NCAA Elite Eight in Anaheim

 Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched 6 and 2/3 innings in the Dodger opener. (courtesy photo)
Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched 6 and 2/3 innings in the Dodger opener. (courtesy photo)

By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

The Western Regional Finals of the 2019 NCAA tournament, also known as the Elite Eight seen a matchup between #1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs and #3 seed Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Bulldogs are 1 of 4 teams to make the Elite Eight portions of the tournament in 3 of the past 5 seasons. This will also be a match-up between the Zags as the highest scoring team in the country versus the Red Raiders best defensive team in the country this season.

This season Bulldogs Guard Josh Perkins has become the teams single-season assist leader. Forward Brandon Clarke became one of three players in NCAA Tournament history to score 35 points and have 5 blocks, joining only David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal. Teamed with Naismith and Julius Erving Award finalist Rui Hachimura, he and Brandon Clarke each reached double digits in the first 32 games of the season.

For the first time in school’s history, Texas Tech has made it into the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons. A big part of the reason has been the play of Lubbock, Texas, native and Big 12 Conference Player of the Year Jarrett Culver, who’s 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game led the Red Raiders this season. Additionally, the defense of the Red Raiders has allowed only 5 opponents to score over 70 points this season.

This game was a tightly contested matchup, as there were nine lead changes in the first half. The Red Raiders held Gonzaga to 42% shooting, that’s 10% below their average. Hachimura led the Zag with 22 points and 6 rebounds while Clarke chipped in 18 points and 12 rebounds. Their point guard Josh Perkins finished the game with 16 point and 6 assists. The Zags outrebounded the Red Raiders in rebounds with a 37-29.

Those number would’ve been able to beat most teams however Texas Tech forced 15 turnovers, compiled 7 blocks and 9 steals as they imposed their defense on the top-seeded Bulldogs. They also got 19 points from their leading scorer while holding the Zags to under 70 points for just the fourth time this season. When asked about the Texas Tech defense Hachimura had this to say, “they’re one of the best defensive teams in the country, like we’re one of the best offensive teams. They were handsy with the ball. They stole it a couple of time from us. That made it difficult. they were guarding inside pretty good. I had to be aggressive all game. They were handsy and a great defensive team. We didn’t score the last couple minutes of the game.”

Red Raiders Head Coach Chris Beard has led his group of hoop grinders to the Final Four for the first time in the Schools history. It’s been mainly by defense; their stifling defense has held their tournament opponents to a total of 91 below their season’s average. This win over the Zags was the schools’ third win in as many tournament match ups. Leading scorer has also increased his scoring average to 21.6 in the tournament which is 2.5 points up on his seasonal average.

When Coach Beard was asked about to tell America about the team, he responded by saying, “A lot has been made of us being the underdog…, but I think that’s’ disrespecting our guys. Jarrett Culver was the MVP of the Big 12 Conference. Tariq Owens is the all-time shot-blocking leader in the Big East at St John’s. Matt Mooney is one of the best offensive players in college basketball. So, we’ve got good players.”

In their initial visit to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four the Texas Tech Red Raiders will take their stout defense to Minneapolis, Minnesota to compete with the Michigan State Spartans for a chance to move on to the Championship. That upcoming Championship game would be against the winner of the South Regionals top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers and the 5th seeded Auburn Wildcats.

Although my bracket was completely busted with Auburn’s upset of North Carolina and Texas Tech beating Gonzaga, I do have two of the final four teams remaining in the tournament. Are you willing to share your bracket? If so, share it with me @whatsgoodinsports on twitter, I’d also be interested to know who you have winning this year’s NCAA Tournament? Please share by commenting in the comment section of this article on www.whatsgoodinsports.com.