It doesn’t matter that they lost. Texas Tech got to the National Championship despite having zero basketball legacy beyond the final days of Bob Knight and Tubby Smith. This is because (1) Chris Beard is brilliant, (2) they found some stars via smart recruiting and development, (3) everything culminated for one run and (4) they got lucky. This model could be realistically applied to Colorado — maybe not for them to make the National Championship, but maybe for a run in the NCAA Tournament in 2020 or 2021.
Chris Beard’s genius starts on the defensive end. He built the best defense in the country by grouping together lengthy athletes with a psychotic defensive identity. He got everyone to buy in and fully commit to fighting through everything, communicating on every cut and screen, swarming to the ball and securing the glass. No possession was easy against them, ever.
That sounds like the foundation of Tad Boyle’s best, although his teams don’t usually give a shit on a nightly basis. Part of that is because Tad prefers laid back Type-B personalities, besides McKinley Wright. But if CU is to make a more serious run in the Pac-12 and in the NCAA Tournament, it goes without saying that their defense must morph into a hyper-focused, balls-to-the-wall defense that defined the Tech run. Colorado also tends to be less aggressive than Tech, but overall, Tad Ball works in March.
With that defense, you only need to hit the occasional shot to win. Now Colorado won’t ever hold the best offense in the country to just 69 points — as Tech did against Gonzaga — but they may have more offensive potential than Tech. This obviously dependent on Kin and Tyler Bey showing up every night, but Daylen Kountz and Evan Battey have some untapped offensive potential, and Dallas Walton can be a major difference maker on that end. Not that Boyle is Jay Wright on offense, but with Wright at the help surrounded by potentially lethal secondary scorers, there’s a lot of upside to this squad.
Find a star to lead the way
Texas Tech got to where they are with Jarrett Culver front and center. Culver wasn’t their end-all-be-all in the way Shabazz Napier was for UConn in their championship run, nor was he even their best player in the Final Four (that would be former Cadet Matt Mooney). But having a top-10 pick leading the defense and demanding the attention of the opponent’s best defender is obviously quite important. The main reason Culver ended up at Tech is because he grew up in Lubbock and was hidden in plains sight, then was developed into a star. Zhaire Smith was found similarly in Garland, Texas, although he was too talented to past his freshman year.
Colorado is rarely in need of star talent. Tad Boyle has proven many times that even if he doesn’t have sparkling recruiting classes, he can develop legitimate stars. No CU player has gone top 10 in the NBA — where Culver is projected to go, although I don’t think he’s that good; it’s just a draft class without much top-end talent — but the Buffs can have multiple stars on the same team. They probably have two right now in Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright, plus maybe others in Battey and Kountz (seriously though Kountz has NBA upside). It doesn’t matter if they grew up in CU’s back yard because they’re already here.
Texas Tech also hit on a few transfers to build an upperclassmen-heavy squad, but the Buffs wouldn’t necessarily have to do that because they have so many young studs. Unless anyone unexpectedly leaves the team, Colorado only had one departure this year and should have three after next year, of which only of those four losses should be impactful. They already replaced Namon Wright with JUCO commit Maddox Daniels. They may not need to fill the upcoming departures of Lucas Siewert, Shane Gatling and Deleon Brown with ready-made talent, considering how only Gatling figures to play a large role next year.
Culmination of years of work
Lubbock wasn’t built in one day, as the saying goes. Beard had to develop a culture, gain valuable experience and sell everyone on their potential in order to make that run. Colorado didn’t make the NCAA Tournament as they hoped before the season, and they showed how far they are from finding consistency, but it was huge for them to play in the NIT and make a moderate run. That’s not great experience, but it is something.
The whole premise of having a Tech-like season is unrealistic, but it would be most possible if they turned an NIT berth in 2019 into an NCAA Tournament berth in 2020, then turn that into a serious run in 2021 when this young core is seniors and juniors. That would require everyone to continually improve, stay healthy, Bey and Wright to stay four years, but that brings us to the last point.
Colorado fans should know that any National Champion is inherently lucky. That stands in basketball too. Virginia got incredibly lucky to get to the Final Four, much less the championship, much less the title. Texas Tech also got lucky, although to a more realistic extent. They needed everyone to stay healthy, improve gradually, peak at the right moment, and for those bang-bang plays to go their way more often than not.
Last year’s runner-up is probably a better example. Michigan lost to Villanova in the final and turned that championship into momentum for the entire program, but the discussion around that Wolverines team would be much different if Jordan Poole didn’t hit an absurd buzzer-beater against Houston in the second round.
Colorado wouldn’t necessarily need miracles to happen, but basketball is a fickle game. Every shot, every call and every bounce counts in March. It’s virtually impossible to win anything or make any sort of run without breaks going your way. That holds especially true for the Texas Techs of the college basketball world, the programs whose out-of-nowhere run requires everything to come together for one final chance to cut down the nets. It’s very unlikely that Colorado will ever reach the Final Four, but Texas Tech shows that it’s not just the blue bloods who can do it.