Texas Tech achieved something bigger than winning the national championship
Texas Tech’s amazing March Madness success is a testament to perseverance and patience anyone can follow.
MINNEAPOLIS — Texas Tech had just finished practice in Anaheim during the second weekend of the NCAA tournament when head coach Chris Beard told his team he had a surprise for them.
“Old Town Road”, the Red Raiders’ emerging anthem for their March Madness run, came blasting out of the speakers. Texas Tech graduate assistants, student-managers, coaches ran out of the tunnel shirtless. Then they started barking like dogs in unison.
The message wasn’t lost on the players once they stopped laughing. Beard had been comparing his team to “street dogs” all season. He told them about the time he went to a pet store to buy a small, fluffy dog for his three young daughters. Beard loved dogs, but this one didn’t really resonate with him. He preferred to get dogs at the pound. Street dogs.
“We aren’t pet store dogs,” forward Malik Ondigo said before the national championship game. “We’re street dogs. There aren’t any five-star recruits here.”
It was fitting metaphor for the type of program Texas Tech had become. Six years earlier, Beard was coaching the South Carolina Warriors in the ABA. He made stops at DII McMurry and Angelo State after that before landing at Little Rock Arkansas and leading them to an upset of Purdue in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA tournament. His coaching career might have been most famous for his 19-day stint at UNLV before accepting the Texas Tech job, but this is a basketball lifer who grinded his way to the top through nothing but his own brilliance and work ethic.
His team at Texas Tech this year was largely an extension of his own journey.
The Red Raiders had exactly one top-100 recruit on the entire roster — forward Brandone Francis, who originally committed to Florida out of the class of 2014 which also included players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker who have already signed their second NBA contracts. Aside from Francis, the Red Raiders were composed exclusively of three-star, two-star, and even zero-star recruits.
- Star guard Jarrett Culver entered school ranked as the No. 312 prospect in his high school class, per 247 Sports. Two years later, he’s a lock to be a top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
- A recruiting profile doesn’t even exist for Matt Mooney from when he graduated Notre Dame high school in the north suburbs of Chicago. He originally went to Air Force before transferring to South Dakota and then becoming a Final Four hero for Texas Tech as a grad transfer.
- Davide Moretti was ranked No. 158 in his class when he committed to the Red Raiders out of Itlay, which makes him a prestige recruit by Texas Tech standards. After a statistically atrocious freshman year, he became a dependable perimeter sniper as a sophomore.
- Norense Odiase was ranked No. 358 out of high school in 2014, eventually developing into a dependable rebounder and shot blocker for Texas Tech during his fifth year in school, two years removed from a foot injury that caused him to take a medical redshirt.
- Tariq Owens was ranked No. 185 in his recruiting class. He spent a year at Tennessee, transferred to St. John’s and led the Big East in blocks twice, and then came to Texas Tech as a grad transfer.
This was Texas Tech’s starting lineup in the national championship, a remarkable testament both to Beard’s ability to develop talent and the players’ incredible ability to execute his game plan.
Coaches like Beard and players like the ones on Texas Tech’s roster should not be playing in the national title game, not against a program whose head coach is the son of famous coach and whose roster featured four top-100 recruits in the starting lineup.
The Red Raiders were given nothing and earned everything. They came to the doorstep of being national champions.
Texas Tech unofficially opened its season with a secret scrimmage in October against Houston. After the game, Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson came into the opposing locker room and delivered a message.
“You’re from Lubbock, Texas. You’re no blue blood. Don’t lose your chip.”
Texas Tech never would and never did. Not after the way Beard clawed his way to the top and not after these players saw such stunning success for the only power conference program that would give them a chance.
Texas Tech had never been past the Sweet 16 in program history when Beard took over. In his second year, he took the team to the Elite Eight, and developed a three-star recruit in Zhaire Smith into a one-and-done top-20 NBA draft pick. That squad lost five of its six leading scorers, including dynamic senior point guard Keenan Evans.
Texas Tech was picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 in the preseason poll this year. Instead, they helped break Kansas’ 14-year stranglehold on the conference by tying for the regular season title with Kansas State.
The tournament run was dominant from the very start. They beat Buffalo by 20 points in the round of 32, a team that finished 32-4 on the year and in the top-25 of KenPom’s overall efficiency rankings. They plastered Michigan and its No. 2 overall defense by 19 points in the Sweet 16. And then they blanketed Gonzaga and its No. 1 offense to reach the Final Four.
While Virginia needed a ton of drama and a controversial finish to beat No. 5 seed Auburn on Saturday in Minneapolis, Texas Tech beat No. 2 seed Michigan State by 10 points. Against Virginia, the Red Raiders came within one call and a couple shots of winning the national title.
It’s not hard to find an aspirational message in Texas Tech’s run. A coach who once shared an arena with the rodeo team at Fort Scott Community College. A group of players who were almost unanimously overlooked by power conference programs. An amazing run through March built off the strength of a defense that finished with the best efficiency rating of the last 20 years.
The Red Raiders are a triumph for perseverance, patience, and the incredible mental focus required to will your dreams into reality. Texas Tech may have come up just short of winning the national championship, but what they did along the way feels even more important.