Thoughts on Jarrett Culver, Xavier Tillman, and Tariq Owens in the Final Four

April 7, 2019

by Alan Lu

I took the opportunity to watch Jarrett Culver and Texas Tech play against Michigan State in a Final Four game that took place on April 6th.  It was a defensive battle between the two teams, but Texas Tech was able to get the win to advance to the title game due to receiving solid performances from Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney, as well as clutch play down the stretch from Culver.  Here are my thoughts on how Culver and other various prospects fared, as well as how they may stack up as prospects for the NBA.

Texas Tech’s sophomore guard, Jarrett Culver put forth an adequate performance in his team’s win over Michigan State.  Though he struggled to score the basketball early on and ran into some foul trouble, Culver was able to make clutch shots and get key stops down the stretch in this contest.  Culver did a decent job of knocking down jumpers to space the floor for his team on offense.  He made a key pull-up three-point shot late in the game when Texas Tech needed him the most, and it was a timely three-pointer that helped put the game away.  However, he struggled to knock down pull-up and spot-up jumpers consistently, and he also did not do a good job of making his free throws when he was at the foul line.

He also showed an adequate ability to get scores on strong drives to the hoop.  Culver was able to score on a couple of floaters off the dribble, and he also can draw plenty of fouls upon his defenders.  However, sometimes he would struggle to score in traffic when he wouldn’t get foul calls, as he had a couple of his shots blocked, and other times he would go in too wildly, which would lead him to miss shots.

Also, he displayed fairly average playmaking skills.  For the positives, Culver can throw passes off the dribble, as he can kick balls out to shooters to set up scores for them, but sometimes, he would get sloppy with his ball handling, as he would drive into traffic, and he would get balls poked away or lose it off the dribble to commit turnovers.  Plus, Culver did a fairly good job of rebounding the basketball.  He was able to leap up to get plenty of defensive boards to help his team on the glass.

Culver also played adequate defense.  He was able to rotate to block a shot off of a drive due to possessing solid athleticism, timing, and instincts to do so, and he also was able to deflect a pass and contest a three to force a miss.  However, he also tended to be foul prone, as he would be caught reaching in on occasion.  In general, Jarrett Culver played fairly well in his team’s win over Michigan State.  He had a better game than the box score indicated, and he was able to make keys shots to help his team get the victory.  Right now, he is an athletic swingman that can shoot and score the basketball, and he has a solid set of all-around skills, and he could be a likely lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Michigan State’s 6-8 sophomore forward, Xavier Tillman struggled at first, but he started to find his footing in the second half, as he was able to score the basketball in a variety of ways, and he also showed off some rebounding and defensive skills in this game.  Tillman showed an adequate ability to score on hustle plays, as he can score as the roll man, and he also drew free throws on a put back.  He also made an open corner three to showcase his shooting range.  However, he struggled to score often from the post, and sometimes he would miss shots wildly around the basket.

He also was a bit turnover prone in this game.  Tillman did show the ability to find open shooters to set up scoring chances for his teammates.  However, sometimes he would have trouble protecting the basketball, and on one occasion, he ended up getting the ball poked away that led him to commit a turnover.  Tillman also was able to help out on the glass, as he was able to get multiple boards on both ends of the floor.  He also played decent defense.  Tillman would rotate to block and alter shots off of drives to get opponents to miss shots, and he also was able to step out onto the three-point line to successfully challenge another shot that time.  On the other hand, he also can struggle to guard players out on the perimeter, as he tended to commit fouls off of drives.  He also double-teamed an opposing ball handler on a pick and pop play while leaving his own man open, and he was late to rotate back, which led his team to allow an open long two-point basket to his opponent.

In summary, Xavier Tillman had his ups and downs throughout this contest, but he did show off some intriguing skills in his team’s loss to Texas Tech.  He is a mobile big man that has the potential to excel as a floor spacer at the next level if he can continue to work on his jump shot.  He struggled to consistently score in the post or off the dribble though, and he was fairly foul prone in this match.  Right now, he may be a second round prospect.  He will need to expand his skill set offensively and be a more disciplined defender, but Tillman may have the skills to end up being an effective role player in the NBA.

Texas Tech’s 6-10 senior center, Tariq Owens played very well in his team’s win over Michigan State.  He played terrific defense, and he also showed off versatile scoring skills with his ability to score from all over the floor.  He did have an unfortunate play where he hurt his foot while landing on his teammate after blocking a shot in the second half, but he showed resiliency and toughness by being able to come back in this game to help Texas Tech get the victory.

Owens shot the ball well, as he was able to make a spot-up three off the catch, and he also made a long two-point shot on a pick and pop play.  He also was able to drive from the baseline to score on a high-flying dunk early in this match.  Owens also was able to get his fair share of boards, as he would leap up to get some defensive rebounds when he was on the court.  He also played excellent defense.  He would often rotate on drives and in the post to make high-flying blocks, and he did a great job of contesting and altering shots to force a wealth of misses.  He did commit a blocking foul once on a drive though, as it seemed like he was already leaning backwards on that play.

Overall, Tariq Owens had a tremendous game, as he played well on both ends of the floor to help his team advance to the National Championship game, where his team will face off against Virginia on Monday.  Owens is an athletic, energetic big man that plays outstanding defense, and he also has the ability to develop into a floor spacer at the next level.  He is a player that could project to be a solid rim protector at the next level, and he could end up being a good find for a team in the second round range of the upcoming draft.

Texas Tech’s senior guard, Matt Mooney also played very well, as he excelled as a shooter, scorer, and defender to help his team get the win over Michigan State.  Mooney did a great job of knocking down threes and shots off the dribble, as he can drive in to score on runners, close-range jumpers, and layups, and he also was able to use a nifty step back move to make a pull-up three.  Also, Mooney defended well, as he was able to block a three-point shot, and he would contest jumpers and get deflections to help his team get stops.  Overall, Mooney is an agile playmaker that can really knock down shots, and his ability to score the basketball could help him find a niche role at the next level, as he could end up being a solid role player in the NBA.

Michigan State’s 6-4 senior guard, Matt McQuaid had his highs and lows in his team’s loss to Texas Tech.  Early on, he shot the ball well, as he was able to make spot-up threes off the catch, and he also was able to make a pull-up three.  He also showed that he can run off screens to knock down pull-up jumpers from beyond the arc.  He also was able to chase down a loose ball in order to score on a drive in transition.  However, McQuaid also tended to rush his shots later in the game, which would lead him to miss on air-balls as well as to miss on drives wildly around the basket.

He also displayed average at best playmaking skills.  McQuaid had a tendency to dribble around to long, and on one occasion, he did so until he passed the ball to Goins at the last second of a possession, which quickly led to a shot clock violation.  He also had some trouble handling the basketball, as he had a ball poked out of bounds that nearly led to a turnover, and he also was called for a traveling call when trying to pass out of a drive another time.

Overall, Matt McQuaid is a skilled shooter that can knock down three-point shots, but he will need to learn to play more under control, and also be more decisive in making plays on offense.  Right now, he may be a long shot to be drafted, as he does not possess ideal size or physical tools for the shooting guard position, but his ability to knock down jumpers could allow him to compete for a roster spot in the NBA.

Michigan State’s junior point guard, Cassius Winston did not have a great game overall in his team’s loss to Texas Tech, but he did make some good plays early on.  He was able to score on quick drives to the basket in the first half, and he also showed some passing skills, as he can throw long, accurate passes to his teammates.  He also was able to make a couple of pull-up threes.  However, he really had trouble scoring off the dribble later on, as he would miss wildly and get his shots blocked when taking the ball to the hoop, and he tended to struggle to score in traffic.  Winston also had trouble consistently knocking down pull-up threes, and he was often unable to connect on his jumpers.  Also, he was quite turnover prone in this match, as he would tend to get balls poked away when attempting to handle heavy ball pressure.  He also collided into an opponent off the ball that led him to commit an offensive foul and a turnover another time.

Defensively, he did not fare that well on this end, either.  He did manage to get a steal, and he was able to contest a fadeaway, mid-range shot to force a miss.  However, he tended to commit fouls when guarding opponents off the dribble, as he would often have trouble defending Matt Mooney in this game.  Winston also bit on a pump fake on another play, which led his team to allow an opponent to score on a pull-up three in the corner.

In summary, Cassius Winston has had a good season overall, but this was not one of his better games that he has had this year.  He really struggled to make shots, and he played too fast and out of control at times, which seemed uncharacteristic of him.  He had trouble making plays against taller athletes, and he also tried to force the issue too much on offense. 

Right now, Winston is likely a second round prospect for the upcoming draft.  He’s been a very good college basketball player, but his less than ideal size or physical tools may put a ceiling on how much he can develop at the next level.  His lack of explosiveness or ability to score at will could make it tough for NBA teams and scouts to envision him as a future starter at the next level, and Winston didn’t help his case by missing an abundant number of shots while committing a handful of turnovers against Texas Tech.  But overall, he’s shown that he can reliably and efficiently run a team at the point throughout his collegiate career, and if Winston can prove that he can develop into being a similar player to Denver Nuggets’ point guard Monte Morris, then Winston could end up being a solid backup for a team in the NBA.

Michigan State’s 6-8 junior big man, Nick Ward didn’t have a great impact on this game, but there was a stretch-run midway through the second half where he was excelling as a scorer in the post.  Specifically, he excelled as a low post scorer in the time frame when Tariq Owens was out of the game, as Ward would use quick spin moves to score around the basket.  However, he was not on the floor nearly enough, as he was called for setting a moving screen once, and he also had trouble guarding opponents, which would make him prone to committing fouls and allowing scores.  Right now, Ward will need to improve his skill set on offense, as he will need to extend his shooting range and improve his jump shot, and he will need to show that he can guard quicker players.  Ward will likely need to stay in school another year to hone his game, but if he can improve upon his weaknesses, he could perhaps end up being a second round pick in 2020.

Other Notes:

If there’s one player on Michigan State’s team that their fans should definitely look forward to, it would be to see the continued development of 6-6 freshman swingman, Aaron Henry.  Henry continued to play well in the NCAA Tournament, as he excelled at scoring on hustle plays, off of aggressive drives to the basket, and he also made a spot-up three off the catch.  He also was active in contesting shots at the rim.  Overall, Henry is an athletic, skilled basketball player that can shoot and score the basketball, and if he ends up being a featured player on his team next year, he could quickly ascend up draft boards in 2020.

Michigan State’s senior forward, Kenny Goins did not have a very good game in his team’s loss against Texas Tech.  He often had trouble knocking down jumpers, as he missed everything on a couple of his three-point attempts, and he was held scoreless by the opposition despite starting this match.  He did do a good job of rebounding the basketball, and he also defended well.  Goins was able to rotate to block a shot off of a drive, and he also would contest threes to force misses.  Overall though, his inability to make shots hurt his team in this contest, as he was an offensive liability against Texas Tech on this day.