Prince or frog? Texas Tech’s Beard wary of Big 12 hype

The Texas Tech basketball program on Sunday discovered yet another sign that the Red Raiders have joined the conversation as a dark horse candidate to play deep into March during the NCAA tournament.

In Jerry Palm’s latest projection for CBS Sports, the Big 12-leading Red Raiders are pegged as a No. 2 seed in the West region, headed for Dallas to play in the round of 64.

Of course, a month remains before Selection Sunday.

But both the experts and amateurs alike are busily trying to sort out what the bracket might look like.

In dissecting how the Big 12 teams will be slotted, Palm has projected the surprising Red Raiders (21-4, 9-3) as a No. 2 and Kansas (19-6, 8-4) as a No. 3.

West Virginia is pegged as a No. 5 seed and the Oklahoma Sooners, who will roll into Lubbock to play the Red Raiders Tuesday night, are a No. 6.

TCU is viewed as a No. 10, with Texas and Kansas State slotted precariously on the No. 12 line.

All very interesting, except Texas Tech coach Chris Beard isn’t buying any of it.

Beard has joked that, in the Big 12, you can be a prince one day and a frog the next.

“A two-game losing streak feels like your life is over,” he told reporters Saturday night.

Life is good at the moment for Beard, whose team has won six in a row.

In their latest statement, the Red Raiders went on the road and convincingly whipped the Kansas State Wildcats, 66-47, to gain sole possession of the conference lead.

Pressed on what he is telling his players now that they hold a one-game edge on defending champion Kansas, Beard said the message is simple.

Stay the course.

“I’m getting this question a lot,” Beard said. “I wish I had a better answer for you. I’m not trying to be like Debbie Downer.

“(With our team) … the next day is the most important. We’re just trying to win the next game on our schedule.”

Texas Tech makes history with first victory at Kansas

The Texas Tech Red Raiders guarded the three-point line effectively and came away with an impressive 85-73 Big 12 road victory at Kansas Tuesday night.

It was the first win by the Red Raiders at historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse in 18 tries, the Associated Press reported.

A good argument can be made that the Red Raiders won the game with their perimeter defense.

Kansas hit 17 of 35 three-point shots in a 92-86 win at Texas on Friday night.

Texas Tech didn’t allow the defending conference champions to shoot like that two games in a row, limiting the Jayhawks to 6 of 26 from long distance .

As a result, the 18th-ranked Red Raiders improved to 13-1 overall and 2-0 in conference under second-year coach Chris Beard.

The 10th-ranked Jayhawks, under veteran coach Bill Self, fell to 11-3 and 1-1.

“It’s impossible to stop ’em,” Beard said. “You just try to contain ’em, and you try to contest shots.

“Like, the way they shot the ball in Austin the other night, they’re not going to get beat, cause Texas did a good job contesting most of ’em. They’ll play on the final Monday (of the NCAA tournament, if they shoot well).

“You got to be fortunate and tonight, we were. They got some good looks. We made some mistakes on switches. So we were fortunate tonight. But you got to give our guys credit. I did feel like there was a sense of urgency to guard the three-point line.”

Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham led all scorers with 27 points, but he didn’t have much help.

In contrast, ten players played for the Red Raiders and nine of them scored.

Senior Keenan Evans led Texas Tech with 15 points. Justin Gray, Norense Odiase and Jarrett Culver added 12 apiece. Zhaire Smith scored 11.

Texas Tech’s Chris Beard: My players have made me better

Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith throws down a dunk off a rebound to fire up the home crowd in Lubbock.

With second-year coach Chris Beard at the helm, the Texas Tech Red Raiders have started to assert themselves as a potential threat in the Big 12 Conference. This is something of a surprise considering that Tech was picked seventh in the conference’s preseason poll.

But since the season started, the Red Raiders have been much better than advertised. They’ve forged a 7-1 record with victories at home over two ranked opponents. Two weeks ago, Tech emerged as a Top 25 team itself, showing up at No. 22 in the Associated Press poll.

After a 10-point loss to Seton Hall, the Red Raiders fell out of the rankings for a week, only to re-appear on Monday at No. 24. Now, it’s starting to look like they might be a fixture in the national spotlight.

Buoyed by an energized fan base and by a group of talented athletes playing hard for him, Beard could be poised for a big season. Tech’s latest triumph came last Tuesday when it rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to beat Nevada, 82-76, in overtime.

More than 9,000 fans at United Supermarkets Arena roared as Keenan Evans scored 25 of his career-high 32 points after intermission. Beard credited the fans, his players and his staff for making it happen.

“You got to give the players a lot of credit,” he said. “These guys have made me a better coach. I’m kind of a competitive, fiery guy. Patience isn’t one of my strengths. But I think with these guys, I’ve really tried to learn to try to keep the culture positive during the game. Now, we still tell the truth. If we’re not playing well, I’ll be the first to tell ‘em.

“But I think overall, as a coach, you try to give your team a chance to win the game. I give our staff a lot of credit. We didn’t have any panicked timeouts. We didn’t get negative. We stayed positive. I’m proud of our staff for doing that. We gave our players a chance to win the game tonight. Give our players all the credit. They’re the ones that did it.”

Tech clearly has more going on this season than in Beard’s first, when the Red Raiders finished 18-14. The Red Raiders started 11-1 through the non-conference phase of the schedule last year, but they did it against a weaker schedule.

This year, the Red Raiders have defeated two Top 25 opponents (Northwestern and Nevada), and they also knocked off Boston College. The Eagles aren’t ranked but they did beat previously undefeated and No. 1 Duke last weekend.

Tech’s only loss came on Nov. 30 in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Seton Hall of the Big East hit 11 three-pointers and scored 50 points during the second half. Asked after the victory over Nevada whether his team learned a few lessons in defeat, Beard said they did.

“Just like every team in the country, we’re a work in progress,” he said. “We’re trying to get better. The Seton Hall game, we didn’t think we were the most aggressive team. Tonight (against Nevada), I think we were. And even if we lose this game tonight to a really good Nevada team, I still think the same thing. I thought we were aggressive enough down the stretch to give ourselves a chance.”

Beard said the Red Raiders did a better job of keeping their composure against the Wolf Pack.

“Against Seton Hall, it turned into a 6-7 minute game (and) we made too many mistakes. We didn’t make enough plays,” he said. “Tonight, when it turned into a 6-7 minute game, we’re still making mistakes. But I thought we were making plays. You know, victory favors the more aggressive team. Sometimes, you got to go make a play, especially at this level. I thought we did that tonight.”