MINNEAPOLIS - Those who expected a flood of one-and-done talent in Minnesota for the 2019 Final Four might not be ecstatic to see Big 12 co-champion Texas Tech on the scene, a No. 3 seed in the West piloted by a coach not many knew before the Red Raiders bounced Gonzaga last weekend.
“We might have a couple of one-and-done graduate assistants. We had a couple of issues with our breakfast this morning, so ...,” Beard said Thursday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
While Gonzaga spent part of the season atop the Top 25 poll and Duke was the No. 1 overall seed thanks to freshman All-Americans Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, Beard and the defense-wins mantra of Texas Tech are left standing. A similar mindset, and a roster with a familiar makeup, awaits in the national semifinals Saturday in the form of Michigan State. The Spartans ousted Duke in a thriller Sunday.
“We’re looking forward to playing on this stage. In our opinion, Michigan State is one of the best teams in college basketball,” Beard said. “They have great players and a Hall of Fame coach. We have nothing but respect for their program, the things they stand for. We’re in our third year building the program at Tech, and we’re striving to be in the conversation with the Michigan States of the world.
“Simply stated, we feel like we’ll have to play our best game of the year to have some success on Saturday night, but I don’t think that’s much difference than anybody else in this tournament. That’s our objective. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play well on Saturday.”
Texas Tech lost slashing guard Zhaire Smith, a first-round pick in 2018, after reaching the Elite Eight and losing to eventual champion Villanova. Beard knows about one-and-done talent. He also understands the value in building a team anchored in experience.
“I’ve always seen the value in the one-and-done, too,” Beard said. “I think college basketball is better because of Zhaire Smith playing at Texas Tech. I think in this tournament, I would agree with that, there’s some identities with these four teams. I think that’s what these four teams are — teams. ... The identity of each team, I think, is the balance of different players, not just one star player.”
Beard said he watched every Michigan State game played this season. The teams have a few common opponents, most notably Michigan. Texas Tech hammered the Wolverines, holding the No. 2 seed in the West Region to 44 points in Anaheim last week. Michigan State gave up an average of 64 points to their in-state rivals this season.
There’s also some likenesses between the teams and their coaches.
Izzo has come under fire for his demonstrative, chest-to-chest coaching tactics. One such flare-up in Michigan State’s first-round nailbiter against Bradley became the subject of national debate.
Beard can relate.
He was an assistant under Bob Knight at Texas Tech (2001-11) before becoming a head coach at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.
Knight was of a different era, a breed all his own. Even partial observers admit there are incidents in Knight’s past in which he clearly crossed the so-called line. But Beard believes, in his words, players need to be coached. It’s up to the coach and the player to define the line between coaching and coddling.
Beard said he learned to get there by setting expectations and not asking players to put in more than coaches are willing to give.
“That line is really easy to find. That line is called trust,” Beard said. “We make no bones about it. We do coach our guys hard, but I’ve never coached a good player that didn’t want to be coached hard ever. I think about that all the time. I can’t name one guy that I’ve ever coached who’s an All-Conference player, a pro at any level I’ve coached that didn’t want us to bring it.
“I don’t promise our guys a lot in the recruiting process, but one thing I promise is — I look them right in the face — I will bring it every single day as a coach, and our staff will too. If there’s one day where you don’t think we’re bringing it, you tell me, and the problem will be corrected. I asked this team just the other night, did we keep our word? And they said, yes, you did.”
It’s not all fire and brimstone with the 46-year-old who went to the University of Texas and was a manager for Tom Penders.
Upon arrival at the Final Four, he posted a sign in the locker room that says Smell The Roses.
The message is for players to take time to breathe in the atmosphere, recognize only four teams are still standing in the 2019 NCAA Tournament and then refocus on winning two more games.
“This is our process, and one of our processes has always been balance, enjoying life, like we never want to be the team that just doesn’t enjoy a victory,” Beard said. “So we have a 12-hour rule. We don’t ever want to be the team that doesn’t enjoy the great cities we get to go to. This year we played Duke in Madison Square Garden. We enjoyed New York City. We went and played pickup at Rucker Park. We ate ridiculously priced food. We walked around the skulls of the Garden (to) see all the great performers that played there. We’re going to enjoy life. We’re going to enjoy the ride. It’s who we are.
“But when it’s time to play, it’s time to play, and when it’s time to practice, it’s time to practice. So we just got a two-part mission here. Smell the roses but also be us, and be us is just four letters and two words to mean let’s ride the bus that got us here.”
—By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media