basketball

No. 21 Texas Tech is set to open the 2021 NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed in the South Region against 11th-seeded Utah State at 12:45 p.m. (CST) on Friday at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. 

The Red Raiders (17-10) are coming off a 67-66 loss to No. 9 Texas in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals last Thursday, while the Aggies (20-8) have won six of their past seven games but fell 68-57 to San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament finals. The TTU-Utah State winner will advance to the second round to play the winner of the No. 3 Arkansas and No 14 Colgate matchup which is at 11:45 p.m. on Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

Mac McClung leads the Red Raiders with 15.7 points per game this season, while Terrence Shannon, Jr. is scoring 12.7 per game. Kevin McCullar and Kyler Edwards are both at 10 points per game to give Tech four double-digit scorers going into the national tournament. Marcus Santos-Silva, who is the lone senior on the team and played in the 2018 NCAA Tournament with VCU, leads TTU with 6.5 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks. Edwards lead Tech with 2.7 assists per game and has the most tournament experience on the team after playing as a freshman during the run to the national championship final. A junior from Arlington, Edwards scored 12 points with two 3-pointers in the title game against Virginia. Avery Benson, Edwards and Santos-Silva are the three players on the TTU roster with tournament experience. Benson was on the Elite 8 team and played in game against Buffalo and Michigan in the 2019 tournament. 

All NCAA Tournament games will be played in Indiana this year with the First Four games to be played on March 18. The First Round is on March 19-20 followed by the Second Round on March 21-22. Advancing teams will compete in the Sweet 16 on March 27-28 followed by the Elite 8 on March 29-30. The Final Four is set for April 3 before the national championship final on April 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium.  

Tech is making its 18th NCAA Tournament in program history and is 16-19 all-time. The program has made the tournament in 1954, 1956, 1961, 1962, 1973, 1976, 1985, 1986, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2016, 2018 and 2019. In the past two tournaments no program has won more games with the Red Raiders securing wins in the 2018 NCAA Tournament over SFA, Florida and Purdue to advance to the program's first Elite 8 before reaching the 2019 NCAA Championship Final with victories over Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan, Gonzaga and Michigan State in the Final Four. 

• Texas Tech has an 8-2 record in the NCAA Tournament under head coach Chris Beard with trips to the 2018 Elite 8 and the 2019 National Championship Final... The 8-2 record over the past two NCAA Tournaments is the best in the nation after the run to the program's first Final Four... TTU earned a win over Michigan State in the national semifinals before an overtime loss to Virginia. The run to the 2019 National Championship came with wins over Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga before topping the Spartans in Minnesota to reach the final Monday night of the 2019 college basketball season. 

• Texas Tech is making its 18th NCAA Tournament appearance and its third straight which is a program record... The team was projected to make the 2020 tournament before it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

• At No. 21 in the final week of the national polls, Texas Tech has been ranked throughout the 2020-21 season which is the first time in program history... The Red Raiders began the year at No. 14 in the AP Preseason Poll and were as high as No. 7 on Feb. 8. 

• Avery BensonKyler Edwards and Marcus Santos-Silva are Red Raiders who have competed in the NCAA Tournament... Benson is the only current player who was on the 2018 Elite 8 and 2019 Final Four teams while Edwards played as a freshman during the 2019 tournament... Santos-Silva played in the 2019 tournament at VCU... McCullar was a redshirt on the 2019 team. 

• Four Red Raiders were honored with All-Big 12 awards with Mac McClung being named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year to go along with All-Big 12 Second Team and Big 12 All-Newcomer Team recognition... Terrence Shannon, Jr. was named to the All-Big 12 Third team while Kyler Edwards and Kevin McCullar were All-Big 12 Honorable Mention selections. 

• Tech and Utah State are meeting for the 5th time with the series tied 2-2... The Red Raiders won 75-51 on Nov. 23, 2016 at the Cancun Challenge in Beard's first year... The programs played in Assembly Hall against each other with USU winning 78-68 in the Indiana Classic on Dec. 21, 1976.

• TTU is a six seed in the tournament for the fourth time, most recently in 2005 where the team opened with a win over UCLA in the West Region before falling to Gonzaga... The Red Raiders were a three seed in the past two tournaments. 

• TTU is 7-10 all-time in the first round of the tournament coming into the matchup against Utah State. 

• Tech is 6-10 this season against teams in the NCAA Tournament field... vs. Oklahoma 2-0; vs. Texas 2-1; vs. Abilene Christian 1-0; vs. LSU 1-0; vs. Baylor 0-2; vs. Oklahoma State 0-2; vs. Kansas; vs. West Virginia 0-2; vs. Houston 0-1.

• The Red Raiders are one of seven teams from the state of Texas in the NCAA tournament, joining Baylor and Texas from the Big 12 along with North Texas, Texas Southern, Houston and Abilene Christian. TTU played Houston and ACU during the regular season, dropping a neutral-court matchup against UH on Nov. 29 in Fort Worth before securing a 51-44 win over ACU on Dec. 9 in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were 2-1 against UT this season and 0-2 against Baylor. 

STAT RANKINGS: Texas Tech comes into the NCAA Tournament fifth in the nation with a 5.1 turnover margin advantage and 25th with 16 turnovers forced per game this season. The Red Raiders forced 20 turnovers against the Longhorns in the conference tournament and have now forced 15 or more turnovers in 17 of 27 games this season. Tech leads the Big 12 and is 28th nationally by holding teams to 63.4 points per game after holding 12 opponents under 60 points. Offensively, the Red Raiders are averaging 73.0 points per game and are shooting 44.3 percent from the field. The team is 10th nationally with 432 free throws made (16.0 per game) with a season-best 25 in games against Sam Houston and Oklahoma State. Tech's defense is limiting opponents to 41.0 percent shooting with 10 teams being held under 35 percent.

UTAH STATE: The Aggies come into their matchup against Texas Tech having won six of their last seven games after dropping the Mountain West tournament final to San Diego State. USU went 15-4 in conference play this season. Neemias Queta leads the team with 15.1 points and 10.0 rebounds per game and also has 90 blocks, 71 assists and 30 steals. A 7-foot center from Portugal, Queta is coming off scoring 18 points and having six rebounds and three blocks against SDSU. He was named an honorable mention All-American by The Associated Press. Justin Bean is second on the team with 11.3 points per game, while Marco Anthony is averaging 10.0 points per game and has 84 assists. Rollie Worster leads USU with 91 assists to go along with scoring 9.2 points per game. The Aggies are led by head coach Craig Smith who is in his third season. Smith coached former TTU player Matt Mooney at South Dakota State before taking the job in Logan and Mooney transferring to Tech to help lead the program to the 2019 Final Four. Anthony is a junior from San Antonio who played against McCullar in high school. 

BIG 12 NOTE: The Big 12 placed a nation-high 70 percent of its teams in the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. The Conference has seven selections for the sixth time in the last 11 tournaments, including five seasons in the past seven years the event was conducted. The Big 12's average seed of 4.0 is the best in conference history. Six have led teams to the Final Four, tied for the best in the nation among conferences. Half of Big 12 institutions have made an appearance in the Final Four with Texas Tech playing in the most recent title game in 2019. 

SECURING POSSESSION: Beard stresses a 10-or-less turnover game is one of the keys to victory in every game the Red Raiders play which the team has accomplished 13 times this season after having only nine in the win over TCU and seven at Baylor. The season has been highlighted by a two-turnover showing at West Virginia which matched the Big 12 single-game record. The Red Raiders are currently averaging only 11 turnovers per game which is the second in the Big 12. In Big 12 play, Tech also had only seven turnovers at Texas and Kansas, nine in the win over Kansas State and 10 at Iowa State. The team averaged only 10.5 turnovers per game in Big 12 play. Tech had only one turnover at halftime in Ames against ISU to get out to a 24-point lead in the first matchup. In non-conference play, Tech had only four turnovers against Corpus Christi which was the low in the Beard era before the two in Morgantown. During his five seasons, Tech has committed 10 or less turnovers 64 times under Beard. The program's low turnover output was highlighted at the 2019 Final Four with only seven in a win over Michigan State and eight in the overtime loss to Virginia in the National Championship game. Tech currently has a 5.1 turnover margin advantage. The Red Raiders have drastically improved in the turnover category after committing 13.7 last season.

FORCING THE ISSUE: Texas Tech forced 30 turnovers against Grambling for the most since the 2009 season opener against South Dakota. Tech is coming off forcing 20 turnovers against Texas in the Big 12 Championship which was the sixth time it has forced 20 or more this season. The Red Raiders forced 16 against Baylor after 15 turnovers at Texas and Iowa State. Tech has recorded 13 steals in two games this season, against Grambling and Northwestern State before having eight at KSU. The 13 steals against Grambling and Northwestern State is the most steals in a game since a 15-steal game by the team against Rice on Dec. 16, 2017. Tech had nine steals against the Cyclones with Edwards having three and McClung coming away with two. McCullar, who has 28 steals for the season, has 13 steals in the past five games after his career-high six steals against the Longhorns.

UNCOMFORTABLE – BEARD EXPLAINS: "Being comfortable gets you beat every single time. You see it all the time in sports. You win a big game and the next time there's a letdown and a loss. We've all seen that. Life is the same way. You can have a great day at work and you could take the edge off. It takes a special person, we use the word 'elite', to remain uncomfortable. Coach Knight would talk a lot about when things were going good that we need to shake the tree from time to time. Everybody expects the best and have focus during times of adversity, but only the elite people can push themselves each day to stay uncomfortable. I think being uncomfortable is where growth comes from. Uncomfortable is what you have to be to compete in the Big 12. Our guys have embraced this. Each season we try to have a theme and with this year's group, we just feel that if we can stay uncomfortable we'll be where we need to be. We like our talent. We like our culture. If this team can keep pushing and not get too high or too low by staying uncomfortable right there in the middle, we think we have a great chance to grow."