As the Sweet Sixteen is about to get underway, I wanted to go back and reflect over what happened this season with our basketball squad. After being left out of the postseason this year… I wanted to ponder if this first season under Chris Beard was a letdown; or did it measure up to expectations?
When we lost in the first round of the Big 12 tournament to the Longhorns, I had a feeling of disappointment. Yet, it was not your typical case of sports blues that I feel when we crash and burn in a game. It was more of a sadness, not anger. It was not the normal frustration that boiled over when we dropped the ball against K-State to end the regular season. It was something else.
I had wondered back over the stats, trends, and all the analytical data to try and find the answer. But, I did not find what I was looking for. Usually I can break things down into a formula and spit out the element that was the underlying cause to get my answer. Not this time. So, I went back and looked at what the expectations were when we started the season. I went back and checked out my STP post about the beginning of the Chris Beard Era this season. Here are a few things I pulled out of it…
“We expect to win immediately,” Beard said. “We do have a lot of pieces. The challenge is to try to put this together quickly. That’s the challenge in trying to be successful year one.”
“We’d like to join the top half of the league,” he said. “Then we would like to join the top tier of the league. We want to be in the conversation for championships. To do that is a process, but you have to start by being willing to talk about and I won’t shy away from that.”
Coach Beard came in and got us pumped up. We were all ready to take the next step after the Tubby Smith departure. Ready to rise to the next level. We had made the Big Dance last year, and were ready to play with the top tier of the league. The expectations were high, and we had a coach that was willing to accept that.
“I don’t consider our job a rebuild at all,” Beard said at Tuesday’s Big 12 Media Day. “I have a lot of respect for Tubby Smith and his staff and the job they did. We inherited a great foundation…”
“So I think our job is to try to take the program to the next level.”
“I think the one group of people that always gets kind of lost in coaching changes is the seniors. A lot of times you’ll hear things like the first year doesn’t matter or here’s a mulligan or wait till you get your guys in. I never believed that. I respectfully disagreed. These players are my players. These players are our players, and we look forward to having a competitive season.”
“These seniors, and there are six of them, they’re special guys. They’re the backbone and foundation of our program. They don’t have a second year, this is it. So I take the responsibility to put those guys in a competitive situation early very serious. I appreciate the returning seniors trusting us in their senior season, and I appreciate the new seniors trusting us in their last year of college basketball.”
All in on this team, and not just being competitive but winning was the goal. It was here looking back at that I realized where my heartache was stemming from. It was from building up the thought that we were going to be just as successful and probably even more successful than last year. We were losing our two leading scorers last year in Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams, but it was thought that our crop of talented starting sophomores (Zach Smith, Justin Gray, and Keenan Evans) would carry the load into their junior year. Along with the other returners and new faces, we were thought to have a pretty nice squad of guys with some real deep college basketball experience.
When we started to slide and lost a lot of tight contests, I chalked it up to lack of discipline at the end of games. Things would not go in our favor. Also, lots of the road games were chalked up to playing away from Lubbock in hostile arenas. As the season got to an end it was clear. The road games were brutal, and we could not get over the hump away from United Supermarkets Arena. We had pulled off a few nice victories at home, but we all knew it was not enough to get us into the Big Dance. I could accept that, but I was not happy about it.
Then we lost to last place Texas in the Big 12 tournament. I was still in denial about the postseason, and not making the NIT. I had been following the NIT bracketology updates, and up until our meltdown against UT we were on the invite list according to many sources. That flop against the Longhorns in the conference tourney really was the last straw that kept us out of the postseason.
With all this said, I really liked the product I saw on the court all season. Most games were fun to watch. I’d rather take a barn-burner and lose than just get blown out by teams and watch us run around playing ugly basketball. Texas Tech had a nice group of players that would click at times, but could not find the right extra bit of chemistry to find a few more victories that would have propelled us into postseason play.
Here is Chris Beard after the UT loss in the Big 12 tourney –
“It always takes some time to reflect and you’ve gotta be careful to talk in times like this. It’s the emotions more than intelligence. What I will say is that there’s nobody that wants Texas Tech to win more than me. We’re going to get it done here. We’re going to establish ourselves. We’re going to get better. Our returning players are going to get better and we’re going to recruit, and I just want everybody to know that loves Texas Tech basketball like I do personally that this kind of season ending is unacceptable and the way we played today is unacceptable. So we will use this as the starting line. I look forward to greater things ahead, but the expectations of our program is to compete for championships, to compete in the NCAA Tournament and to play better in this tournament. So we will do everything we can in the next 364 days to try to improve.”
I finally figured out what I was feeling in my disappointment at the end of the UT game. It was the feeling of letdown. I think we all felt it, and I did not recognize it. It has been many years that I expected Texas Tech basketball to make the postseason as the baseline for how I would rate the season.
With that finally figured out, it does not make anything that much better… but I get to look forward to the hope of success next season. I have hope that Chris Beard will get the new faces he needs to make it all work and everything to fall into place. The basketball program should have a nice run next year, and this off-season should be way less eventful than last. This season stings more than others in the past, but that just means that winning is expected. Next season shall be no different in the expectations of making the postseason. Which will happen. Wreck ’em Tech!!!