2019 Big 12 Tournament: Tested and tough, Texas Tech is pushing itself to unprecedented heights
Chris Beard's Red Raiders are looking to make a run deeper than their Elite Eight from a year ago
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chris Beard has had plenty of time to compile his motivational tactics. Texas Tech's coach is proud of reminding you that he has coached in junior college, Division II, the minor league American Basketball Association and, oh yeah, Division I.
"It's not a matter of if adversity is coming, it's when," Beard said before his team's opening Big 12 Tournament game Thursday night. "When it comes, are we ready?
"Some days at practice, I'll pick on a guy. I'll call bad fouls or I won't call any fouls at all. I'll jump a guy to see if I can get under his skin. When those [tough] moments come, there's a calmness to our program."
So much so that that, under Beard, No. 7 Texas Tech has assembled what is arguably the two best seasons in school history. An Elite Eight run in 2018 was followed this season with a share of the Big 12 title.
In a flash, glamour traded sides in the Big 12. For almost a decade and a half, it was all about Kansas winning 14 straight Big 12 regular-season crowns. This year, the attention is focused on Kansas State capturing its first No. 1 seed in the postseason tournament in 42 years.
And there's Texas Tech, which tied for its first conference title in 23 years.
This season, Beard replaced five of his top six scorers from a 27-win team. He lost All-American Keenan Evans and one-and-done guard Zhaire Smith.
"In my opinion, last year Keenan Evans was the best player in the Big 12, but because we didn't win the conference championship, I was in total agreement [that] Devonte Graham from Kansas was the player of the year," Beard said.
It's easy to brag now because the Red Raiders might be better than last year's team that lost to Villanova in the regional final. They've won their last nine in a row to become a top 10 team. Two graduate transfers have contributed heavily -- Matt Mooney (from South Dakota) and Tariq Owens (from St. John's). Plus, sophomore Jarrett Culver captured that player of the year honor than eluded Evans.
"His talent the whole world can see," Beard said. "There's nothing that March can throw at us that we haven't seen."
The message is that Texas Tech isn't going away. Beard was named Big 12 Coach of the Year for the second season in a row. The Red Raiders were built on defense -- No. 1 in KenPom's adjusted defense, third nationally in 2-point field-goal defense. What else would you expect from a coach who spent a decade at Tech as an assistant under Bob Knight and his son Pat?
Lubbock, Texas, seems to be Beard's kind of place. Now he needs to prove it long term. Aside from Texas Tech, Beard has never stayed anywhere very long. Less than three weeks after accepting the UNLV job in 2016, he bolted for Lubbock.
That was after spending two seasons or less at six of his previous stops. Beard's name already has come up at Texas if Shaka Smart is let go.
"It's harder to coach guys in one-year settings," Beard said. "In Division II, your roster is always changing. There's junior college, professional basketball, ABA. We had guys on 30-day contracts. The art of coaching in one-year settings is a little bit different."
Maybe that's why one-year guys are so loyal to him. Owens and Mooney have never played in the NCAA Tournament. That's motivation enough. The 6-foot-10 Owens leads the team in field-goal percentage. Mooney has meandered as much as his coach.
The 6-foot-3 guard started at Air Force where he experienced "bullying," according to a 2015 Chicago Tribune story.
"I was all set to serve, graduate and serve five years," Mooney said. "I went through six weeks basic training. I went through all the training. I wasn't happy. Freshman year is the hardest. I got through the hardest part and it was like, 'Man, I wanted to pursue basketball. I want to play pro ball.' The military takes so much more time and I'm a gym rat. I can't do that. I wanted to go somewhere where I can see how far I can take the game of basketball."
From Air Force he went to South Dakota where Mooney was a two-time All-Summit League performer for the Coyotes. Stop No. 3 in Lubbock has been enlightening. Mooney has been able to subjugate his game going from 20.5 points per game at South Dakota to a complimentary 10.9 at Tech.
"They surrendered, saying, 'OK, we trust you. I've never done that before, but I'll do it,'" Beard said of Owens and Mooney.
It's been enlightening for everyone around the Red Raiders. Senior center Norense Odiase lost two cousins last month when they were killed in a Lubbock car crash.
Odiase knew something was wrong when he pinged his relatives.
"Basically, their location was the police department," he said. "It's hard to process at this time. I think about it every day. Just playing with these guys pushes me."
They push each other. Guard Davide Moretti, from Italy, is the nation's leading free-throw shooter. Culver is a Lubbock native coming off a career-high 31 in the Iowa State win that clinched a share of the league title.
Beard is there to keep them all in the line with those motivational practices. Do the players know what he's trying to accomplish by not calling any fouls?
"Not always," Beard said. "The older guys figure it out."
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