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2019 Final Four
Tonight is the culmination of the best five months of the year, also known as college basketball season. All of the other contenders have had the offseason thrust upon them, and only the Virginia Cavaliers and Texas Tech Red Raiders remain. This championship should be a 40 minute ode to defensive principles, as both teams (and their coaches) have made their name on that side of the ball. In a close game (like tonight will likely be), the little things matter more than ever. What little things should you watch for that could turn the tide towards one side or the other?

Texas Tech has a hidden strength to exploit Virginia's hidden weakness

Both team have excellent overall defensive statistics this season, and neither team gets out in transition very much. It stands to reason that tonight's game won't feature many fast break baskets by either side. But there is one particular area where fast breaks may help provide the margin of victory. 

Texas Tech is 330th nationally in the percentage of their shots that come in transition. When they do get in transition, however, it overwhelmingly tends to come off of turnovers. 33% of their transition shots come after a turnover, the 19th highest rate in the country. This happens to coincide with what is perhaps Virginia's only defensive weakness, their transition defense after a steal. Virginia is 312th in effective field goal percentage allowed in the 10 seconds after a turnover; they rank 150th or better in effective field goal percentage allowed in every other measured situation. 

Virginia doesn't turn the ball over much, ranking 11th nationally. However, they have had some trouble against teams who are elite at forcing turnovers. Auburn. VCU, Morgan State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and NC State are Virginia opponents this season who all rank in the top 30 nationally in forcing turnovers. All except Auburn were able to force turnovers on at least 18% of Virginia's possessions in a game this season, compared to a season average of under 15% for the Cavaliers. If Texas Tech can create that level of havoc, they have a chance to create some solid offensive opportunities in transition. Any baskets the Red Raiders score in transition after a turnover are going to loom huge in deciding the outcome tonight.

Virginia will try to win by having better long possessions

One of the hallmarks of the Cavaliers defense is that opponents frequently have to work deep into the shot clock. This deflates the quality of opponents' shots, as they have to take subpar shots rather than see the shot clock expire. On shots later than 25 seconds into a possession, Virginia's opponents are largely unable to get to the rim and must settle for 2 point jumpers or contested 3 pointers. 

This is a problem for Texas Tech, as their strength on offense is their shooting at the rim. They rank 15th in eFG% at the rim, but only 68th in 3 pointers and 198th in 2 point jumpers. When Texas Tech gets deep into the clock, over 3/4 of their offense comes from 2 point jumpers and 3 pointers, and their shooting drops off dramatically as a result. 

A particular concern is that Texas Tech's late offense comes disproportionately from Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney, and each has a significant weakness on these shot attempts. Culver's 3 point shooting is an ugly 27% on shots after 25 seconds, compared to 32% overall. Mooney's 2 point jumpers go in less than 22% of the time after 25 seconds, compared to 35% overall. If Virginia can force Texas Tech to work late into the clock, these weaknesses come more into play. If Texas Tech's offense consists of Culver threes and Mooney 2 point jumpers, the Red Raiders are going to have some extended stretches of ugly offense. 

On the flipside, Virginia actually has several players who are very effective late in the shot clock. In particular, Kyle Guy and DeAndre Hunter do very well late. Guy's effective FG% only drops from 58% to 54% on late shots, and Hunter's from 58% to 55%. Both players are very capable one 2 point jumpers or 3 pointers working late in the clock. the only Cavalier scorer who really struggles late is Ty Jerome, whose eFg% drops from 54% to 40% after 25 seconds. If Virginia can have Guy and Hunter creating late in the clock, they should be able to maintain their scoring even in the fact of stout defense.


Each team will likely try to use their defense to create small advantages. If Texas Tech can create a few easy baskets in transition off turnovers, those points will likely loom huge in the endgame. Likewise, if Virginia can back Texas Tech into a corner by forcing Mooney and Culver to take tough shots late in the clock then the Cavaliers should be able to establish some leads. Tonight will likely be dictated by who is able to squeeze more out of their respective advantages.
I want to thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. At Hoops Insight, I hope to use data to find insights that reveal things you didn't realize about college basketball. I'm using play-by-play data to track what's happening, who's doing it, and who is in the game, in order to show you things the box score can't. Check out my past newsletters in the Hoops Insight Archive, and read about the stats I like to use in my stats glossary.

If you have any questions about things I'm saying, the data behind it, or if you just want to debate a point, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @hoopsinsights or email at sean@hoopsinsight.com. I'd love your feedback on the newsletter and how I can improve. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy my work.
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