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Texas Tech looks to compete again after Elite Eight run

October 25, 2018
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FILE - In this March 17, 2018, file photo, Florida guard KeVaughn Allen (5) defends as Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver (23) drives to the basket during a second-round game at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, in Dallas. Culver, the 6-foot-5 sophomore guard from Lubbock, is the only one of the top six scorers back from last season’s team that won 27 games and reached a program-best No. 6 AP ranking during the season.(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
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FILE - In this March 17, 2018, file photo, Florida guard KeVaughn Allen (5) defends as Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver (23) drives to the basket during a second-round game at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, in Dallas. Culver, the 6-foot-5 sophomore guard from Lubbock, is the only one of the top six scorers back from last season’s team that won 27 games and reached a program-best No. 6 AP ranking during the season.(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard doesn’t want his program defined by the success of last year, when the Red Raiders went to the Elite Eight for the first time.

“We want to be part of the fight again,” Beard said. “I think we embraced last season. No one can take that from us, but we don’t spend too much time talking about it.”

A lot of the players who were part of that Big 12 runner-up squad, including All-Big 12 point guard Keenan Evans, are gone from the Lubbock campus. Evans was among five seniors on that team, and high-flying freshman Zhaire Smith left school early for the NBA draft.

Jarrett Culver, the 6-5 sophomore guard from Lubbock, is the only of the top six scorers back from last season’s team that won 27 games and reached a program-best No. 6 AP ranking during the season.

“It’s very unique to be a sophomore, but have a voice with the seniors,” said Culver, who averaged 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds a game last season.

“I’m on the record proudly and confidently — Jarrett Culver has a chance to be one of the best players in college basketball,” Beard said. “Culver is old school in a lot of ways. He loves basketball. He’s in there every day. He’s also a student of the game.”

Texas Tech does have four seniors, former Florida guard Brandone Francis, 6-8 center Norense Odiase and two graduate transfers that will be able to play immediately — Matt Mooney, the first-team shooting guard from the Summit League, and Big East Conference top shot blocker Tariq Owens.

Mooney averaged 18.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season for South Dakota. The 6-3 guard started all 68 games there the past two seasons after first playing as a freshman for Air Force in 2014-15.

“Matt is special. Simply stated, he is a Big 12 player,” Beard said. “He did about all he could do at the mid-major level, played in a lot of high-quality games against high-major schools.”

Texas Tech plays its season opener Nov. 6 at home against Incarnate Word.

BUILDING THE PROGRAM

Beard is in his third season as head coach at Texas Tech, where earlier in his career he spent a decade as an assistant for Bob Knight, and then Pat Knight. Beard said he will always be appreciative of his first Red Raiders team, which included the five seniors that were part of the Elite Eight run.

“We created a culture that first year and we were competitive. Last year, the second year, we thought we were good enough to compete and ultimately win and we wanted to finish,” Beard said. “We won a lot of close games last year, resulted in us making it to the Elite Eight, which is a special run.”

BLOCKING SHOTS

Owens had 2.8 blocks per game last season for St. John’s, where he played the past two seasons after starting his college career at Tennessee. The 6-10 Owens was with the Volunteers when Al Pinkins was an assistant coach there. Pinkins was an assistant for Beard last season before getting hired as associate head coach at Florida.

PLAYERS PLAY THE GAME

As a head coach, Beard led a South Carolina expansion team in the semipro American Basketball Association to winning its first 29 games and going to the ABA finals. He also had a magical 30-win season at Arkansas-Little Rock with an upset of Purdue in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

“This coaching thing is a little overrated,” he said. “I have been fortunate and we’ve had good players everywhere we’ve been.”

THE SCHEDULE

The Red Raiders won’t play a true road game before opening Big 12 play Jan. 2 at No. 13 West Virginia. Their 12 non-conference games until then include eight games in Lubbock. They will play twice in the Hall of Fame Classic on Thanksgiving week in Kansas City, along with a Dec. 1 game against Memphis in Miami, and a Dec. 20 game against No. 4 Duke in New York.

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