NCAA Tournament Preview and Prediction

Heartland College Sports – An Independent Big 12 Today Blog

Here is everything you need to know about Texas Tech and NC State in our Red Raiders vs. Wolfpack NCAA Men’s Tournament first-round preview

NO. 6 TEXAS TECH (23-10) VS. NO. 11 NC STATE (22-14)

Time, TV: 8:40 p.m. Thursday, CBS

Location: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

 

All-time series (NC State 1-0): NC State won the only matchup between the two teams, 85-74, on Dec. 18, 1954.

Winner: Advances to the second round on Saturday against the winner of the first-round game between No. 3 Kentucky and No. 14 Oakland.  

Projected starting lineups

Texas Tech: F Robert Jennings, G Darrion Williams, G Pop Isaacs, G Kerwin Walton, G Joe Toussaint.

NC State: G DJ Horne, F DJ Burns Jr., F Mohamed Diarra, G Michael O’Connell, G Casey Morsell

Players to watch

Texas Tech

G Pop Isaacs

Isaacs has been Tech’s offensive leader all season and enters the NCAA Tournament averaging 15.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Before Houston shut him down for six points in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal game, he scored at least 19 points in each of his previous three games. While his 3-point shooting has taken a bit of a backslide this year, Isaacs’ overall game has improved and with better shooters around him, he can help set up teammates like Darrion Williams.

NC State

G DJ Horne

Horne is NC State’s most dangerous player. He’s a quality shooter from all over the floor, but especially from the 3-point line, where he’s 41.3% for the season. Defenders can’t send him to the free-throw line, where he’s an 80% shooter. He’s a sneaky rebounder, averaging 3.2 per game. And, he’s a quality defender who averages more than a steal per game. Everything flows through Horne and if the Wildcats want to keep advancing, he has to keep playing well.

 

Key storylines

Texas Tech

The Red Raiders have clearly put the rocky end to the tenure of Mark Adams in their rear-view. They exited the Big 12 Tournament early last season and Adams was almost immediately let go. In came Grant McCasland, who has flipped the Red Raiders back into a winner in his first season after leading North Texas to the NIT title last April. Isaacs has been key to the turnaround. But so have a raft of transfers (Williams, Joe Toussaint, Chance McMillian and Warren Washington) who all had NCAA Tournament experience from a season ago. The Red Raiders didn’t have much rust to shake off after its Big 12 Tournament double-bye. The extra rest from being eliminated on Friday might allow Washington to play after being day-to-day with a foot injury. It should help Williams, who hurt his ankle in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals.

NC State

You’d have to be under a rock to not know what NC State had to do in order to get to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack, as No. 10 seed, had to win five games in five days in the ACC Tournament to clinch the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. That run included wins over their Tobacco Road rivals, Duke and North Carolina. Along with Horne, NC State has three other players that can hit double figures — D.J. Burns Jr., Jayden Taylor and Casey Morsell. Mohamed Diarra is their leading rebounder at 7.4 per game.

Prediction

Texas Tech 73, NC State 67. Momentum is a hard thing to bottle up when you don’t have a game to play. After five games in five days, it’s hard to see NC State maintaining that momentum with five days off before facing Texas Tech. The Red Raiders should advance.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.