Final Four 2019: Chris Beard keeps taking Texas Tech to heights no one could have imagined

MINNEAPOLIS -- This is not supposed to happen. Texas Tech is not supposed to be playing for a national title.

Not in basketball, at least. And certainly not with a team that's composed like this: A team that's missing five of its top six scorers from the Elite Eight team last season, and a team that's made up of four transfers and zero top 100 recruits.

Yet here they are, the No. 3 seed Red Raiders fresh off a 61-51 victory Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium against favored Michigan State and all of Tom Izzo's experience at this stage. None of that mattered as Tech's Matt Mooney dropped 22 points and the hyper-elite defense locked in.

What Chris Beard has done in his three years at Texas Tech -- three years! -- is nothing short of remarkable. Lubbock, Texas, is not exactly a hotbed for basketball. Bobby Knight went there, and he didn't take Texas Tech anywhere near this far. Tubby Smith went there, and he didn't take Texas Tech anywhere near this far.

But Chris Beard went there, and boom: His team is already making history.

"He told us this summer – I don't know if it was the first game, but it was early – but he said we have enough in this locker room right here to play on the final Monday night," Mooney said. Either coach is psychic, or – he might be psychic. Because here we are, on the final Monday night. We just believed in him and believed in each other."

This is what happens when you get a bunch of under-recruited, overachieving players to believe in a system and believe in themselves. While Beard's team is not filled with McDonald's All-Americans or five-star recruits, it is filled with exactly the type of players he wants to build a program on. They're absolute dogs on the court, fearless, with one of the best defenses we have seen in college basketball in decades. They have one elite NBA prospect in sophomore wing Jarrett Culver -- who, incidentally, is from Lubbock, and whose older brother was a national champion high jumper for Texas Tech, and who was the very first person Beard called after he was announced for the job -- and then they have a bunch of players whose primary basketball attributes is that they have a desire to be great.

It's not to say these are a bunch of scrubs. Far from it. Tariq Owens is one of the best shot blockers in college basketball. Davide Moretti and Mooney are both excellent 3-point shooters, as Mooney proved when he caught fire in the second half of Saturday night's upset of Michigan State. Norense Odiase is an immovable force in the post. Brandone Francis works his tail off on the basketball court.

But these players will never be confused with the one-and-done level players who get the majority of the publicity in college basketball.

"To be able to play through what we have, playing through foul trouble, playing through adversity, just sticking through and coming out with a W," Owens said, "this win just speaks wonders to our program."

Instead, what they are are scrappers. They're a team that lives by the old Ben Hogan saying, "The secret is in the dirt," which has become this team's mantra. They're a group that has bought into the idea that they have to outwork their opponent in order to beat their opponent. They're a group that believed in summer that they could be a Final Four team, even as Big 12 coaches picked Texas Tech to finish in seventh in the 10-team conference.

Texas Tech was never supposed to be playing for a national title in basketball. But if they were, it was always going to have to be with a group like this, and a coach like Beard. Because he's just like his players: A scrapper, who less than a decade ago was coaching semipro ball in Myrtle Beach, and who since then has coached in Division III, in Division II, in mid-major Division I, and finally to Texas Tech.

What Beard did is he got players who were just like him: Under-appreciated, under-hyped and ready to prove everyone wrong.

"Basketball is a team sport – a few guys believing they can do something," Beard said after beating Michigan State. "I've only been the head coach at Texas Tech for three years, so, history is something you respect and study, but when you're in athletics and you're in competition, it's the team at hand."

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