At 36, Michael White looks as young as his players. He's not really one to intimidate with his sideline demeanor.
But in the last three meetings, his Louisiana Tech team has been getting the best of Utah State. The Bulldogs have actually gotten the best of the WAC this season, carrying a perfect conference record into the final week before the WAC Tournament.
Looking down the roster, there aren't true blue-chippers. The shooting percentages are mediocre, and they are a good rebounding team, not a great one.
But Louisiana Tech's blueprint is like many teams in the WAC, and many other mid-major teams that are making an impact: defense first. White has shown through his team this year that defense can be the biggest factor for a successful team.
The Bulldogs are in the top 15 nationally in turnover margin, steals and defensive 3-point field-goal percentage. Although they have the No. 31-ranked scoring offense in the country, that is as much a reflection of their pace and ability to score off of the turnovers they generate.
If you look at the top half of the WAC, only Louisiana Tech has a top-100 scoring offense. But each other team including Denver, New Mexico State, UT-Arlington and Utah State is in the top 100 scoring defenses.
Kenpom.com lists four of the top five in the top 100 for adjusted defense, a reflection of the tactics it takes to win in this conference.
It makes a drawn-out sort of sense. When a new coach comes in, like White did two years ago, he doesn't have his recruits in yet. He's working with a set of talents that he has to either adjust to or make work to his own ends.
White, without a lot of skilled offensive players, went with defense as a rallying point, a fresh coat of paint to the program to add some energy and momentum.
This year, that investment paid off.
UT-Arlington is a similar brand of team, one with plenty of scoring threats but almost no one who is consistent. The Mavericks' defense has made up for some of their shortcomings on the offensive end. New Mexico State's and Denver's defenses are a product of their pacing, but their effort on that end also helps draw momentum for when they get the ball. In Utah State's case, it is shallow depth that has forced renewed emphasis on defense.
College basketball prognosticators have been somewhat flustered this year by a decrease in scoring. They've called for shorter play clocks and renewed commitment to offense.
If you need at least one reason why that might be, look at Louisiana Tech. Defense wins.