At least one Big 12 coach not surprised at Kansas improvement
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard’s team had just finished defeating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, 85-73, on the second day of January when Beard mentioned the possibility of the Jayhawks playing in the national-title game.
It seemed out of place given that it was KU’s third loss in a seven-game stretch, two of them by double digits in Allen Fieldhouse.
Beard didn’t deliver that opinion in robotic coach-speak fashion. He said it like he meant it. Beard was fresh off dissecting video of KU’s 92-86 victory in Austin in which the Jayhawks made 17 of 35 3-point field goals.
“It’s impossible to stop them,” Beard said. “You just try to contain them. And then you try to contest shots. The way they shot the ball in Austin, they’re not going to get beat. They’ll play on the final Monday because Texas did a good job of contesting them. You have to be fortunate. Tonight we were. They got some good looks and we made some mistakes on some switches, so you have to be fortunate.”
Defended well on the perimeter by the Red Raiders for most of the night, Kansas made just 6 of 26 3-pointers.
This team, more than any other Bill Self, relies on 3-point shots, so an off shooting night could bounce Kansas from the tournament prematurely, but the tougher defense KU has played of late gives it a better shot of surviving bad shooting night. The Final Four doesn’t sound like the reach it once did.
“You didn’t believe me?” Beard said on Thursday’s Big 12 conference call when I asked him about his postgame quote from his team’s big victory.
Not then I didn’t. What made him believe the Jayhawks had “final Monday,” potential?
“They have two or three NBA players,” Beard said. “They have a Hall of Fame coach. They’ve got the best home court in college basketball and they’re playing in the best conference in the country, the Big 12.”
KU can’t play on that home court in March, but the Big 12 battles against schools with contrasting styles help make every member of the conference prepare for the ultimate stage.
And so far this season, Kansas has even tougher on the road than at home.
Beard still thinks Kansas has a chance to play on the final Monday. And what about his Red Raiders, tied with Oklahoma in second place, one game behind KU?
“I think that’s the beauty of college basketball’s single-elimination tournament,” Beard said.
“That’s what makes March Madness March Madness. I’ve coached in one-bid leagues where you had to win your tournament to get in. In the Big 12, you have to survive and win enough games to get in the tournament.”
Once the NCAA tournament arrives, the conference standings don’t matter. As recently as two seasons ago, Beard pointed out, Oklahoma advanced to the Final Four. “If I didn’t think we had a chance to play deep into March I shouldn’t be coaching here,” Beard said.
Tubby Smith left the program in good shape and in just his second season, Beard has elevated it. He'll have his Red Raiders confident and ready for Kansas on Feb. 24.
Plus, he’s pretty good at looking beyond that night’s game and projecting an opponent’s improvement.