By Charles Jay
Here’s an interesting encounter for you. In Division I basketball, there are four post-season tournaments. The runners-up in two of those will face off in a game that is absolutely critical for both.
Everybody remembers the great run the Texas Tech Red Raiders made last season in getting all the way the NCAA basketball championship game, before losing to Virginia in overtime. This year they are trying to adjust to new personnel, and all have to do a little more of an adjustment if they will be without their leading scorer for a Wednesday night game against the DePaul Blue Demons, scheduled for 8:30 PM ET at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
This is a game that will be televised on Fox Sports 1, as part of the Big 12/Big East Challenge, and there is a very distinct possibility that the Red Raiders are going to be challenged indeed.
DePaul is out to an 8-0 start, and that’s not a fluke. They have not beaten up on cupcakes; in fact one of the Big 10 squads they scored a convincing road victory over recently beat Texas Tech. So as we look at this for the sake of WagerWAR, we knew that we couldn’t base our play on reputation alone.
The question, however, is whether the best offensive player on either squad is going to take the floor. Jahmi’us Ramsey, probably the top recruit in the Big 12 this season and the highest-rated freshman newcomer in the history of this program, has been described as “day-to-day” with a bad hamstring by head coach Chris Beard. So this will be a game-time decision as to whether he will take the floor or not.
To say that Ramsey has made an impact would be a vast understatement. In the five games in which he was completely healthy, he averaged just under 20 points, and when he’s not on the floor, Texas Tech can be at a loss for offensive firepower. Remember that this team suffered some personnel departures since last season, as Jarrett Culver, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis and Matt Mooney all left.
In the NCAA basketball betting odds posted on this game, and the ones we will use for WagerWAR, Texas Tech is a slight road favorite:
Texas Tech Red Raiders -1.5
DePaul Blue Demons +1.5
Over 137 points -110
Under 137 points -110
Texas Tech has lost two games in a row, and those games demonstrated weaknesses on both the offensive and defensive side. Against Iowa they shot only 32% on Thanksgiving in Las Vegas, and they were not able to create second shots for themselves (only five offensive rebounds) in a 72-61 loss, and then Creighton beat them in overtime by shooting almost 52% from the field. Ramsey sat out that last game, and the severity of his hamstring injury (Beard calls it a “bad bruise”) is not really known.
What IS really known is that Beard would hate to go into an encounter with top-ranked Louisville (six days from now) with a three-game losing streak.
So other people have the pick up the slack if Ramsey can’t make it. Chris Clarke, a transfer from Virginia Tech, is 18th in the nation in Assist Rate and has averaged eight rebounds per contest. He can also step it up on the offensive side and is a real key man, regardless of who else is in the lineup. They would like to get some more proficiency from three-point range out of TJ Holyfield, who transferred from Stephen F Austin, but he’s hitting below 30% from beyond the arc. Terrence Shannon a, 6-6 freshman, is a Chicago native, so he’ll be pumped up for the festivities.
Without Ramsey, the most reliable offensive option is Davide Moretti, a pure shooter who was 46% accurate from downtown and has hit every free-throw he’s attempted. He’s a holdover from last year’s team.
Whether their star freshman plays or not, DePaul offers a stiff challenge. And they have found success it in the face of some adversity. Last year they made strides by finishing 19-17, and they were runners-up in the Collegiate Basketball Invitational. But during the off-season they were hit with a three-your probation for recruiting-related violations, and head coach Dave Leitao, who was Virginia’s coach before Tony Bennett was hired, had to serve a three-game suspension. They have fought through this to win eight straight, and that included a win over the common opponent between these two, as they turned back Iowa 93-78 on November 11 in Iowa City. They hit 55% of their three-pointers and 61% overall, and had it pretty much locked up at the half, as they were ahead by 23 points.
DePaul does not have a lot of depth, but they have a starting lineup that Richard Pitino called “as good as anyone’s in the country,” after they beat Minnesota by five points on Friday. Paul Reed was the top rebounder in the Big East last season, and he had 25 points and 12 boards against the Hawkeyes. The top freshman recruit – and one of the best incoming frosh in the Big East – is Romeo Weems, a 6-7 forward. Jaylen Butz, a 6-9 inside player, provides some size problems for Texas Tech. And Leitao, who was worried about replacing the offense of last year’s leading scorer, Max Strus (20.1 ppg) need not worry any longer, as Charlie Moore has come to the rescue. Moore, a 5-11 point guard, had to get a special waiver from the NCAA to be immediately eligible is a transfer, because of family medical hardship. His father is ailing and more wanted him to be able to see him play. This is a well traveled guy, having started his collegiate career at California, then transferring to Bill Self’s program at Kansas, where he was last season. He’s really picking up his offensive game, averaging 21 points over his last three contests.
If you take a look at Texas Tech’s offensive flow, one of the best things they do is move the ball around. In fact, 70% of their field goals come by way of an assist, and that is a hurdle DePaul will have to get over. But the Blue Demons can defend on the perimeter, allowing opponents only 27.5% from long-range. Reed and Butz anchor a defense that is also third in the nation in Blocked Shot Percentage and DePaul not only hits the offensive boards, there are pretty good three-point shooting team (38%), which puts them in good stead here, since Texas Tech’s defensive scheme funnels shots from the outside.
Certainly the Red Raiders, who have players with some Big Dance experience, don’t want to prolong their losing streak. But this may be the biggest game in a long time for DePaul, which has not started 9-0 in over 30 years. This is kind of a difficult call, not knowing whether Ramsey can play, but knowing what we know about hamstrings, if he does play he’ll be laboring. The decision on the talented freshman may not come until right before the tip, so in our WagerWAR play, we went in light on the home team. And we may then come in with some in-game wagers (we can do that through the software, of course) as we will know more aboit Ramsey’s status be then.
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(The preceding information has been furnished for news matter only)