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COLUMN: How Texas Tech can make history Monday night



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Texas Tech University Head Coach Chris Beard directs his team against Gonzaga University during the NCAA Tournament West Regional Final on March 30 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Tribune News Service

Odds are, your bracket did not have Texas Tech University in the Final Four this year, let alone in the championship game.

When the NCAA Tournament began on March 19 the University of Virginia, Texas Tech’s opponent Monday, had the second-highest odds to win the national championship. The Red Raiders, meanwhile, had the ninth highest.

This should not come as a surprise, considering Chris Beard’s squad finished the regular season ranked ninth in the AP Top 25 Poll. The doubt, however, came from Texas Tech’s performance earlier in March. While they had entered the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 2 seed, they were upset in the quarterfinals by West Virginia University, the No. 10 seed.

Nevertheless, the Red Raiders made the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the past four seasons -- the most successful stretch in school history since they made the tournament four times in six seasons under head coach Bob Knight.

Even having made the Elite Eight just one year ago, this team was not expected to go far. Within their own conference, Big 12 coaches predicted before the season that the Red Raiders would finish seventh out of ten teams. They could not have been more wrong, with Texas Tech finishing the season tied for first in the conference, ending on a nine-game win streak.

It proved this team was destined to prove the doubters wrong all the way to the Final Four.

Take Beard, for example. In just his second season since he took the job at Texas Tech in 2016, he led the Red Raiders to their first Elite Eight appearance in program history. This year, with expectations higher, they reached the Elite Eight once again -- the first back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in program history. Beard is also the back-to-back Big 12 Coach of the Year and, for the first time in his career, AP National Coach of the Year.

What makes this year different is how impressive this run has been. The No. 3-seed Red Raiders not only defeated the No. 2-seed Michigan Wolverines -- who had the nation’s second-ranked defense — by 19 points in the Sweet 16, they shocked the world by defeating the No. 1-seed Gonzaga Bulldogs in the Elite Eight.

If that was not impressive enough, the Red Raiders’ performance in the Final Four sure was. Even after everything Texas Tech had accomplished, the No. 2-seed Michigan State Spartans were still the favorites going into the matchup Saturday.

That served as all the inspiration the Red Raiders needed to come up big once again on college basketball’s biggest stage. The Spartans, Big Ten Tournament champions and regular season co-champions, fell to the Red Raiders, 61-51. With yet another impressive win, Texas Tech secured a spot with Virginia in the championship game.

Monday will be a historic day for both programs and coaches. Neither Texas Tech nor Virginia has even made an appearance in the national championship game, let alone won. The same is the case for the coaches, with this being the first Final Four appearance for Texas Tech’s Beard and Virginia’s Tony Bennett.

The last time two schools played in what was their first national championships was in 1979 when Michigan State's Magic Johnson squared off against Larry Bird and Indiana State University.

While the Red Raiders will have their hands full with a talented team that boasts the top defense in the nation, a potential NBA Draft lottery pick in De’Andre Hunter and a veteran leader and sharpshooter in Kyle Guy, Texas Tech will be a force to be reckoned with.

The Red Raiders boast a potential top-10 NBA Draft pick in Jarrett Culver, have witnessed the emergence of Matt Mooney —who went off for 22 points in their victory over Michigan State —and have the third-ranked defense in the nation that has shut down some of the NCAA Tournament’s best teams.

Look for Texas Tech to keep the hot streak going as they could very well be the team cutting down the nets Monday night in Minneapolis.

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