When Chris Beard took over at Texas Tech, he wanted what John Beilein and Tom Izzo had.
Beard wanted to be in the conversationof having one of the best defenses, fan bases and cultures like Michigan.
He wanted to have the toughness, rebounding prowess and blue-collar mentality like Michigan State.
But in three years with the Red Raiders, Beard has something neither Beilein and Izzo had this early in their tenure: A trip to the Final Four, where No. 3 seed Texas Tech will face No. 2 Michigan State in a national semifinal Saturday night in Minneapolis.
And for Beard, the key to the rapid rise all comes down to having an experienced team.
“It's always been a part of our plan, not just as Texas Tech, but other schools we've been at,” Beard said Monday on a Final Four teleconference call with reporters. “We basically just try to stay old. I'll never forget the night we got the Texas Tech job and we were sitting around thinking, OK, how are we going to win a game? Are we going to outcoach people? No. (Kansas coach) Bill Self, (Oklahoma’s) Lon Kruger, (West Virginia’s) Bob Huggins, all of them — that's not going to be our plan here.
“Are we just going to out-talent people? No, that's not our plan. Recruiting is improving, and we'd love to get to the point one day where we have four or five McDonald's All-Americans. But right now, that's not who we are. So, as we went down the list and tried to get an identity, one of the things we thought was trying to be old. I think experience is everything.”
Of course, it helps that Beard inherited what he called a “good situation” from former coach Tubby Smith. Texas Tech was coming off a 19-win season and its first NCAA Tournament in nine seasons when Beard took over a roster that included six seniors and six juniors.
After guiding the Red Raiders to an 18-14 mark in 2016-17, Beard and the program took a huge step forward the following season with a team that featured five seniors, three juniors and an NBA first-round draft pick in Zhaire Smith.
With senior Keenan Evans and Smith leading the way, Texas Tech went on to win 27 games — the most since 1995-96 and just the second time the Red Raiders ever eclipsed 25 victories in a season — and played in the Elite Eight for the first time in program history, where it lost to eventual national champion Villanova.
According to Beard, that success “opened up a lot of doors recruiting” and helped Texas Tech stay old this season via the graduate transfer market where the Red Raiders landed two of the top options: guard Matt Mooney from South Dakota and forward Tariq Owens from St. John’s.
“I don't want to speak for Matt and for Tariq, but I think if we're not an NCAA Tournament team last year, they're probably not attracted like they were to our program,” Beard said. “At the end of the day, we sold the idea of coming here and trying to make history again. In the outside world, no one gave us much of a chance, even in our own league. I think we set our own vision, and it started by eliminating any negative noise outside of our locker room.
“We said, ‘Look, last year's over. Let's try to be a part of the fight again.’ I think Tariq and Matt understood that. I think they knew they were coming down, and we weren't going to talk much about last year. It was a new day. I told Matt, ‘Look, I'm as hungry as I've ever been. Don't get this wrong. It's just like we didn't win a game. Nothing will change with me. I'm going to bring it every day, and that's my promise.’”
Beard has stayed true to his word as Texas Tech (30-6) has reached new heights. The Red Raiders won a share of the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time since conference play started in 1996-97, have reached the Final Four for the first time and have tied a single-season program record with 30 wins.
And, once again, Beard did it with a veteran-led squad that possesses four fifth-year seniors and a projected lottery pick in sophomore wing Jarrett Culver.
“I think sometimes to beat really good, talented teams,” Beard said, “experience has always been part of our equation.”
Couple that with the nation’s top-ranked unit in KenPom’s defensive efficiency, the formula has paid off for Texas Tech as it marched through the West Region and knocked off Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga.
“Even though we had some guys that had never even played in an NCAA Tournament game, we’ve got some experienced guys that I thought looked experienced,” Beard said. “One thing about being a leader and being an experienced guy, sometimes you've got to follow. Even though Matt and Tariq are older in years than Jarrett Culver, they're listening to Culver because he's played in the Tournament.
“I think there's a poise to our team. Every team we've played to this point gave us a real punch in the face, but we got ourselves back up, whether it be game one, Buffalo, certainly Michigan was so talented, and then Gonzaga, one of the best teams in the country. I would think we have to look like an experienced team out there.”
And, for Beard, that’s what has always mattered the most.
At U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
►Virginia (33-3) vs. Auburn (30-9), 6:09 p.m. (CBS)
►Michigan State (32-6) vs. Texas Tech (30-6), 8:49 p.m. (CBS)
►Championship, 9 p.m. (CBS)