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Texas Tech coach Chris Beard has great respect for Utah State Aggies, ‘friend’ Craig Smith

Smith and Beard have a personal relationship, going back to when Beard was recruiting senior guard Matt Mooney, a grad transfer from Smith’s former school, South Dakota in 2018.

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FILE — Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard, right, talks with his team during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 men’s tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 11, 2021.

Orlin Wagner, Associated Press

It would appear that Red Raiders head coach Chris Beard already has a big jump in scouting the Aggies when it comes to Friday’s game between Texas Tech and Utah State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

“Also, you know, the West Coast teams, I guess you would call them, that play the later games on TV, I just have a chance to watch a lot,” Beard said during a virtual press conference Sunday night in Lubbock. “So, I’ve probably watched Utah State 10 or 12 times this year, including the other night in their championship game. They’ve got really good players. We know they’re going to be disciplined. I’m looking forward to digging in tonight and preparing for a great opponent

“But my congratulations to Craig (Smith) and his staff for everything that they’ve done,” Beard added. “It’s going to great game. I think it’s going to be one of the best first-round games in the tournament.

The 11th-seeded Aggies (20-8) will tip off against the sixth-seeded Red Raiders (17-10) at 1:45 p.m. MT Friday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The 50-year-old facility located on the campus of Indiana University is one of six locations that will be utilized this weekend as the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament will be held in and around Indianapolis.

Some fans will be in attendance at this year’s games, up to 25% of capacity of the buildings they’re being played in. However, Indiana University has capped the amount of fans allowed in Assembly Hall at just 500, leaving lots of social distancing at the 17,222-seat arena. 

Located in Bloomington, the IU campus is about 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis, where all of the teams are slated to hold practice sessions at the Indiana Convention Center. 

The Aggies arrived in Indianapolis Sunday night, flying directly from Las Vegas where they lingered after losing to San Diego State, 68-57, Saturday in the championship game of the Mountain West tournament. 

While many bracketologists had Utah State on the outside looking in leading up to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, the Aggies showed up in the South Region, matching up against a Red Raiders’ program that lost in overtime to Virginia in the 2019 national championship game.

It marks only the third time in school history that a Utah State team has been award an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, joining Stew Morrill-coached squads from 2006 and ’10. 

“It’s just surreal,” junior forward Justin Bean said of heading to the NCAA Tournament a year after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out USU’s previous opportunity to get play in the Big Dance. “I haven’t had this feeling for a couple of years. Obviously last year we got in, but then we heard the news and that was really disappointing. 

“To have everything turn out with the way the year started says a lot about the grit and fight of this team. We’re ready to make some noise. Our season isn’t over, so we’re pumped.”

Texas Tech left Lubbock for Indianapolis on Monday, arriving as the No. 21 team in the country in the both the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches polls. The Red Raiders started out at No. 14 in the preseason polls, and then climbed to as high as No. 7. 

“Very high. A lot of internal optimism,” Beard replied when asked Sunday where his team’s confidence level was heading into the tournament. “We worked towards this all season long, so this is where we intend on playing our best. We’ve got another week to improve.

“I told our guys that I don’t know if we’re ready to play Utah State right now, but we will be by Friday.”

Texas Tech finished 9-8 in Big 12 play this season, tying Oklahoma for sixth place in the conference standings. But the Red Raiders lead the Big 12 in scoring defense (63.4 ppg) and turnover margin (5.07) and are second in field goal percentage defense (41%).

“One thing that I believe is a constant in postseason play is that you’ve got to be you,” said Beard, who is 8-2 all-time in NCAA Tournament games. “You’ve got to ride the train that got you there. You can’t reinvent yourself. You’ve got to be the best version of yourself. For us, that’s got to be our culture and our selfishness and our ability to defend.    

“You can’t let the stage keep you from being yourselves. I really think that this year’s team is more than good enough to make a run, we just have to be the best version of ourselves.”

“My respect for Utah State starts with Craig, their coach, somebody I consider a friend. Somebody that I know in the business.” — Texas Tech coach coach Chris Beard

During his press event on Sunday, USU’s Smith pointed out that he and Beard have a personal relationship, going back to when Beard was recruiting senior guard Matt Mooney, a grad transfer from Smith’s former school, South Dakota in 2018. 

“My respect for Utah State starts with Craig, their coach, somebody I consider a friend. Somebody that I know in the business,” said Beard, who also has the same agent as Smith. “He did a great job at South Dakota before earning his next step at Utah State. He’s one of the best coaches in the country. 

“When we recruited Matt Mooney, Matt had played for Craig the year before, and Craig was great to us during that transfer process, as well,” Beard added. “He’s a basketball guy that came up the right way. I’ve kind of followed his teams from afar.”

Ironically, Indiana fired head coach Archie Miller on Monday after putting together a 67-58 record in his four seasons with the Hoosiers. Beard’s name has already been mentioned as possible replacement, mostly because he spent 10 years as an assistant at Texas Tech under IU legend Bobby Knight and Knight’s son, Pat.

But while he will be coaching Friday at Assembly Hall, Beard clearly has a passion for the Red Raiders, as five years ago he left the head job at UNLV after just 19 days to return to Lubbock. 

One fellow coach who certainly hopes Beard remains at Texas Tech is Matt Wells. However, the former Aggies quarterback and head coach clearly feels a little conflicted about Friday’s game between his alma mater and the school where he is currently employed as the head coach.

“Wow-what a matchup!” Wells tweeted out Sunday night. “2 great coaches and friends. My heart will always bleed Aggie Blue but y’all know who I’m riding with! #GunsUp #4to1

Utah State and Texas Tech have faced each other four times before on the basketball court, mostly recently at the Cancun Challenge in November 2016, a game the Raiders won 75-51. Prior to that contest, the two teams had last played each other in 1976 at the Indiana Classic at Assembly Hall. Utah State took that inaugural Bloomington matchup, 76-68.