Thanks to a 75-69 upset of top-seeded Gonzaga, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are the champions of the West Region and are headed to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
The ultimate breakthrough for Texas Tech comes just a year after the Red Raiders played in a regional final for the first time. In that 2018 Elite Eight game, they gave Villanova the toughest game the Wildcats faced on their way to a national championship.
Heading into 2018-19, there wasn’t much hope that Chris Beard could duplicate (or come close to duplicating) the level of success that he brought to the program in his first year on the job. He had lost five of his top seven scorers from the year before, including First Team All-Big 12 performer Keenan Evans, and No. 16 overall draft pick Zhaire Smith. And yet, here the Red Raiders are, now just two wins away from a national championship.
Who They Beat
First Round: Defeated (14) Northern Kentucky, 72-57
Second Round: Defeated (6) Buffalo, 85-65
Sweet 16: Defeated (2) Michigan, 63-49
Elite Eight: Defeated (1) Gonzaga, 75-69
How They Did It
To the surprise of no one, the core of Texas Tech’s run to the Final Four has been its defense. The Red Raiders aren’t just the best defensive team still standing, they’ve been the best defensive team in the country all season long.
On the year, Texas Tech has allowed just five opponents to score more than 70 points. In 12 games this season, they’ve held their opponents below 55 points. Their adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 84.3 on KenPom.com is easily the best in Division-I.
Somehow, Texas Tech has been even more stifling in the NCAA tournament. In round one, Beard’s team held a good shooting Northern Kentucky team to 57 points on 37.1 percent from the field. In round two, a Buffalo team that came in averaging 84.4 ppg on the season was held to a season-low 58 and shot 10 percent lower than its season average. In the Sweet 16 against Michigan, Texas Tech held the Wolverines to 1-of-19 shooting from three and just 44 total points, the lowest point total ever for a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament and the lowest point total ever by a Michigan team in the Big Dance. On Saturday, in a battle of the nation’s best defense vs. the nation’s best offense (Gonzaga), defense once again won out.
The Red Raiders can also score it a little bit. They made nine three-pointers against the Zags, and moved to 17-0 on the season when canning at least seven triples. Jarrett Culver (18.9 ppg) is an elite scorer and a near lock to be a top 10 draft pick. He has scored 16 or more points in all four of Texas Tech’s NCAA tournament wins.
How Can They Win It All?
There is a pretty solid chance that Texas Tech goes into next weekend with the worst national championship odds of any of the four teams left standing. They’ll be fine with that.
This is a team that got no preseason top 25 love (except from SB Nation) and was picked to finish seventh in the 10-team Big 12. “Everyone doubted us” is a war cry that feels hollow 95 percent of the time it’s utilized in the postseason, but it’s one that will be more genuine for Texas Tech than any of the other teams headed to Minneapolis.
Texas Tech has already met one of its potential Final Four opponents this season. The Red Raiders played Duke in a neutral site game at Madison Square Garden back on Dec. 20. The game was nip and tuck for 38 and-a-half minutes before the Blue Devils pulled away late for a 69-58 final score that doesn’t accurately tell the story of the contest. The two teams could meet again in the national semifinals if Duke is able to take care of Michigan State on Sunday.
The biggest reason to believe in Texas Tech’s ability to win the national title is Beard. Just three and-a-half years ago, the man had never coached a Division-I game. In his first season as a coach at the highest college level, he took Arkansas-Little Rock to the NCAA tournament and upset Purdue. In his first two seasons at Texas Tech, all he’s done is produced the two best seasons in the history of the program.
Three seasons, eight NCAA tournament wins, two regional finals, one trip to the Final Four. That’s not bad for anyone, let alone someone who was the head coach at Angelo State 48 months ago. At this point, doubt Beard at your own peril.