The Texas Tech Red Raiders, not the Houston Rockets, have the best Beard in the state of Texas.
Do you really want to argue this after Chris Beard led Texas Tech to the first men’s Final Four in program history on Saturday afternoon in Anaheim, defeating the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs in the West Regional final?
Do you really want to go there?
James Harden is an awesome and overwhelmingly great NBA player, but as great as he has been, the OTHER Beard in Lubbock has improbably been better the past two seasons.
The simple facts — and some basic context — tell the story as powerfully as it needs to be told.
This 2019 Texas Tech team lost Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans from last year’s Elite Eight group. This team was picked seventh in the Big 12 in preseason polls. This team struggled to beat Arkansas at home in the Big 12-SEC Challenge and looked like a 7 seed in terms of quality in late January. This team lost to West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament. That’s last-place West Virginia, 10th-seeded-in-the-Big-12 West Virginia.
This was not a smooth, linear journey in which the Red Raiders remained at a high plateau throughout the season. This was not a season in which Texas Tech drowned out the doubts at every turn.
Beyond this year’s team, consider the backdrop against which the past two seasons have unfolded in Lubbock, culminating with this historic win over Gonzaga:
Entering the 2017-2018 season, Texas Tech had never even made an Elite Eight, let alone a Final Four. The Red Raiders had made five Sweet 16s in their history, just two since 1976. Texas Tech was one of many high-major programs in the Southwest or the Deep South with a very small list of historical achievements and credentials. This is the environment into which Beard stepped.
Five years ago, Beard wasn’t even coaching Division I ball.
He is — one could argue — coaching college basketball better than anyone else in the United States at the moment.
This Final Four will give Beard a main-stage moment next Saturday in Minneapolis. He will coach against either Mike Krzyzewski of Duke or Tom Izzo of Michigan State. He will have gone from nowhere (Angelo State) to college basketball’s ultimate weekend and its most festive day, National Semifinal Saturday.
It all happened in the blink of an eye.
Here is a larger piece of perspective worth appreciating: A number of great coaches make or win the Final Four with one of their less formidable or imposing teams. These coaches win a title or make a Final Four because they’re always in the mix, and one year, they simply catch fire.
Lute Olson had so many great teams at Arizona, but the one which won the national title was his not-quite-fully-ready bunch of young pups in 1997, as a 4 seed which struggled to get out of the first weekend of the tournament.
Jim Boeheim had several No. 1 seeds at Syracuse, but his one national champion was the 2003 team in which Carmelo Anthony got on a roll and powered the Orange through the NCAA Tournament in his one season at SU. Syracuse also received the benefit of playing the East Regional in Albany, New York, making those games home games for the Cuse.
Does Texas Tech really fit that mold? Arizona in 1997 and Syracuse in 2003 were part of prolonged stories of NCAA Tournament agony which finally met a happy March moment. Arizona and Syracuse (especially the Cuse) had chased glory for a long time and had endured bitter exits time and again.
Texas Tech didn’t really go through that process. Texas Tech made an Elite Eight under Beard in 2018, lost to eventual national champion Villanova, absorbed that basketball education… and promptly figured things out the very next season despite losing Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans.
Texas Tech basically didn’t need years of struggle — not under Chris Beard, at any rate — to make history and break barriers.
The best basketball Beard in Texas works in Lubbock.
Do you really want to argue?
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