CBS 7 Sports dives into the burning question for many Texas Tech fans: can they win the 2019 National Championship?
Texas Tech celebrates after a win against Gonzaga in the West Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. Texas Tech won 75-69. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
IF ANYONE’S DUE, THEY ARE
Until now, the most popular Texas Tech coach wasn’t with the school anymore. That title was perhaps held by now-former head football coach Kliff Kingsbury, who will coach the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in 2019.
But now that Texas Tech has reached its first NCAA men’s basketball Final Four in school history, head coach Chris Beard is becoming a household name. Beard’s journey to success included a few stints in West Texas before he landed the Texas Tech job, and in just three seasons, he’s led the Red Raiders farther in the NCAA Tourney than coaching legends Bob Knight and Tubby Smith.
While Knight turned the struggling program around almost instantaneously upon his arrival in 2001, his tenure yielded just one Sweet Sixteen appearance (2005).
Meanwhile, Beard, the back-to-back Big XII Coach of the Year, led the Red Raiders to its first-ever Elite Eight last season before taking the program at least one step beyond that point this year.
Led by hall-of-famer Sheryl Swoopes, the Texas Tech women’s team won its first and only national title in 1993. There’s no better time than the present for the men’s team to finally accomplish the same feat.
THEY’RE NO CINDERELLA
The slipper eventually fell off for 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago during last year’s Final Four, but not before a magical NCAA Tournament run that almost no one saw coming. Fairy tales and Loyola’s 2018 team can both attest that Cinderella’s magic usually fizzles out late in the tournament.
But Texas Tech is no Cinderella.
The Red Raiders (30-6 ovr, 14-4 conf) are a 3-seed for a reason. Led by Big XII Player of the Year and projected NBA lottery pick Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech finished 1st overall in the conference.
This season, the sophomore guard has led the Red Raiders in points (18.9), rebounds (6.4), and assists (3.8). Comparing those numbers to National Player of the Year frontrunner Zion Williamson’s stats (22.6/8.7/2.1), Culver’s no slouch.
And neither are the Red Raiders.
Though they didn’t exactly take on a Murderer’s Row of top-25 opponents this season, Tech faced Williamson’s No. 2-ranked Duke Blue Devils in December. Texas Tech lost that game by 11 points, 69-58, in its first loss of the season.
Texas Tech also suffered a decisive road loss to 11th-ranked Kansas on February 2nd, but bounced back strong for a 29-point blowout win when the two teams met again just three weeks later.
(MOST OF) THE NUMBER ONES ARE DONE
Three of the last four National Champions have been No. 1 seeds. The only exception was in 2016, when 2-seed Villanova beat 1-seed North Carolina, thanks to a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Virginia is the only No. 1 to advance to the Final Four this year, joining Michigan State (2), Texas Tech (3), and Auburn (5).
Texas Tech is fresh off upsetting Gonzaga, one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tournament, 75-69. In that Elite Eight matchup, the Red Raiders’ relentless defense held Gonzaga to just 27 percent from three-point range and forced 16 turnovers – six more than the Zags’ season average.
After Saturday’s game, while talking about his team’s normally-frugal ball control against Texas Tech’s defense, Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few said, “This is the best team I’ve ever had for taking care of the ball. So it’s real. That defense is real.”
Gonzaga went undefeated in its conference this season and only lost four games overall before Texas Tech sent them home. If Chris Beard’s Red Raiders can beat the Zags, they can beat anyone.
BUT… FIRST THINGS FIRST
While reaching the Final Four is quite an accomplishment, the NCAA Tournament is far from over for the Red Raiders.
Their next test will come Saturday, April 6th against Michigan State in Minneapolis on CBS 7. Tipoff is set for 7:49 p.m. The Spartans are no strangers to the Final Four, having reached that point 10 times in the school’s history and 8 times since 1999. They’ve also won two National Championships.
Again, Texas Tech is entirely new to the Final Four (even aforementioned Loyola-Chicago has two such appearances) and face a tough task in the Spartans who knocked off the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed Duke on Sunday.
If the Red Raiders survive the Spartans (32-6, 16-4), they’ll take on the winner of Auburn and Virginia in the National Championship Game on April 8.
If they fall short, though, nobody will feel sorry for Texas Tech this time around. And no one will search to return their glass slipper. The Red Raiders are for real, and whatever happens next is entirely up to them.