Texas Tech is about to play for a national championship for the first time in the program's history. Here's how the Red Raiders have come this far, and what we can expect to see from Chris Beard's team Monday night against Virginia.
Texas Tech is more than a great defense
After a first half in which the Red Raiders outscored Michigan State 23-21, Beard's group played its way into the title game with an impressive display of scoring against one of the nation's best defenses. After halftime, Texas Tech erupted for 38 points in just 30 possessions.
Matt Mooney was the unquestioned star of the 61-51 win for the Raiders. On a night when Big 12 player of the year Jarrett Culver was held to 3-of-12 shooting from the floor, Mooney scored 22 points and kept the Spartans off-balance all evening long with his mix of 3s and drives into the paint. It was a remarkable performance by the senior, who arrived in Lubbock by way of stops at Air Force and South Dakota.
But make no mistake, this is a very great defense
Texas Tech held an outstanding Spartan offense to just 15 made shots from the field in 40 minutes. Tariq Owens is shown in the box score as having a mere three blocks, but he and teammates like Norense Odiase and Culver were harassing Tom Izzo's players in the paint all evening long.
Like Gonzaga and Michigan before them, Michigan State rarely if ever looked comfortable on offense. The Red Raiders are able to pressure the ball on the perimeter and force turnovers yet also defend in the paint. Beard has created a defense strong enough to win a national title.
Beard is making history
There are few modern-era parallels for what we're seeing from a Texas Tech head coach in just his third season. Beard's previous head coaching experience was a one-season tenure at Little Rock, and now he has his team playing for a national title.
One comparison that comes to mind is Brad Stevens. Like the former Butler head coach, Beard is taking his team to the title game in his third season at the helm of the program. In fact, with a win, Beard could be said to have done the current Boston Celtics coach one better.
Still another coach that comes to mind is Bob Knight. Beard served as an assistant when Knight was the head coach at Texas Tech, and it's true that the former Indiana head coach had already won his first national title by the age of 35.
Beard won't match that with a win Monday night (he's 46), but in terms of experience, the Texas Tech coach has risen farther in just four seasons as a Division I head coach than anyone thought possible.
Michigan State will be back
The loss to Texas Tech caps a wild but ultimately successful season for the Spartans, one in which they finished 32-7 and recorded three of their losses within the span of just nine days in January and February.
Izzo's only seniors in this rotation were Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins. Neither Cassius Winston nor any other Spartan is currently listed in the latest mock draft from Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz, a fact which of course does not mean that all these non-seniors really will return.
Better to say, perhaps, that with some mix of Ward, Tillman, Aaron Henry, Josh Langford, Kyle Ahrens, incoming freshman Rocket Watts and, who knows, maybe even Winston, MSU will again be heard from in the Big Ten race and beyond in 2020.
Texas Tech can absolutely win it all
Virginia should be under no misapprehension that Monday night is going to be a cake walk just because the Cavaliers will be the higher seed. The Red Raiders beat the team that beat Zion Williamson and Duke, and Beard's group did it while their star on offense, Culver, had by far his worst game of the tournament.
The Raiders have Culver, a game-changing rim defender in Owens and an emerging star in Mooney, who was clearly the best player on offense for either team in a national semifinal. It should be an outstanding national championship game.