Texas Tech bids to make presence felt vs. Utah State

·3 min read

Texas Tech vaulted into the upper echelon of college basketball at a rapid pace, culminating with an overtime loss to Virginia in the 2019 national championship game.

That made the sudden ending of last season that much more painful, as the Red Raiders were unable to build on that run.

While Texas Tech isn't exactly back to square one, it does have some work to do to re-establish its footing on the national level. That process begins on Friday afternoon against Utah State in a South Region contest of the NCAA Tournament in Bloomington, Ind.

Sixth-seeded Texas Tech (17-10) has a challenge on its hands right off the bat against the Aggies (20-8), who earned an at-large bid despite losing to San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament championship game.

"It's a tough game, but they're all tough games (because) you're in the national tournament," fifth-year Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said.

"You've got to play well. ... You're playing against a team that has an NCAA Tournament résumé."

And in Texas Tech's case, Utah State doesn't loom as a great matchup for the Red Raiders.

Opponents with a strong presence have tended to give Texas Tech trouble, although nine of its 10 losses came to opponents from the Big 12 Conference. The other was to Houston, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Aggies feature 7-footer Neemias Queta, who averages 15.1 points and 10.0 rebounds per game and has logged double-digit rebound totals in 17 contests this season.

Forward Justin Bean supplies 11.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a contest for Utah State.

After sitting on the edge of their seats to see if they received a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the Aggies don't lack for confidence after pushing San Diego State for the regular-season Mountain West crown.

"We were nervous for a little bit," Queta said. "We didn't know if we were going to be in.

"We worked for this the whole year. When we saw our name, I felt a sense of joy and accomplishment, but at the same time we want to go in there and make sure we go there to win and make a run in the tournament."

That's certainly the goal for Texas Tech, especially considering the Red Raiders' first two trips under Beard.

In Beard's second season at the wheel in 2017-18, Texas Tech marched to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champion Villanova.

The next season, the Red Raiders advanced to the first Final Four in program history. They defeated Michigan State before falling to Virginia.

Beard was quick to point out that this is an almost completely different team from that final game. Kyler Edwards and Avery Benson are the only players on the current roster who played in the Final Four run. Edwards is one of Texas Tech's main cogs, averaging 10.0 points and 4.6 rebounds a game while leading the team in assists (72) and 3-pointers made (51).

Two Red Raiders starters transferred into the program to be part of an NCAA Tournament team. Mac McClung spent two seasons at Georgetown without the opportunity. Marcus Santos-Silva was on a VCU team that lost in the first round in 2019.

McClung is the Red Raiders' top scorer with 15.7 points a game, followed by Terrence Shannon Jr. (12.7 per game). Santos-Silva is Texas Tech's biggest interior player and has produced 8.5 points and a team-best 6.5 rebounds a contest.

"This year is our own different journey," Beard said. "This team has done a great job of having its own identity, its own journey.

"One thing is a constant (in the NCAA Tournament): You've got to be you and ride the train that got you there. You can't reinvent yourself. You can't let the stage keep you from being yourself."

--Field Level Media