James Hawkins and John Niyo of The Detroit News preview Thursday night's game between Michigan and Texas Tech at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Anaheim, Calif. — When Chris Beard took over the men’s basketball team at Texas Tech three years ago, he started to look at other programs he wanted to emulate.
And one of the first teams he began to study — whether by watching film, breaking down X’s and O’s or following in the news — wasn’t located in the same state or even the same region.
Rather, it was a program over 1,000 miles away: Michigan.
“I can't tell you how many times we have talked the last three years about Michigan basketball with our guys,” Beard said Wednesday ahead Thursday's matchup of No. 2 seed Michigan and No. 3 Texas Tech in the Sweet 16 at the Honda Center.
“Whether it be the defense, one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, we strive to be in that conversation — which I think we are — or just their culture, their tradition, their fan base. This is a game that we are excited to be a part of and at the top of the reason for the list of why, it's our respect for Michigan.”
There’s no doubt Texas Tech and Michigan are the main topics of conversation when it comes to the nation’s premier defensive units.
Texas Tech ranks No. 1 in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency (allowing 85.5 points per 100 possessions) and No. 3 in scoring defense (59.2 points). Michigan ranks No. 2 in defensive efficiency (86 points per 100 possessions) and scoring defense (58.2 points).
“I'll say this about Michigan, and I hope that people have the same view about us, but this would just be my opinion. When I think of Michigan I think of discipline,” Beard said. “They don't beat themselves. They're a low turnover team. I think they have the fewest of anybody this year, nine a game. That means you're not beating yourself.
“On the defensive end it's hard to get baskets against them because of their scheme, their discipline, their athletic size. I would hope when people talk about Texas Tech they realize we try to make it hard for the opponent to score and we value the ball and try to get shots as well.”
Beard added he has always admired Michigan coach John Beilein because they took similar paths and worked their way up to the Division I rank.
Beard spent time as an assistant coach at Texas, Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian and Texas Tech and had head coaching stints at Fort Scott (Kanas) Community College, Seminole State College (Oklahoma), Angelo State (Texas) and Little Rock (Arkansas) before being hired at Texas Tech in 2016.
“I'm proud of my background in small college basketball whether it be NAIA or Division II or junior college, and (Beilein) is somebody we all look up to in coaching because of his experience and success in the different levels,” Beard said. “As a young coach people have pictures of Coach (Vince) Lombardi and Coach (John) Wooden up in their office and I certainly look up to those guys, too. But Coach Beilein is a coach I have always had a lot of respect for.”
This also isn’t the first time Beard and Beilein have faced off in the NCAA Tournament. When Beard was an assistant on Texas Tech’s staff under Bob Knight, the Red Raiders fell to Beilein’s West Virginia squad in the Sweet 16 in 2005.
Texas Tech made just two trips to the Big Dance over the next 12 seasons. When Beard took over, he guided the Red Raiders to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2004-05 and took a step toward building the program like the one he hopes to resemble.
“(Michigan) is a top program, blue blood-type program, always get to this level this time of the season,” Texas Tech big man Norense Odiase said. “Our program looks to them in that aspect. They're guys that have been in this moment before and not scared of the moment. We’ve got to be ready to play them.”
No Michigan for Mooney
When Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney was leaving South Dakota as a grad transfer after last season, one of his possible landing spots was Michigan.
Mooney said he talked to Beilein during the recruiting process, but the timing didn’t work out with the Wolverines playing into April and reaching the national title game.
“I remember I set up a couple visits — Texas Tech, Creighton, Northwestern were my top few then Michigan came in,” said Mooney, who’s averaging 10.9 points as a full-time starter for the Red Raiders.
“I remember Coach Beilein said he was going to come out to my house in South Dakota the following week and then I called him up and said, ‘Coach, I’m going to go in a different direction.’ I had set up the visits and was already far down the road with the recruiting process already.”
Mooney added things might’ve turned out different if Michigan didn’t make such a deep NCAA Tournament run.
“It’s definitely possible. Who knows?” Mooney said. “I’m a big believer everything happens for a reason. I definitely considered Michigan. Outstanding program, outstanding coach, but it just didn’t work out.”
Cofer with family
Florida State forward Phil Cofer didn’t travel with the team following the death of his father, Mike, who was a former All-Pro linebacker for the Lions.
Cofer was with the team during its second-round win over Murray State and wanted to make the trip the Anaheim, where No. 4 Florida State will take on No. 1 Gonzaga, but opted to return home.
“It's been very challenging, but our guys are focused, and we're hopeful that how we represent ourselves will be a reflection of the respect we have for Mike Cofer and the Cofer family,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We have to find a way — you know, when you're dealing with things like this you never know exactly what's the right thing to do.”
Hamilton said he supported Cofer’s decision and noted this is the first time he’s had to deal with a tragedy while coaching a team in the NCAA Tournament.
“We flew from Hartford to Atlanta and sat down with his parents and the arrangements and the responsibilities that he had as a family, they just felt it was best for him to be there and be part of the arrangements and everything,” Hamilton said. “He had planned to come back and come out with us and come back. But at that time, he didn't know what the arrangements were.
“Once they sat down as a family and discussed it, it became obvious that the best thing for him to do was to sacrifice being out here with his teammates and take care of the family business, and I agree with him.”
NO. 2 MICHIGAN vs. NO. 3 TEXAS TECH
Tip-off: 9:39 p.m. Thursday, Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
Records: Michigan 30-6; Texas Tech 28-6
Next up: Winner faces No. 1 Gonzaga or No. 4 Florida State in the Elite Eight.