ANAHEIM, Calif. — They played a basketball game here late Thursday night at the Honda Center. Allegedly. Sure, there were dribbles and screens and passes and, in theory, the players from Texas Tech and Michigan ran some offensive plays. Not that they resulted in many baskets, but ...
By the time the final horn had sounded, the Red Raiders had scratched out a more-than-respectable 63 points in their Sweet 16 victory. On this night, that marked an offensive explosion, the this-game equivalent of the Chiefs’ offense in 2018. It was possible, responsible even, to admire their defense, their scheme and the way their players executed said scheme, throttling Michigan’s offense in a death grip of steals and blocks and smothering D. It was possible to look at Texas Tech and see a team that could not only beat Gonzaga on Saturday but win the national championship. “We guarded at a high level,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, in what might be the understatement of the tournament.
It was also possible to look at this one-sided affair and see something other than artistry in play. The final tally read 63–44, and that score was most definitely misleading. This was a game that only a defensive coordinator could love, in the way that parents love all their children, even the less fortunate ones. I spent the first half writing about Gonzaga, then asked my editor what happened. “You didn’t miss much,” was the response.
Fortunately, this was a game made for Twitter, because Twitter is mostly a miserable (or glorious) place where groups of strangers watch the same thing together and try to top each other by recycling various notions that speak (mostly) to how much that thing sucks. This happened on Thursday via old-fashioned jokes, some good-natured stat-crunching and gifs. Always, gifs.
There were brick gifs, so many brick gifs, of men laying bricks shirtless and machines laying 300 bricks a minute and just bricks, stacked on top of each other … like Michigan’s shot attempts. Boom! There was a clip of the character Carlton Banks horribly missing a heave in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” a clip of Philip Seymour Hoffman hitting nothing but backboard and clips of air balls attempted from coast to coast and in various countries.
Then, fun with numbers. Michigan scored 16 points in the first half. Twenty minutes, 25 shots, 16 points. Sixteen! That’s the lowest ever for a Michigan team in tournament play, lower even than the 18 points Michigan scratched out against Holy Cross. In 1948. The Wolverines managed 18 points in the first 23 minutes. They missed all 13 of their jump shots in the first half. They made their first jump shot almost 30 minutes into the game. There were many jokes about offense and the Michigan football coach, Jim Harbaugh. His team, by the way, scored more than 16 points in the first half six times this season. “Some of their shots weren’t falling for them,” said Tech’s star guard Jarrett Culver, trying to match his coach for understatement.
Michigan coach John Beilein said he called some of his coaching counterparts to inquire about Texas Tech’s defense before their game. They warned him, saying things like, “You won’t believe how quick they are.” They were right. He could not believe it.
At one point in the first half, Beard said something on the bench about making a defensive adjustment. “Coach,” someone responded, “they’ve scored six points.”
Ultimately, this game did not threaten the record for lowest-scoring game in NCAA history. Didn’t come close, in fact. The record is 46, set in 1941, before the advent of the shot clock, when Pittsburgh topped North Carolina, 26–20. In the shot clock era, from 1986 onward, the low is 75, from when Missouri State toppled Wisconsin in a barnburner, 43–32, in 1999.
None of this is meant to denigrate Texas Tech. The opposite, in fact. Take out the Red Raiders’ shocking loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament, and Beard’s defensive-minded team should have been considered among the favorites in this tournament all along. Thursday’s performance only reinforced that, setting up an Elite Eight matchup with some sizzling contrast: the best offensive team in the country (Gonzaga) against the best defensive team in the country (Texas Tech). Expect fireworks. Or brick gifs.