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NCAA Tournament: Texas Tech vs. Utah State Preview and Prediction

NCAA Basketball: Cal. State - Bakersfield at Texas Tech

The Texas Tech Red Raiders will open the 2021 NCAA Tournament with the Utah State Aggies in the first round on Friday. Here is a preview of the game.

No. 6 Texas Tech (17-10) vs. No. 11 Utah State (20-8), 12:45 p.m. CT Friday, TV: TNT

Region: South

Location: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana

National rankings: Texas Tech: No. 21 (AP), No. 21 (USA Today); Utah State: No ranking.

Path to March Madness: Texas Tech: At-large berth (lost in Big 12 Tournament semifinals); Utah State: At-large berth (Mountain West Conference).

NCAA Tournament history: Texas Tech and Utah State have never met in the NCAA Tournament.

Winner faces: Arkansas or Colgate in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

READ MORE: 2021 NCAA Tournament: Schedule, Printable Bracket, Dates and Times

READ MORE: The Big 12’s Easiest, Hardest Paths to the Sweet 16

 

Projected starting lineups

Texas Tech: F Marcus Santos-Silva, G/F Terrence Shannon Jr., G Kevin McCullar, G Kyler Edwards, G Mac McClung.

Utah State: F Justin Bean, C Neemias Queta, G Brock Miller, G Rollie Worster, G Marco Anthony.

Player to watch

Texas Tech: G/F Terrence Shannon Jr. The sophomore slid into the starting lineup for the Red Raiders in their Big 12 quarterfinal loss to Texas. Putting Shannon Jr. in the lineup gives the Red Raiders a bit more length, and Shannon put it to good use against the Longhorns, as he led Texas Tech with 18 points. Whether he starts or comes off the bench (and Shannon could easily do either on Friday), he’s made an impact all season. He is Tech’s second-leading scorer (12.7 ppg), while averaging 4.1 rebounds. 1.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. His shooting numbers are among the best for the Red Raiders — 45.4 percent from the field, 34.6 percent from the 3-point line, and 75.2 percent from the free-throw line. His athletic ability makes him a player you have to block out on the defensive end, and he’s not afraid to take big shots in big moments. Some consider him a first-round NBA pick, and he could declare for the NBA Draft after the season. The Red Raiders are hoping he’ll give them a jolt before he has to make a decision.    

Utah State: C Neemias Queta: There aren’t many legit 7-footers in the Big 12, and Queta not only fits that bill, but he comes into the NCAA Tournament on a roll. He was one of two Aggies selected to the Mountain West All-Tournament team after averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocked shot per game in Las Vegas. He’s scored in double figures in his last 11 games, and 19 of his last 20. He has 15 double-doubles and has barely gone a game this season without blocking multiple shots. If you’re into HoopPower Analytics, he’s the fourth-most valuable player in the country the last four weeks. If you’re into old-school numbers, he’s averaging 15.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 3.2 blocked shots per game this season. Either way, you’re going to have to find a way to deal with him.

 

Heading into the NCAA Tournament

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have been a team of streaks, and that’s concerning going into the NCAA Tournament. Since Jan. 5, the Red Raiders have won three straight, lost two straight, won three straight, lost three straight, won three straight and then lost two straight, including their Big 12 Tournament loss to Texas. If there’s any good news there, it’s that Tech broke their last two-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak. We know what the Red Raiders are defensively — one of the best fundamental units around. What we also know about these Red Raiders is that they’ve been somewhat inconsistent on the offensive end. Still, guard Mac McClung (15.7 ppg) can give any team fits, while Kevin McCullar (10.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) has grown into a confident player on both ends. Kyler Edwards (10.0 ppg) has taken Red Raider fans for a ride the past few weeks and is flashing like that emerging player he was two years ago in the NCAA Tournament. Marcus Santos-Silva (8.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is going to draw the toughest defensive assignment of the game. That probably means more time from Tyreek Smith off the bench. Micah Peavy (5.8 ppg) came off the bench in the Big 12 Tournament. I’m not certain that’s a sign of things to come. Head coach Chris Beard may not go much deeper than that on his bench. The Tournament experience on this team lies primarily with Edwards and Santos-Silva (with Virginia Commonwealth). Expect them to lead. Backup forward Avery Benson was also part of that 2019 trip to the national championship game.

Utah State: The Aggies can trace their NCAA Tournament roots all the way to the first tournament in 1939, when they lost to Oklahoma in the first round (there were just eight teams then). The Aggies had a solid run between 2000-11, making eight NCAA Tournament appearances, but winning just one game. Their 2019 trip was their first in nearly a decade. The Aggies have another All-Mountain West Tournament player in Justin Bean (11.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg), a forward who has nine double-doubles this season. Guard Brock Miller (8.9 ppg) is a link to that 2019 Tournament team and has already played 100 games at Utah State. His backcourt mate is a true freshman, Rollie Worster (9.2 ppg, 3.6 apg), who leads the team in assists. And, if Texas Tech wants to exorcise a demon, guard Marco Anthony (10.0 ppg, 3.1 apg) rounds out the starting lineup. Do you remember Anthony? He started on Virginia’s 2019 national championship team. The Aggies have a lineup that is all underclassmen and expected back next season. HoopPower Analytics touts the Aggies as the best rebounding team, the 12th-best offensive rebounding team, and the ninth-most efficient defensive team in the nation. Keep an eye on senior forward Alphonso Anderson (6.8 ppg). He was the Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year, and is a good comparison to what Shannon gives the Red Raiders.

 

Who wins?

The biggest problem matchup for Texas Tech is going to be limiting Neemias Queta’s effectiveness inside. That’s going to fall to Marcus Santos-Silva and Tyreek Smith. I wouldn’t be surprised if both ended up in foul trouble and both ended up getting plenty of rotation throughout the game. The Red Raiders loathe playing zone, but I could see them dusting it off a few times just to change the pace of the game. Keeping the Aggies off the glass is key. Rebounding is one of their strengths and if the Red Raiders can limit them to one possession for most of the game, that helps the Red Raiders control the pace. The Aggies only have two Quad 1 wins, and both are against San Diego State (a team the Aggies lost to in the Mountain West title game). The Aggies haven’t beaten a high-major team this year, but they also haven’t had a chance. I think the Aggies will have trouble defending Texas Tech guard Mac McClung, and I think Terrence Shannon Jr. will be a mismatch issue for the Aggies. Ultimately, the Red Raiders win this game their way — a heavy dose of defense and a heavy dose of McClung — and move on to the second round.

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