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The Basketball Vagabond: Texas Tech’s Chris Beard is thriving after returning to his roots

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To this day, when Chris Beard is asked about the best team that he’s ever coached, he doesn’t mention his current Texas Tech team, the one that is ranked No. 8 in the country and just six days removed from winning at Allen Fieldhouse.

He doesn’t mention his Little Rock team, either, the one that upset No. 5 seed Purdue in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

To hear him tell it, the best team that Beard ever coached was the South Carolina Warriors, an ABA expansion franchise, a team in a league where half court shots count as four points, you get a bonus point for baskets that come off of backcourt steals and players can’t foul out of games; a league that few people even realize still exists.

Six years and five jobs later, Beard has returned to Lubbock to lead a school that fired him, sending him to the depths of America’s pro basketball ranks, into poll position in the race to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12.



It was June 23rd, 2011, three months after Billy Gillispie replaced Pat Knight and ten years after Chris Beard had taken a job on staff with the Red Raiders, and for the first time in a decade, Beard was out of work.

After initially being retained by Gillispie, the university and Beard had decided to part ways. The timing could not have been worse. By late-June, most of the movement in the assistant coaching ranks has come to a close, particularly at the higher-end of the salary scale. Most of the college coaching jobs that Beard, who has three daughters that live in Texas, could have chased were filled.

And that’s assuming he could have gotten them in the first place. Industry sources told NBC Sports that the split between Beard and Gillispie was hardly amicable, and reports at the time stated that “heated altercations” between the two, including one that was “physically broken up” by Texas Tech’s Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt, led to Beard’s resignation.

Then there was the buyout.

Beard wouldn’t have seen any of that money if he took another college coaching job, and none of the openings he tried to chase down came with a salary large enough to make up that difference. Beard has kids that he needed to support. He was already staring at the paycut that comes with losing a position as the associate head coach of a Big 12 program. Passing up on that buyout money to take a spot as the third assistant with some random mid-major team didn’t make sense, not when he could have very well ended up looking for another job by the following Final Four.

“I had an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what I wanted to do,” Beard told NBC Sports in an interview last week. “I’m not a guy that was going to go do TV or anything like that. I’m not good looking enough. But I knew I wanted to stay involved in basketball.”

That’s when Beard got word about an opportunity in Myrtle Beach.

Or maybe Tony Bennett, who spent time as both the General Manager and the Owner of the South Carolina Warriors, got word of Beard’s availability.

No one seems to remember exactly who called who first, but all parties agree on this: Purdue head coach Matt Painter was the conduit. Bennett was a former walk-on at Purdue, a grey shirt that ran on the scout team for the Boilermakers during the years when Painter was a scholarship player. Painter also happened to be an AAU teammate of Pat Knight, Beard’s former boss. The connection was made.

Beard – who went to high school outside Houston, was a student-assistant at Texas and spent his entire coaching career, outside of two one-year stops at Junior Colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma, in the the state of Texas – was off to South Carolina.

To take over a team that didn’t have an arena to play in.

Hell, when Beard got the job, you couldn’t even call the Warriors a team.

They didn’t actually have any players.


Chris Beard cuts down net after winning Sun Belt title with Little Rock (Stephen B. Thornton/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

At the tender age of 44, Beard has already been a head coach with eight different teams. Prior to heading to Texas Tech the first time around, Beard was the head coach at Fort Scott CC and Seminole State CC, each for one season. He spent one year with the South Carolina Warriors before returning to Texas as the head coach at a newly-minted Division II program, McMurry University. After one season at McMurry, Beard was named head coach at Division II powerhouse Angelo State. He spent two seasons there before getting the head coaching gig with Little Rock. After winning a first round game in the NCAA tournament in his inaugural season in Arkansas, Beard was named head coach at UNLV, where he lasted precisely one week before taking over for Tubby Smith at Texas Tech.

It’s something that he’s taken heat for, and yet he claims that he doesn’t look for jobs. Beard told Sports Illustrated in 2016 that he doesn’t even have a résumé.

“We have success and people reach out,” Beard says. The truth is that Beard, who has Texas Tech in the top ten of the AP Poll in just his second season in charge, was coaching at a level that was beneath him all of those years, and when a better job – with better pay, better players and a better chance at winning – comes along, he took it. Most people in most professions would do no different.

And for Beard, the real point of pride is in how he left the previous school.

“Each time I’ve moved, one of my assistants has gotten the head coaching job,” Beard said. “Everybody benefited. I would like to think that if you talked to any of those jobs – South Carolina Warriors, McMurry, Angelo State, Little Rock – they would tell you the program is in better shape when I left than when I came in. I’m really proud of that.”

That leaves UNLV, where Beard signed a five-year deal only to leave for Texas Tech a week later.

“It’s something that I don’t enjoy talking about it,” he said, “but I’ll be consistent. The truth sets you free. The timing was terrible and I felt bad for the people there, but sometimes in life opportunities come and you’ve got to do the right thing.”

For Beard, the right thing was returning to Texas Tech. UNLV, at the time, has just two scholarship players left on the roster. Sources told NBC Sports that at the first team workout Beard had at UNLV, the only player that showed up was a walk-on from Las Vegas. He was staring at a long rebuild in a city that was a flight away from his daughters and in a conference a rung or two below the Big 12.

Texas Tech?

They were coming off of an NCAA tournament under Tubby.

And it was also Texas Tech.

“It’s like when Bear Bryant left Texas A&M for Alabama,” Beard said in his introductory news conference. “He said, ‘When momma calls, you’ve gotta go home.’ Texas Tech is my momma and I’m home.”


(John Weast/Getty Images)

The first thing that Beard did when he arrived in Myrtle Beach was to start building a roster, and he could not have picked a better time to do it.

Beard’s first foray into professional basketball happened to coincide with the NBA lockout.

“A lot of the players weren’t playing in the D-League,” Beard said. “They weren’t even going overseas because the whole basketball world froze for a little while.”

Beard and Bennett pounced. Instead of going through agents, they recruited the way they would to a college program. They wore out their contacts list, reaching out to anyone and everyone that may have a line on a player looking for a team.

It worked.

The Warriors’ roster was headlined by former high-major players. Former Kentucky center Perry Stevenson played for the Warriors, as did former Texas Tech point guard John Roberson. Marquise Gainous played for TCU. Brendan Knox played at Auburn. The Warriors also reeled in as much local talent as possible, adding former Charleston star Tony White Jr. to the roster as well as a handful of players from the local Division I program, Coastal Carolina, because the second step after building a roster was building a fanbase that actually cared.

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

That process started with making the games an event, not just a place to watch basketball. The program brought in a cheerleading squad. There was a band playing in the gym. It took a while to lock down a place to play their home games, but Beard eventually discovered the Carolina Forest Recreation Center.

It wasn’t exactly an arena, but it was nicer than a typical high school gym and could fit more than 1,000 people. Crowds hovered around that number as the season went on, in no small part a result of the way the ABA game is played.

The ABA understands what it is. It’s not the NBA. It’s a step below the G League, so instead of using standard professional basketball rules, they made changes to creating as thrilling a style of play as possible. Any shot made beyond half court counted as four points. Instead of a ten-second backcourt violation, teams only have seven seconds to get the ball across half court. Any turnover committed in the backcourt meant that the next shot taken by the team that forced the turnover would be worth an extra point – twos were worth three, threes were worth four and halfcourt shots were worth five. Throw in that players could not foul out of a game, and it was pretty easy to figure out the optimal way to play.

Imagine Press Virginia on steroids. Imagine VCU’s Havoc defense, only gambling more.

Throw in the fact that the Warriors were the most talented team in the league, and what you got was high-octane basketball with video game numbers: They broke 150 points seven times, including a season-high of 194.

The only issue was money.

There wasn’t a ton of it to go around. Beard had his buyout money to float him, and the players were treated better than they were for most teams in the league, but that didn’t change the fact that those ABA paychecks “weren’t very good,” Bennett said, adding that often those paychecks would show up late. “A lot of people make worse, but it wasn’t a lot.”

The team created a few side hustles to help ease the financial burden on their players. Players would be given tickets that they could sell, splitting the profits with ownership. The team cut deals with restaurants in the area, exchanging advertisements and publicity at the games for a postgame drink and appetizer vouchers for the players. The free housing in Myrtle Beach helped as well.

“We wanted them to feel like pros,” Bennett said.

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

That wasn’t always easy when the team would be forced to practice in random rec centers or high school gyms, or even on outdoor courts, if no other court space was available.

The ABA is not glamorous. “Off the court it was like I was living the Will Ferrell semi-pro life,” Beard said, and that was exactly what he needed.

“I’ve always been a pretty humble guy, I’d like to think that I’m not entitled or anything like that, I just love basketball. But that year really made me appreciate basketball even more. We would practice in rec centers. We would practice outside. We didn’t have a trainer. We just kind of bonded together.”

“The experience for him was really good because he had to do so many things he didn’t do before,” Bennett said. “It created a family environment. The players all lived in the same place. The team had Sunday meals together.”

And before long, they were selling out games. “The community in Myrtle Beach embraced the team,” Beard said. The Warriors would go undefeated until the championship series, where they were swept by a team from Jacksonville owned by Christian Laettner.

With that, Beard’s tenure in the professional ranks was over. He had a line on a Division II head coaching position back in Texas. Bennett sold the team to a group of investors in Myrtle Beach and within two years, the team no longer existed.


(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

For a college basketball coach, there is a risk in calling a job like Texas Tech your “dream job,” as Beard did at his introductory press conference in 2016, particularly for a coach with Beard’s reputation of job-hopping.

This is Beard’s 23rd season as a basketball coach, and outside of the ten years that he spent as an assistant at Texas Tech, he’s never been in one place for more than two seasons.

He was at UNLV for a week before leaving to take Texas Tech.

Your “dream job” is the one you don’t leave, and if Beard wins the Big 12 in his second season at Texas Tech, a school whose entire basketball history to date can be summed up with Darvin Ham broke a backboard and Bob Knight retired from there, what job would be unavailable to him?

Beard has built a reputation for being a coach that can rebuild quickly, and there’s a school in Louisville that will be in the market for someone that can provide a quick turnaround. Beard could get a $2 million-a-year raise and Louisville would still be spending less than half of what they did on Rick Pitino’s salary, and an offer like that would be awfully hard for anyone to say no to.

Which is why it’s silly for a coach to paint themselves into a corner. You never know what the future holds. Beard is smart when distancing himself from that dream job discussion.

“I’ve always felt that way with the job that I’ve had,” Beard said. “When I got the Fort Scott CC job, [Beard’s first head coaching gig], I was never more excited. I’ve always just felt that way.”

But Texas Tech might be the job that’s different. He’s spent time here, the only place where he has set down roots as a professional. His daughters are close, he’s back in Texas, and Texas just so happens to be the state that is home to Whataburger.

It’s the little things that matter.

Beard is also a dreamer with a chip on his shoulder, and he recruits dreamers with chips on their shoulder. He believes that he can win a national championship at Texas Tech and he recruits players that do the same, players that have a desire to prove to everyone that said they weren’t talented enough to play at Kansas that they can win at Kansas.

At the same time, it’s not glitz and glamour of high major basketball that Beard is addicted to.

It is the competition. It is the satisfaction that comes with victory. It is the moments that he experiences with his team.

After last week’s win in Lawrence, Beard got onto the Texas Tech bus and sat next to his assistant, Max Lefevre, who has been a member of Beard’s staff since 2013, when Beard was at Angelo State.

“No disrespect to Kansas,” Beard said, “this is what it felt like when we beat Tarleton State.”

“My girlfriend now is a high school volleyball coach,” Beard told me, “and I tell her that her season is just the same as mine. It’s all relative. When she has a big game it’s just like if we’re paying Texas or Baylor. When you’re a competitor and you’re in competition, the level doesn’t matter.”

“The moment does.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25.

As always, there are plenty of caveats here.

For starters, we are still in the process of figuring out who will and will not be returning to school and where the myriad transfers are going to end up this year.

Given the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the way recruiting and the predraft process will work, it is hard to know how and where these guys will end up, which is why every college basketball preseason top 25 published right now is going to have plenty of assumptions, projections and moving parts.

So with that in mind, here is the current iteration of NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25:

college basketball preseason top 25
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COLLEGE BASKETBALL PRESEASON TOP 25

1. VILLANOVA

  • GONE: Saddiq Bey
  • COMING BACK: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Bryan Antoine, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

With the exception of Saddiq Bey, Villanova returns everyone from a team that won a share of the Big East regular season title last season while adding Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels (16.9 ppg) and a healthy Bryan Antoine. There is enough talent on this roster that I think they are the clear No. 1 team in the country right now. And while Bey was their best player, I don’t think that they will have much trouble replacing him. Villanova has a roster full of talented wings and perimeter weapons. Bey was the best of the bunch, but Antoine’s healthy, Daniels is really good and the likes of Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels and Cole Swider return as well. Throw in Jeremiah Robinsin-Earl and this roster is loaded.

RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25 (link)

2. BAYLOR

  • GONE: Freddie Gillespie, Devonte Bandoo
  • COMING BACK: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark, Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Flo Thamba
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Adam Flagler, L.J. Cryer, Dain Dainja, Zach Loveday, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark

The Bears get all three of their guards back now that Jared Butler has opted to return to school, and with Mark Vital returning, they’ll once again have two of the best defenders in college basketball on the roster (Davion Mitchell). They’re coming off of a 26-4 season, and there are plenty of bench options at Scott Drew’s disposal — Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Adam Flagler — but the big question is going to be at the five. Which Tristan Clark are we going to get next season?

3. GONZAGA

  • GONE: Filip Petrusev, Admon Gilder, Ryan Wooldridge, Killian Tillie
  • COMING BACK: Joel Ayayi, Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zakharov
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert
  • NEW FACES: Oumar Ballo, Aaron Cook, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo

The Zags should once again be a powerhouse next season, but they are still waiting on a couple of draft decisions. Their star freshman guard is Jalen Suggs, who would be a perfect fit next to Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert on Gonzaga’s perimeter if both return to school. As much as I like Ayayi as a player, I’m not sure he’s going to be drafted this year. Kispert doesn’t have much else that he can prove at the college level and has a real chance to be a early-to-mid second round pick. Gonzaga’s frontcourt is going to be absolutely loaded even without Filip Petrusev because Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo both have WCC Player of the Year upside. Throw in a healthy Anton Watson, and the Zags should be loaded again.

Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

4. VIRGINIA

  • GONE: Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key
  • COMING BACK: Kihei Clark, Jay Huff, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kody Stattman, Justin McCoy
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Sam Hauser, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Carson McCorkle, Reece Beekman
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff

The Cavaliers should be much better offensively with Sam Hauser replacing Mamadi Diakite in the starting lineup, and while Diakite is a significantly better defender than Hauser, it’s hard to imagine Virginia ever being a bad defensive team, especially when Hauser has had a year to learn the system. Kihei Clark and Jay Huff are both back, and I would expect Casey Morsell to take a step forward this season. Throw in a strong freshman class, and UVA should be competing for an ACC title once again.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft

5. KANSAS

  • GONE: Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss
  • COMING BACK: Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, Mitch Lightfoot, DaJuan Harris, Silvio De Sousa
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Bryce Thompson, Tyon Grant-Foster, Gethro Muscadin, Latrell Jossell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Tristan Enaruna, David McCormack

When it comes to the amount of talent on the Kansas roster, there are certainly enough weapons here. They are incredibly loaded on the wing — Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Tyon Grant-Foster, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, sheesh — and David McCormack showed enough flashes last season that I expect him to be able to do an adequate job replacing Udoka Azubuike. Assuming Self (correctly) plays small-ball again, they should be really, really good. The problem? Other than Garrett, there is not a point guard on the roster that has played a second of college basketball. The best Jayhawk teams have had a killer at that position, and I’m not sure Garrett qualifies as such.

NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES

RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25

6. DUKE

  • GONE: Tre Jones, Vernon Carey Jr., Cassius Stanley, Jack White, Alex O’Connell, Javin DeLaurier
  • COMING BACK: Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman, Patrick Tape
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Wendell Moore, Jalen Johnson, Mark Williams

The Blue Devils lose quite a bit of talent off of last season’s roster if as Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all headed to the pros. But with six top 50 prospects coming into the program — headlined by a potential lottery pick in Jalen Johnson as well as point guard Jeremy Roach and scoring guard D.J. Steward — there will be quite a bit of talent on display. A starting lineup that includes those three freshmen and Wendell Moore will be fun. Duke is going to be very young, however, and a frontline that includes a bunch of freshmen and a grad transfer from Columbia is less than ideal.

7. IOWA

  • GONE: Bakari Evelyn, Ryan Kreiner, Cordell Pemsl
  • COMING BACK: Luka Garza, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Joe Toussaint, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, Jack Nunge
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Tony Perkins, Ahron Ulis, Patrick McCaffery
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Joe Toussaint, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza

Luka Garza will be back for his senior season, which is a helluva way for Fran McCaffery to anchor a roster that looks as good as anyone in the Big Ten. I think Joe Toussaint has a chance to be one of the breakout stars in college basketball next year, which is a pretty good sign for a team that also returns the preseason Player of the Year — yes, I’m taking the liberty of locking Luka into that award — along with talents like Joe Weiskamp and C.J. Frederick.

8. TENNESSEE

  • GONE: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden
  • COMING BACK: John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pemper
  • WAIT AND SEE: Yves Pons
  • NEW FACES: Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Corey Walker, Victor Bailey, E.J. Anosike, Malachi Wideman
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Keon Johnson, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

Last season, one of the biggest issues with Tennessee was a lack of firepower on their perimeter. This year, they will be adding five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer to Josiah Jordan-James and Santiago Vescovi. They’ll have weapons, and that’s before you add in John Fulkerson, who was one of the best bigs in the SEC down the stretch of the season. Yves Pons will be the best defender in college basketball if he pulls out of the draft. If Vescovi can handle full-time point guard duties better with an offseason under his belt, the Vols are going to be the favorite to win the SEC.

9. ILLINOIS

  • GONE: Andres Feliz, Kipper Nichols, Alan Griffin
  • COMING BACK: Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Da’Monte Williams, Trent Frazier
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Andre Curbelo, Adam Miller, Coleman Hawkins, Brandon Lieb
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Da’Monte Williams, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Kofi Cockburn

Illinois has a chance to be very, very good this coming season. The big news came with just days left before the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the draft, when Ayo Dosunmu announced that he would be returning to school for his junior season. Dosunmu is one of the best big-shot makers in the sport and will likely see his name on a preseason All-American team. With Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili coming back and a couple of talented freshmen guards — Andrew Curbelo, Adam Miller — enrolling, Brad Underwood has a terrific core. With Kofi Cockburn also deciding to return, the Illini will have a real shot at winning the Big Ten title and getting to a Final Four.

10. TEXAS TECH

  • GONE: Jahmi’us Ramsey, Chris Clarke, Davide Moretti, T.J. Holyfield, Russel Tchewa
  • COMING BACK: Kyler Edwards, Terrance Shannon Jr., Kevin McCullar, Avery Benson
  • WAIT AND SEE: Mac McClung, Jamarius Burton
  • NEW FACES: Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, Marcus Santos-Silva, Joel Ntambwe, Chibuzo Agbo, Esahia Nzyiwe
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kyler Edwards, Nimari Burnett, Terrance Shannon, Joel Ntambwe, Marcus Santos-Silva

The Red Raiders should have a roster that is a much better fit for the way that Chris Beard wants to play. Kyler Edwards and Nimari Burnett are both built in the mold of a classic Texas Tech lead guard, while Terrance Shannon will be on quite a few of the breakout sophomore lists you’ll find. The two major questions with this group is whether or not Edwards can takeover full-time point guard duties, and if VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva or Joel Ntambwe can handle the five spot better than T.J. Holyfield did this past season. There are enough talented perimeter weapons for me to buy-in, but without an anchor at the five a la Tariq Owens, their ceiling is somewhat limited.

11. HOUSTON

  • GONE: Nate Hinton, Chris Harris
  • COMING BACK: Quentin Grimes, Caleb Mills, Marcus Sasser, DeJon Jarreau, Fabian White, Justin Forham, Brison Gresham, Cedrick Alley
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Tramon Mark, Jamal Shead, Kiyron Powell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Sasser, Caleb Mills, DeJon Jarreau, Quentin Grimes, Brison Gresham

We all know that Kelvin Sampson can coach, and he will be bringing back a roster where his top six scorers were all underclassmen from a team that finished top 15 on KenPom. They are going to be loaded in the backcourt — Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes might end up being their third or fourth best guard — and there will be some veterans in their frontcourt. The Cougars look to be the favorite in the American despite the fact that Nate Hinton left school a year earlier than expected.

12. WISCONSIN

  • GONE: Brevin Pritzl
  • COMING BACK: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, Aleem Ford, Tyler Wahl, Trevor Anderson
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Ben Carlson, Lorne Bowman, Johnny Davis, Jordan Davis, Steve Crowl
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter

After winning a share of last year’s Big Ten regular season title, the Badgers are on track to essentially return everyone of note. Their frontline of Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter will be as good as anyone in the Big Ten, D’Mitrik Trice has developed into a solid shot-maker and Tyler Wahl is waiting in the wings as a super-sub. Throw in Brad Davison, and the Badgers will compete for the league title once again.

13. NORTH CAROLINA

  • GONE: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Jeremiah Francis
  • COMING BACK: Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Andrew Platek, Anthony Harris
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Caleb Love, Walker Kessler, R.J. Davis, Day’Ron Sharpe, Puff Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Caleb Love, Anthony Harris, Leaky Black, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

The Tar Heels lost Cole Anthony, but with Caleb Love entering the program, they will once again be led by a five-star lead guard perfectly suited to running Roy Williams’ system. The Tar Heels will also have arguably the best frontline in college basketball, as Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot will be joined by five-stars Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. The key to this team is going to be on the wings, where Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson, R.J. Davis and Andrew Platek will be asked to carry the load. If I had more confidence in that group the Tar Heels would be ranked much higher.

RELATED: Coaching Carousel
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14. FLORIDA STATE

  • GONE: Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams, Dominik Olejniczak
  • COMING BACK: M.J. Walker, Balsa Koprivica, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, Raiquan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes, Nathanael Jack
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Scottie Barnes, Sardaar Calhoun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Polite, M.J. Walker, Scottie Barnes, Raiquan Gray, Balsa Koprivica

Florida State is a tough one to project because it’s hard to know exactly what is going to happen with Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell gone to the draft. Both are projected to go somewhere in the first round. With Scottie Barnes coming in and M.J. Walker returning, Florida State still has some dangerous weapons. The Seminoles are a machine at this point, and I’m betting thatwsc the system will continue to work. And even if both Vassell and Williams had decided to come back, it doesn’t answer the most pressing question of Leonard Hamilton’s team: How do they replace Trent Forrest at the point?

15. MICHIGAN STATE

  • GONE: Cassius Winston
  • COMING BACK: Rocket Watts, Aaren Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham, Julius Marble, Thomas Kithier, Foster Loyer
  • WAIT AND SEE: Josh Langford
  • NEW FACES: Joey Hauser, Mady Sissoko, A.J. Hoggard
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Rocket Watts, Josh Langford, Aaron Henry, Joey Hauser, Marcus Bingham

Rocket Watts showed down the stretch of last season that he was ready to take over the reins offensively, and with Joey Hauser getting eligible, he should have a second scoring threat on the floor with him. That will allow Aaron Henry to play his jack-of-all-trades role, and with Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham all, in theory, taking a step forward, there’s plenty of weaponry, even if a number of those pieces are young and unproven. Losing Xavier Tillman, an anchor and a leader, is a massive blow.

16. KENTUCKY

  • GONE: Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, Ashton Hagans, Johnny Juzang, E.J. Montgomery
  • COMING BACK: Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen
  • WAIT AND SEE: Olivier Sarr
  • NEW FACES: B.J. Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Davion Mintz
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devin Askew, Terrence Clarke, B.J. Boston, Keion Brooks, Isaiah Jackson

Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards are all heading to the NBA. E.J. Montgomery declared as well. Nate Sestina graduated. Johnny Juzang transferredwest. What that leaves is another loaded recruiting class and Keion Brooks. I love the combination of Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston on the wings, and Devin Askew should be able to step in and handle point guard duties along with Davion Mintz. This will be another season for the Wildcats where they have talent but not necessarily a great fit on their roster. The key to their season is going to be whether or not they can get Olivier Sarr a waiver to be eligible immediately.

17. WEST VIRGINIA

  • GONE: Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler
  • COMING BACK: Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver, Miles McBride, Emmitt Matthews, Gabe Osabuohien, Jalen Bridges, Sean McNeil
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Cottrell, Taj Thweatt, Kedrian Johnson , Jalen Bridges
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Miles McBride, Kedrian Johnson, Emmitt Matthews, Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe

The Mountaineers are going to be exactly what they were last season: Big, physical, overpowering defensively and on the glass and able to win games when Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews are able to made enough shots to keep defenses from collapsing.

18. CREIGHTON

  • GONE:  Ty-Shon Alexander, Kelvin Jones, Davion Mintz
  • COMING BACK: Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, Denzel Mahoney, Jacob Epperson, Shereef Mitchell
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Antwaan Jones, Ryan Kalkbrenner
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Zegarowski, Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney, Christian Bishop

Creighton’s ranking depended on what their talented backcourt of Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski decided to do. With both of them back, I had the Bluejays as a top four team. Without Alexander, they’re more of a back-end top 25 team. The other question is going to be what happens at the five spot. Christian Bishop was adequate in his minutes last season, and with four-star recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner and a (hopefully) healthy Jacob Epperson in the mix, there will be options to answer that question.

19. RUTGERS

  • GONE: Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter
  • COMING BACK: Geo Baker, Ron Harper, Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Jacob Young, Mamadou Doucoure, Paul Mulcahy
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Cliff Omoruyi, Dean Reiber, Oskar Palmquist, Mawot Mag
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson

The Scarlet Knights return basically everyone from a team that would have made the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1991. In total, eight of their top nine players are returning, and only Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 ppg) is gone.

20. MICHIGAN

  • GONE: Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske
  • COMING BACK: Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez
  • WAIT AND SEE: Chaundee Brown
  • NEW FACES: Hunter Dickinson, Mike Smith Terrance Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Mike Smith, Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, Hunter Dickinson

The Wolverines are going to have one of the better frontlines in college basketball in 2020-21, as they seem likely to return Isaiah Livers in addition to Franz Wagner. Throw in a recruiting class that includes Hunter Dickinson, and the Wolverines will be loaded. Their guards are old, but there are some questions about the upside of Columbia grad transfer Mike Smith and Eli Brooks. Can Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown get eligible?

21. TEXAS

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Kai Jones, Jericho Sims, Jase Febres, Kamaka Hepa, Royce Hamm, Donovan Williams, Gerald Lidell, Will Baker
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Greg Brown
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Greg Brown, Jericho Sims

The Longhorns bring back all 12 players from last year’s team, including 11 of whom started at least one game last season. Plus, they add top ten recruit Greg Brown to a team that won five of their last six regular season games. That’s a good thing! Keeping everyone happy on a roster this deep when there are 13 guys available for just five spots on the floor and 200 combined minutes a night? That’s not going to be easy to deal with.

22. LOUISVILLE

  • GONE: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Steve Enoch, Fresh Kimble, Ryan McMahon, Darius Perry
  • COMING BACK: David Johnson, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams, Josh Nickelberry, Aidan Ighiehon, Jaelyn Withers
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Carlik Jones, Charles Minlend, D’Andre Davis, J.J. Traynor
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Carlik Jones, David Johnson, Charles Minlend, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams

The Cardinals are going to build around sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson as well as senior Malik Williams this season. The addition of Radford grad transfer Carlik Jones should help out quite a bit as well. Johnson and Williamson have both shown flashes of having star potential. The addition of San Francisco grad transfer Charles Minlend should help add some depth on the perimeter.

23. ARIZONA STATE

  • GONE: Rob Edwards, Romello White, Mickey Mitchell
  • COMING BACK: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Kimani Lawrence, Taeshon Cherry, Jaelen House, Khalid Thomas, Jalen Graham
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES:  Josh Christopher, Marcus Bagley, Holland Woods
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Josh Christopher, Taeshon Cherry, Jalen Graham

This ranking is dependent on Remy Martin making the decision to return to school for the 2020-21 season, but if they do, the Sun Devils have a chance to be really, really good. Losing Romello White is going to hurt, but Alonzo Verge had a breakout season, and they added Josh Christopher, a five-star prospect from California.

24. RICHMOND

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Andre Gustavson, Jake Wojcik, Tyler Burton
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Wilson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jacob Gilyard, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Grant Golden

Chris Mooney did not have a senior on the roster of a team that finished 24-7 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic 10. With Obi Toppin gone, the Spiders will likely be the class of the conference heading into next season. Jacob Gilyard has a chance to be Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.

25. MEMPHIS

  • GONE: James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa, Tyler Harris
  • COMING BACK: D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Boogie Ellis, Damian Baugh, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
  • WAIT AND SEE: Landers Nolley II, DeAndre Williams
  • NEW FACES: Moussa Cisse, Isaiah Stokes
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Alex Lomax, Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones, D.J. Jeffries, Moussa Cisse

Moussa Cisse is the piece that Memphis had been missing. I explain why here.

SIX THAT JUST MISSED THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL PRESEASON TOP 25

UCLA

  • GONE: Daishen Nix, Prince Ali, Alex Olesinski
  • COMING BACK: Chris Smith, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Jake Kyman, Jules Bernard, David Singleton
  • WAIT AND SEE: Chris Smith
  • NEW FACES: Daishen Nix, Jaylen Clark
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyger Campbell, Johnny Juzang, Chris Smith, Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill

OREGON

  • GONE: Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, C.J. Walker
  • COMING BACK: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, C.J. Walker, Francis Okoro, Chandler Lawson, Addison Patterson, N’Faly Dante
  • WAIT AND SEE: L.J. Figueroa
  • NEW FACES: Amauri Hardy, Jalen Terry, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, Amauri Hardy, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi

OHIO STATE

  • GONE: Kaleb Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Andrew Wesson, D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney
  • COMING BACK: Duane Washington, Luther Muhammad, C.J. Walker, Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell, Justin Ahrens, Alonzo Gaffney, Ibrahima Diallo
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Seth Towns, Eugene Brown, Zed Kay, Justice Suenig, Abel Porter
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington, Seth Towns, E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young

INDIANA

  • GONE: De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green, Justin Smith
  • COMING BACK: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk, Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, Jerome Hunter, Race Thompson
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Khristian Lander, Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo, Anthony Leal
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Khristian Lander, Rob Phinisee, Al Durham, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk

UCONN

  • GONE: Christian Vital, Alterique Gilbert, Sid Wilson
  • COMING BACK: James Bouknight, Josh Carlton, Akok Akok, Jalen Gaffney, Tyler Polley, Brendan Adams, Isaiah Whaley
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: R.J. Cole, Andre Jackson, Javonte Brown-Ferguson, Richie Springs, Adama Sanogo
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: R.J. Cole, James Bouknight, Andre Jackson, Akok Akok, Josh Carlton

LSU

  • GONE: Emmitt Williams, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor
  • COMING BACK: Charles Manning Jr., James Bishop
  • WAIT AND SEE: Trendon Watford, Darius Days, Javonte Smart
  • NEW FACES: Cam Thomas, Josh Leblanc, Jalen Cook, Shareef O’Neal, Mwani Wilkinson, Bradley Ezewiro
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Cam Thomas, Charles Manning, Josh LeBlanc, Darius Days

Arizona State’e Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.

Luka Garza returns to Iowa to make a run at Player of the Year, Final Four

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Luka Garza made it official on Sunday: He will be pulling his name out of the NBA draft and returning to Iowa for his senior season.

This, as you might expect, is absolutely massive news for the Hawkeyes. Garza is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.8 points and 9.8 boards for a top 25 team, was named a first-team All-American and put himself alongside Dayton’s Obi Toppin in the race for National Player of the Year.

He’ll enter next season as the preseason National Player of the Year. Iowa is currently a top ten team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25. Those two things are, as you might expect, correlated.

And this makes Garza unique.

It is not that often that we see players return to school after seasons where they received accolades like Player of the Year and first-team All-American. The reason this happened is that Garza, despite his voluminous production, doesn’t really project as a great pro because of his lack of athleticism and mobility. He’s a terrific low-post scorer that is an aggressive rebounder, plays with the motor of a honey badger and can step out and knock down a three. But he’s not a rim protector and he’s not a guy that can switch in pick-and-rolls. Players of his ilk have gone out of style in a league where centers are expected to play a certain way.

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That said, Garza did project as a really good pro in Europe, and combine that with the fact that he is of Bosnian descent, he could have made quite a bit of money had he opted to play in Europe. He had a very real decision to make: Return to school to be the most famous player in a sport and try to do something that has never happened for Iowa basketball, or go make six figures — with a crooked number in front — playing high-level European hoops.

He chose the former.

How often does a player that is that unquestionably great return for another year in the collegiate ranks? Cassius Winston did it. Doug McDermott did it. They were both preseason National Player of the Year favorites, which is precisely what Garza will be. It’s a big deal having him on the floor, to say nothing of the impact that he has on everyone else on that Iowa roster.

What makes this so interesting is that the Hawkeyes have talent alongside him. Joe Wieskamp is one of the best shooters in the country. Joe Toussaint has a chance to be a breakout player at the point as a sophomore. C.J. Frederick had a really promising freshman season. Jack Nunge should be healthy, and Jordan Bohannon is expected to be back as well. This is a borderline top 25 Iowa team without Luke Garza.

But with him back?

I think this Iowa capable of getting to a Final Four and winning a national title. And if I had to guess, Luka Garza will thrive in Iowa colors assuming that basketball is, in fact, played this winter.