nothing to be impressed with, outside of forcing turnovers, but their offense has just been so damn good that the defensive issues haven’t mattered that much.
Defensively, the Tigers have allowed an uncomfortably high percentage of two-point shots this season and that’s led to an awful eFG percentage of 51.6% against. That puts a lot of pressure on an offense heavily relies on the three pointer for its production — 43.4% of Auburn’s points came from beyond the arc. The only good news is that the defensive side of the court is the best at generating turnovers and getting the ball back into its offense’s hands.
Once the ball is back in the offense’s hands, Jared Harper has been arguably the most complete player for Pearl. Harper is forcing turnovers on 16.6% of defensive possessions he is in play while also posting an eFG of 50.1% and earning an offensive rating of 117.6 throughout the season. For the Tigers to have a shot against the Cavaliers defense on Saturday, Harper is going to continue to be effective on the offensive end of the court while limiting bad passes and turnovers.
Now the good news is for Auburn is that Tony Bennett’s squad isn’t that effective at forcing turnovers — Virginia only forced turnovers on 17.8% of opponents’ possessions this season. Despite the lack of turnovers, the Cavaliers have been exceedingly good at slowing down the tempo on the defensive end of the court and smothering the other teams’ offense; their eFG against was 44.4%, eighth best in the country. It’s been typical Bennett Ball for Virginia and that’s why the program is in its first Final four in over 30-years.
Junior Kyle Guy has been such a complete overall player for Virginia, that it’s hard to not mention him here. But the player that is going to make the biggest difference for UVA is De’Andrea Hunter. Hunter has the highest offensive rating on the roster (123.7) and the third highest eFG of the team’s significant contributors. For the Cavaliers to be able to keep up on the offensive end of the court, the sophomore needs to continue to develop as an offensive weapon to take pressure off of Guy and Jay Huff.
Auburn is unable to adapt to the slower tempo that the Cavaliers drag its offense into. As a result, the Tigers panic and start firing off shots that are well defended and it leads to their offensive efficiency falling apart. Without the efficient offence, the poor defense is exposed and UVA takes advantage with its own efficient offense. This game never feels as close as the score shows it is.
Virginia – 58
Auburn – 52