Texas Tech’s double-digit victory against No. 10 Kansas in Lawrence probably surprised plenty of college basketball fans across the country.
But the team’s latest statement victory wasn’t likely all that shocking to anyone who has followed the Red Raiders’ rapid return to relevancy under second-year coach Chris Beard.
The Irving native returned to Lubbock (he’d previously served as a Tech assistant for seven years) when former head coach Tubby Smith abruptly left for Memphis in the spring of 2016. Smith’s 2015 Texas Tech team did sneak into the NCAA tournament, but in the 10 seasons before Beard’s arrival, the program had made the tournament field just twice under three head coaches, including the legendary Bob Knight and his son Pat.
Next week, the 18th-ranked Red Raiders team could leap into the Top 10. And by season’s end they could have plenty of company from other Texas teams.
Three teams from Texas reside inside this week’s Top 25 rankings, with No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 16 TCU joining Texas Tech. Baylor, Texas and SMU have received votes, and have a good chance to make it into the rankings. As do the 12-2 Houston Cougars.
Those seven are a combined 81-18. If you include mid-majors Texas Southern, Stephen F. Austin and UT Arlington, the state of Texas could see up 10 programs make the NCAA Tournament field of 68 in March, according the latest bracket projection from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
“It helps when people look at the Top 25 and see all these Texas schools,” said Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy. “The biggest thing we have to fight is the national perception. You don’t have to go Carolina, Indiana, Louisville or Duke to have a chance to compete for a championship. You can do it in this state.”
If the Longhorns hadn’t lost back to back overtime games against then-No. 1 Duke and then-No. 17 Gonzaga, they’d likely be be a top 10 team. Even so, with the arrival of freshman Mohamed Bamba, a likely top tive pick in the NBA Draft, Shaka Smart may finally have acquired the talent he needs to make a tournament run.
The two most recent coaching hires to big-name programs have roots in Texas. Beard spent two seasons as the head coach at Angelo State from 2013 to 2015 while SMU coach Tim Jankovich got his start at North Texas, leading the program from 1993 to 1997.
Scott Drew at Baylor and Kennedy at A&M have been creating a solid foundation in Texas for years, but the recent coaches brought in by TCU, Houston and Texas all have established rèsumès built in leagues across the country.
In order to bring in all this coaching talent, almost all of these schools have had to shell out big dollars. This season Smart, Drew, Kennedy, Jamie Dixon, Beard, Kelvin Sampson and Jankvoich will earn almost $8.5 million combined.
The basketball teams have brought in plenty of revenue too. Last year, the seven basketball programs combined to earn $70 million, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“Coaches win games, administrations win championships,” Sampson said. “I give all the credit for our success and the way were turning things around to our administration.”
Experience has been a critical factor for the success: Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas A&M rely on juniors and seniors. TCU returned its six leading scorers.
“It’s cyclical, so it goes round and round, but the state seems to be old right now,” Dixon said. “I thought the conference was old when I got here. I thought that was amazing, because it was supposed to be a rebuilding year last year and then we surprised everybody.”
Texas schools have also managed to keep 10 of the top 15 in-state prospects in the Lone Star State. Four teams are ranked among the top 40 247 Sports’ 2017 team recruiting rankings: Texas (No. 6), Texas A&M (No. 27), TCU (No. 36) and Texas Tech (No. 40).
In Dixon’s view, top-end talent isn’t the only way to build a program.
“I don’t claim to be an expert because I wasn’t recruiting Texas over the past 30 years, but my take is that there are some more under the radar players,” he said. “Guys that play on the smaller AAU teams and aren’t on the sneaker circuit can become very good players too.”
For Beard, there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to recruiting as well.
“We’re simply in the business of getting talent, and we’ll do everything and anything in terms of recruiting within the rules to get that done,” he said. “I think recruiting starts like a bull’s-eye, and every job is different, but you put a bull’s-eye right on your own campus, and you go out and go as far as it takes.”
Dixon and Beard also made it clear that international recruits and transfer players have provided coaches with other recruiting options. Baylor’s Manu Lecomte (Brussels, Belgium), TCU’s Vladimir Brodziansky (Prievidza, Slovakia), and Texas A&M’s Tonny Trocha-Morelos (Cartagena, Columbia) are just a few of the foreign-born players having a major impact.
Most schools in Texas devote more resources to their football programs, but many of the basketball coaches believe that a strong football program doesn’t really represent the competition.
“What Tom Herman did here was great for our basketball program, and it’s the same with what Major Applewhite,” Sampson said. “We’re hand in hand, we’re together. It’s not the Houston basketball program versus the Houston football program, it’s the Houston athletic department.”
Texas A&M’s Kennedy had a similar sentiment.
“We have all these facilities, so when we get a kid to come to a football game early on and spend some time with us, they see how good our facilities are on the basketball side.”
Stars are bright
These coaches are helping Texas basketball teams become a national force:
Chris Beard, Texas Tech (second season): 31-15 in 46 games, including Tuesday’s 85-73 victory over Kansas, the Red Raiders’ first victory in Lawrence.
Jamie Dixon, TCU (second season): Guided Pittsburgh to 11 tournament appearances in 13 seasons and a a Big East championship in 2008. In his first season in Fort Worth, Dixon led his alma mater to the NIT title. TCU held nation’s longest winning streak until Saturday’s loss against Oklahoma.
Scott Drew, Baylor (15th season): Led the Bears to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and seven overall.
Tim Jankovich, SMU (third season): Was the nation’s highest-paid assistant under former head coach Larry Brown. After Brown’s abrupt departure, Jankovich led a talented Mustangs team to an American Athletic Conference title in 2017.
Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M (seventh season): 2016 SEC coach of the year after guiding his team to the best regular-season record in the conference (28-9).
Kelvin Sampson, Houston (fourth season): Led Oklahoma to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, three Big 12 titles and a Final Four appearance in 12 seasons. His time with the Sooners and two seasons at Indiana were plagued by scandals.
Shaka Smart, Texas (third season): Was one of the most sought-after college coaches in the country while he was at VCU, where he led the team to five NCAA Tournament appearances including the Final Four in 2011.