Texas Tech’s March Madness success shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Red Raiders won a share of the Big 12 title in the regular season, breaking Kansas’ 14-year reign atop the league. After being upset by West Virginia in their opening conference tournament game, Texas Tech has found its stride during a brilliant run to the Final Four out of the West Regional.
How did Texas Tech make the Final Four? Here are six reasons it happened.
1. Chris Beard has invigorated the program with new life
Texas Tech had never made it further than the Sweet 16 in program history when it hired Chris Beard away from UNLV in 2016. In his second season, Beard made a shocking run the Elite Eight behind productive senior guard Keenan Evans and burgeoning freshman Zhaire Smith, a three-star recruit who blossomed into a NBA draft lottery in just one season. When that team lost five of its top six leading scorers, most expected the program to take a step back in the short-term. Instead, Texas Tech has been even better, breaking into its first ever Final Four by unearthing a new perimeter superstar and somehow improving on a defense that had just finished No. 4 in the country in efficiency last season.
Beard’s enthusiasm is contagious, and it can be seen throughout every moment of the Red Raiders’ shocking Final Four run. This man was coaching DII Angelo State only five years ago. It’s been an incredible run for the head coach on every conceivable level.
2. The Red Raiders are historically good defensively
How good? Texas Tech’s defensive efficiency of 84.0 is the lowest since KenPom starting tracking in the 2001-02 season. The Red Raiders deny you the middle of the floor by forcing opposing ball handlers to the sideline and baseline. They switch screens like a seasoned NBA team. They sprint to content threes and have shot blockers in place should an offensive player break through for a look at the rim. It’s also a defense that forces takeaways, finishing No. 11 in the country in turnover percentage.
Beard is an evil mastermind defensively, and the Red Raiders have channeled the principles he’s been preaching his entire career into arguably the best defense college basketball has ever seen.
3. Jarrett Culver has blossomed into a potential top-five NBA draft pick
Culver was not considered a top-300 recruit in his class when he committed to Texas Tech in September of 2016. After emerging as a solid two-way wing and the team’s third leading scorer as a freshman, Culver has flourished into an all-around superstar and a possible top-five NBA draft pick as a sophomore. The biggest change for Culver this season has been playing on the ball, where he often initiates the Red Raiders’ offense by running pick-and-roll or with isolations. He’s a skilled finisher at the rim with powerful strides to the basket and soft touch near it. He’s also a master at moving around screens to find cracks in the defense when he’s operating off the ball.
Smith’s rise was so unlikely a year ago it felt impossible to expect a teammate to duplicate it one year later. Yet here’s Culver on the cusp of stardom, carrying Texas Tech into the Final Four and enjoying an even greater reputation among pro scouts. Enjoy him at the college level while you still can.
4. Tariq Owens was the final piece grad transfer
Owens originally committed to Tennessee out of the class of 2014 before transferring to St. John’s after his freshman year and leading the Big East in blocked shots each of the last two seasons. He picked Texas Tech as a grad transfer, giving Beard’s defense an elite rim protector and the last piece it needed for a historically dominant defense. Owens has again been one of the nation’s leaders in shot blocking while also shooting over 61 percent on offense mostly on dunks, lobs, and putbacks. He’s fourth in the country in box score plus-minus. The Red Raiders wouldn’t be here without his decision to join as a grad transfer.
5. Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney have been knockdown shooters
The Red Raiders don’t shoot a lot of threes, but they’re accurate when they do. Starting guards Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney have provided critical spacing and shooting ability around Culver’s drives. Moretti, who committed from Italy, struggled badly as a freshman, but has been money as a sophomore, making 46 percent of his threes entering the Final Four. Mooney originally played for Air Force before transferring to South Dakota and then picking Texas Tech as a grad transfer. He’s hit 38 percent of his threes in addition to being a tough defender.
Each has knocked down some big shots to help Texas Tech get to the Final Four.
6. The Red Raiders have been dominant in March
The West looked like the toughest regional heading into the tournament. It’s a testament to Texas Tech’s greatness that they made it out alive. The Red Raiders had to beat a tough Buffalo team in the round of 32, then knock off Michigan and its No. 2 overall defense in the Sweet 16, before blanketing Gonzaga and its No. 1 overall offense in the Elite Eight.
Texas Tech is as battled tested as any team in America entering the Final Four. This has been a truly remarkable turnaround for a program that has never experienced this type of success before. Now that they’re here, don’t count out the Red Raiders yet.