Texas Tech’s first-ever appearance in the Final Four last season likely surprised everyone in the country except for one person: Chris Beard.
Upon his hiring three years ago, Beard vowed to transform a program that simply hoped for an occasional berth in the NCAA Tournament into one that could actually win it. The proclamation evoked a few eye rolls and chuckles back then, as the thought of Texas Tech — a perennial Big 12 bottom feeder — as a national power seemed far-fetched.
No one is laughing now.
One year after reaching the Elite Eight in 2018, Texas Tech came within seconds of winning its first NCAA title before a late run by Virginia resulted in an 85–77 overtime loss in the championship game. And now, despite losing four starters, including NBA Lottery pick Jarrett Culver, the Red Raiders appear in the top 20 in virtually every preseason poll. “It doesn’t matter who is on the court,” one Big 12 coach says. “I wouldn’t bet against them.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Chris Beard
2018-19 RECORD (BIG 12): 31-7 (14-4)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Virginia 85-77 (ot) in the championship game
G Jarrett Culver (18.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
G Brandone Francis (6.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
G Matt Mooney (11.3 ppg, 3.3 apg)
C Norense Odiase (4.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
F Tariq Owens (8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Texas Tech’s roster is filled with newcomers, unproven players and question marks. But when it comes to graduate transfer TJ Holyfield, the Red Raiders are fairly certain they know what they’re getting from the former Stephen F. Austin standout. Beard and his staff scouted the 6'8" Holyfield heavily before a first-round matchup with SFA in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. They loved his movement and coordination, his ability to make 3s at a 41.2 percent clip and his defensive versatility outside of the paint.
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The rest of Texas Tech’s frontcourt is a bigger mystery. A 6'8" high-flyer, freshman Tyreek Smith is already the best dunker and shot blocker on the Red Raiders’ roster. Once Beard begins to trust him in other areas, he could become a starter. Joel Ntambwe averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds for UNLV last season and will likely be forced to redshirt under NCAA transfer rules. Beard, however, is seeking a waiver that would make him eligible for the second semester. Don’t be surprised if small forward Terrence Shannon Jr., a four-star prospect from Chicago, sees considerable action.
Texas Tech has the pieces to have the top backcourt in the Big 12, and it all starts with point guard Davide Moretti, the lone returning starter. Moretti averaged 11.5 points last season and became the first player in Big 12 history to shoot 50 percent from the floor, 50 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the foul line in league games.
Moretti’s backcourt mate could be Kyler Edwards, the only other player on Tech’s projected roster who logged significant minutes last season. The sophomore scored 12 points off the bench in the title game and shot 44.9 percent on the season from long range.
Most of the excitement revolves around two newcomers. Guard Jahmius Ramsey is the first five-star recruit in Texas Tech history as well as the top-ranked signee in the Big 12 according to Rivals.com. The newcomer who could make the biggest impact, however, is wing Chris Clarke, a graduate transfer who played three seasons at Virginia Tech before sitting out last year on suspension. Clarke averaged 14.7 points and 10.4 boards per 40 minutes in 79 games with the Hokies.
A year ago Texas Tech lost four starters from its Elite Eight team, plugged the holes with transfers and program guys and made the 2019 title game. That’s why no one is doubting the Red Raiders this season. If Beard can get the same kind of contributions from transfers Clarke and Holyfield as he did from Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens — and if Ramsey adapts quickly — there’s no reason Texas Tech can’t contend in the Big 12 once again.
Postseason Prediction: Round of 32
Big 12 Prediction: 3rd