Texas Tech clinched at least a share of the Big 12 title on Saturday as the No. 8 Red Raiders held off Iowa State for an 80-73 road win.
Sophomore Jarrett Culver put together another monster effort on Saturday as he poured in 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting to pace the Red Raider offense. Kansas State will also get a chance to share the Big 12 title if they can secure a home win over Oklahoma later on Saturday night.
While the nation has been mostly talking about the Kansas Big 12 title streak coming to a halt — and it’s hard not to given how the Big 12 and Kansas basketball itself has become synonymous with the 14-year streak — head coach Chris Beard leading Texas Tech to a conference title is one of the best stories in college basketball this season.
Coming off an Elite Eight appearance last season, nobody expected Texas Tech would be the team that knocked off the Kansas streak. It makes sense for Kansas State, also coming off of an Elite Eight appearance, to be in this position. The Wildcats returned nearly everyone from last season while making that deep tournament run despite being without forward Dean Wade.
But Texas Tech had to basically start from scratch this season in terms of its regular rotation. The Red Raiders lost six of their eight top scorers from last season. Clutch guard and go-to scorer Keenan Evans was one of five seniors who exhausted their eligibility. Zhaire Smith went from an underrated-and-overlooked prospect into a surprising NBA lottery pick. In the preseason, Texas Tech was picked seventh in the Big 12 poll.
And, yet, here we are, as Beard is looking like the favorite for National Coach of the Year (although Purdue’s Matt Painter also has a very credible case). In his sophomore season, Culver has developed into a star and potential lottery pick of his own. Beard intelligently found graduate transfers like Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens as plug-and-play options who have become valuable role players. Program guys like Davide Moretti and Brandone Francis have improved and become vital parts of the Red Raiders as well.
Beard had to develop his own players while recruiting guys who fit his culture and somehow found all of the perfect pieces on-the-fly while coming off of an Elite Eight appearance. If Texas Tech limped into the NCAA tournament this season, people would still be giving Beard kudos for replacing all that he had to change.
With the No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency in the country on KenPom, and a takeover star in Culver, would you want to face Texas Tech at this point in the season? The Red Raiders have won nine straight games as a once sluggish-looking offense has slowly improved over the final weeks of the regular season.
A team that wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near this position now finds itself as one of the most dangerous teams in college basketball entering the postseason.