It is opposing team Q&A time! Jay Burrous, who runs our excellent Texas Tech blog Viva the Matadors is here to talk Red Raider basketball. he answered my questions about Texas Tech in advance of tomorrow’s game, and my Q&A for him will be up over there shortly.
T-Mill: Bobby Knight is half myth half monster here, but had his bizarre coda in Lubbock. How do Texas Tech fans view him since that is the closest connection we have to the Red Raiders.
Jay: He pulled us out of obscurity, and made our basketball program relevant again. Prior to Knight’s arrival in Lubbock, we were horrendous at basketball, and it was truly embarrassing to watch the games. So the majority of Tech fans will remember him for that, but it’s hard to forget that he also screwed the program over by essentially forcing his son into the Head Coaching seat. Pat Knight, a great guy, simply wasn’t a very good coach. It’s taken us 13 years to get back to the Sweet 16, so clearly his departure was a major setback.
T-Mill: The other connection is Chris Beard, who was coach of Little Rock two seasons ago when Purdue absolutely collapsed against them in round 1. How similar is this team to Little Rock?
Jay: I recall that team had a lot of juniors and seniors, great guard play, and mostly balanced scoring. For the most part that’s correct for this Texas Tech team as well. I think the biggest difference is that this Tech team has as many as three NBA players on it, and Arkansas Little Rock didn’t have that going for them. Beard appears to be an outstanding motivator for big games, and I think you’ll see a very amped Texas Tech team
T-Mill: Big athletic guards have given Purdue trouble all season. You have big athletic guards. Please introduce them to us.
Jay: There’s zero doubt in my mind that Zhaire Smith will be the most athletic player you’ve seen all season. He’s got a ~45 inch vertical, long arms, and great chemistry with our guards when making runs to the rim. Seriously, who does 360 alley-oops in an NCAA tourney game? I’d also credit his offensive rebounding, and ability to make put backs. Jarrett Culver is our other dynamic freshman. He’s a solid 3-point shooter, can create off the dribble, rebounds well, and is an above average defender. He has plenty of freshmen moments, but he’ll turn into a 20ppg scorer before he leaves Lubbock. Niem Stevenson has morphed into our best on-ball defender, and tends to knock down his open 3-point looks. He also loves to go for circus shots that are either incredible, or extremely annoying. I think he draws Carsen Edwards. Josh Gray is our glue guy. He’s not a scorer, but can guard 2-5, and tends to be big on hustle plays. Lastly, but certainly not least is Brandon Francis. He’s likely our best 3-point shooter, tends to play with a lot of emotion, but is very sporadic. I doubt Francis is a difference maker in this game, but his success drives how well our second unit plays.
T-Mill: Texas Tech has never been past the Sweet 16. Purdue hasn’t been past the Sweet 16 in 18 years. What weighs heavier?
Jay: I mentioned this on your podcast, but I think most Tech fans are content being a Sweet 16 squad. That’s probably a controversial opinion, but everything from this point on is icing on the cake. I think Red Raider fans would have been disappointment if we hadn’t made it this far though. Now, Purdue resides in basketball-crazed Indiana, and there’s likely a lot on the line from a recruiting standpoint to have a standout year. I don’t see either team’s lack of Sweet 16 success as a big deal in this one though. If anything, I’d give Purdue an edge here.
T-Mill: We’re very likely still without Isaac Haas, but still have Matt Haarms. How does Texas Tech match up to him?
Jay: Every Tech fan will be praying that Tommy Hamilton comes out knocking his 3-point shots down. If he doesn’t, then I’d be utterly shocked if Haarms doesn’t go for a double double with at least five blocks. Our solution to limiting your post play will to try to get him out of the paint and contesting jump shots. I think the good news for Beard is that Haarms is a freshman, and he’ll likely make some mistakes. I’m sure we’ll get an opportunity to take advantage periodically. But, I think Tech will be required to have one of our big men playing so long as Haarms is on the floor - because he’ll simply dominate Josh Gray or Zhaire Smith. I am curious to see how Zach Smith matches up with him though.
T-Mill: What is an X-factor that Purdue should be concerned about?
Jay: I don’t see a scenario where Purdue scores less than 60 points, so we’re going to need to make our shots. Guys like Francis, Culver, Hamilton, and Evans have got to knock down their open looks or a guy like Haarms will impose his will on the interior. If I had to pick one “X-Factor” player it’s likely Jarrett Culver. His ability to guard positions 1-4, knock down 3s, and execute on layups will be paramount if we want to create any sort of matchup problems. I’d bet he guards a guy like Mathias, and that certainly makes me nervous. Everything I’ve seen/read is that Mathias is a technician and comes prepared. A guy like Culver likely has more ability, but Mathias is a better player. Best case, I’d love to see these guys cancel each other out.
T-Mill: Finally, what is your pick: Texas Tech’s nasty defense or Purdue’s efficient offense?
Jay: I’m a Red Raider, and in a true toss-up I take Keenan Evans to will us to the Elite 8. Final score is 68-63. And the only reason it’s a five point game is the free throws at the end. I’ll admit I wouldn’t be surprised to see Purdue win by the same margin though.