Heartbeat of the Heartland: Journeyman Coach Chris Beard Has A Winner at Texas Tech


From Little Rock to Las Vegas to Lubbock to first place in the Big 12 and a top 10 ranking, Chris Beard has been on a rocket ride since March of 2016. A former Texas Tech assistant for a decade, Beard is in his second season as the Red Raiders coach and his team is a where-did-they-come-from contender.

Texas Tech is No. 8 in this week’s Associated Press poll, the school’s highest ranking since being slotted No. 7 in March of 1996 (that team was 30-1 so there’s a hint of what sort of respect gets paid for a team for the Texas plains). The Red Raiders, with a victory at Kansas last week, are 3-0 in the Big 12 and host two top 10 teams this week – No. 9 Oklahoma Tuesday and No. 2 West Virginia Saturday.

On March 27, after leading Arkansas-Little Rock to the NCAA Tournament a school record in victories, Beard was hired by UNLV. But by April 16, he was leaving Las Vegas and replacing Tubby Smith at Texas Tech. Beard’s 10 seasons with the school as an assistant for Bobby Knight convinced him to make the move. Plus, two of three daughters were born Lubbock and all three live in the area.

Beard took over a team that made the NCAA Tournament in Smith’s final season but last season lost nine of the last 14 to finish 18-14. Beard, though is a career grinder and he just went back to work. Two stops as a junior-college coach plus stints at McMurry and Angelo State in Texas plus a one-year assignment as coach of the South Carolina Warriors in the semi-pro American Basketball Association has prepared Beard to deal with challenges.

“We have a lot of issues trying to compete in this league but being overconfident is not one of ‘em,” he said last week on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. “We’re the same program that’s only been to one NCAA Tournament in the last decade and didn’t make the post-season last year. We’ve got a lot of guys who understand where we came from and where we’re trying to get.”

The victory in Lawrence was an attention grabber but the truth is that Texas Tech was a good team prior to taking the Jayhawks’ lunch money. The Red Raiders only loss came to Seton Hall and they defeated Nevada in overtime in non-conference play. Tech has won its three Big 12 games by the average margin of 17 points and have yet to trail in a league game.

Texas Tech starts often starts five seniors and when only four seniors take the floor for the opening tip, the fifth starter is a fourth-year junior. Ten players average at least 13 minutes a game and the Red Raiders have a bench-scoring edge of 545-232 this season (36-15 edge per game). Also, Texas Tech has scored 20 or more points off turnovers in 13 of their 15 games and ranks third in adjusted defense according to KenPom.com.

“It’s great when our defense can create offense. It’s a big part of our identity, this year,” Beard says. “A lot of things on the defensive end are helping our offense and that’s great to see.”

“They had some talented veterans and added some new players and that’s a deep and dangerous combination,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team opened Big 12 play with a 24-point loss in Lubbock. They’re one of the best teams in the nation defensively and that helps get them out in transition and when they’re out in transition they’re really, really good.”

The basketball spotlight has rarely shined in Lubbock but that’s changing. After Saturday’s victory over Texas Tech, Beard’s daughter Avery posted a version of Carpool Karaoke (James Corden was not involved).

Don’t expect an encore. “Somebody told me about that today,” Beard said Sunday. “I love my daughters. But I’m gonna, kind of, have to regroup with Avery on that one.”

And following the upset at Kansas, Beard said the only edge Texas Tech has on the Jayhawks is the Whataburger fast food chain, a tradition in the Lone Star state.

“Whataburger has been good to me but I kinda speak from the hip, say what’s on my mind,” he said. “I love Whataburger but I disrespected some of my favorite restaurants. I’ll need to clean that up over the next couple of months.”

Sounds like an endorsement deal or two is in Beard’s future.

This is how it’s done

Texas Tech’s take-no-prisoners 85-73 victory at Kansas last Tuesday raised some eyebrows. It was the first time the Red Raiders had ever won in Lawrence and they became the 12th visiting team to win a game in Allen Fieldhouse during the Bill Self Era.

Fran Fraschilla, ESPN’s outstanding analyst who knows the Big 12 as well as anyone, researched the 11 losses prior to Texas Tech’s triumph and found four common factors for the victors: Have a 20-point scorer, shoot and make free throws, score off turnovers and defend the 3-point line.

Texas Tech did an admirable job following the formula. The Red Raiders made 21-of-25 of their free throws, produced 26 points off turnovers and limited the Jayhawks to 6-of-26 from the 3-point line. They only fell short having a 20-point scorer, but they compensated with five players in double figures.

Trae Young vs. history

Each year the scoring champion in college basketball earn that crown because they shoot instead of pass. In the 3-point era (since 1986-87), the Division I top scorer has averaged four or more assists just nine times.

Oklahoma’s 6-2 freshman Trae Young is going where no college basketball player has gone before. One third of the way through the season, he’s leading Division I in scoring at 29.4 per game and assists (10.2). Young would become the second freshman to lead the nation in scoring (Jason Conley of VMI averaged 29.3 per game in 2001-02 and third freshman to lead D-I in assists (T.J. Ford in 2002, Lonzo Ball last season).

The NCAA started making assists an official stat in 1983-84. Before that, the “dime” numbers are spotty. Based on the numbers available here are the top five assist averages for top scorers.

Year Player, school                          PPG    APG
1998 Charles Jones, LIU Brooklyn     29.0     7.4
1960 Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati     33.7     7.3
1970 Pete Maravich, LSU                  44.5*    6.2
2009 Steph Curry, Davidson              28.6     5.6
2012 Reggie Hamilton, Oakland        26.2     5.1
*-NCAA single-season record

Fast breaks

  • Starting Tuesday Baylor closes the month playing five of seven games on the road. The road opponents? West Virginia, Iowa State, Kansas, Florida (Big 12-SEC Challenge) and Oklahoma. The Bears haven’t had their full roster all season and that has made practice preparation difficult. “Normally, you want to be at a point going into conference where you know yourself and know exactly what you’re doing,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the TCU game “Unfortunately, with our (injury) situation, we haven’t had that chance. It’s just hard to get wins unless you’re really on your `A’ game.” 
  • Iowa State has been in the last six NCAA Tournaments but extending that streak to seven might have slipped away with an 0-3 start in Big 12 play. The Cyclones lost twice at home before losing in overtime at Oklahoma State Saturday – their second consecutive OT loss. Iowa State has eight new players and seven underclassmen are playing major minutes. In addition to the loss in Stillwater, the Cyclones’ other losses came to Kansas State and Texas. Those are three teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the brutal Big 12. Translation: The worst is yet to come. 
  • The numbers aren’t adding up for TCU. The Frogs were poised to knock off Kansas Saturday night, but the Jayhawks posted an 88-84 victory in large part to free throws. Breaking: The Jayhawks are next-to-last in Division I in percentage of points scored from the foul line but against TCU they made 33 trips, making 23. In three Big 12 games, the Frogs’ foes have shot 88 free throws, 10 more than TCU. “We have to understand we are losing games at the foul line,” coach Jamie Dixon said. 
  • Andrew Jones, Texas’ top scorer and 3-point shooter, missed four games with a broken wrist but returned to play in the Longhorns’ first two Big 12 games. The injury has healed but Jones now has a mystery illness. He’s just not been feeling like himself,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said last week. “Our doctor and trainer have run a variety of tests and we’re awaiting those results. We’re trying to figure out what his ailment is. He hasn’t felt well for about a week now. He’s just not had the stamina and energy that he normally has and it’s not for lack of trying.” Jones didn’t make UT’s trip to Baylor Saturday, remaining in Austin. “I’m really not able to say much right now,” Smart said after the Longhorns’ 69-60 loss. “He’s obviously not feeling well. Out of respect for his family and their privacy, I have to leave it at that.”

Coach speak

Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton believes in his team, which is off to a 1-2 start in league play after getting past Iowa State in overtime Saturday:

“I think this team’s a lot better than everybody else does. I think everybody’s surprised that we don’t look horrible. I think that’s kind of like, what everybody’s waiting for, like, why does this team not suck? I think we’re pretty good. But in this league, you can’t just play hard. You’ve got to play well, and even when you play well, that doesn’t guarantee anything.”