When it comes to the second month on the calendar, the Texas Tech basketball program has been less than spectacular during the Chris Beard era.
In the game of college basketball, it’s all about March. But life can be far easier in the postseason if a team plays well in February. That’s because the second month on the calendar is when teams can solidify their tournament resumes and improve their seeding for the Big Dance while also coming together as a team.
But what might be a surprise, especially given how much success Texas Tech has had in the NCAA Tournament in recent seasons, is that during the Chris Beard era, February has been the Red Raders’ worst month of the season. In fact, Tech is just 19-18 overall in February during the Beard era. Taking that idea a step further, in only two seasons (2017-18 and 2018-19) has Tech put up a winning record in February.
That’s a trend that is continuing this season as the Red Raiders head into Saturday’s February finale against Texas with just a 2-3 record in the month. That reality is counter-intuitive to the narrative that we all told ourselves when the season began.
Given that this year’s Red Raiders began the year with seven newcomers to the roster, everyone expected this team to hit its stride later in the year. However, Tech currently finds itself in the midst of a 3-game slide which has hurt the Raiders’ tournament seeding projections. In fact, in the latest bracket from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Beard’s squad is now down to just a No. 6 seed after being projected as high as a No. 3 seed at one point in the season.
Thus, it’s natural to wonder why February has been such a struggle for the Red Raiders. And the answer is that there is not just one reason.
In Beard’s first year (2016-17), it was an inability to win close games…sound familiar? That year, the Red Raiders lost five February games that either went to overtime or were decided by four points or less. But that was not all that surprising given that it was the first year of the Beard era and he was still trying to instill in his team the mindset and culture that would eventually come to define Texas Tech basketball in the years since. Overall that season, Tech was just 2-6 in February on the way to missing out on the NCAA Tournament.
A year later, Beard’s team would make an unexpected run to the Elite Eight, the deepest run in the tournament in program history to that point. But still, February was just a 4-4 month in 2018.
Of course,e there was a great explanation for that year’s four-game February losing streak. After Tech opened the month with four wins, star point guard Keenan Evans would break his toe in Waco and the Red Raiders would struggle to recover while trying to learn how to play with their leader hobbled.
Of course, February of 2019 was the one instance when Beard’s program caught fire in the month prior to the NCAA Tournament. After dropping the month’s first game at Kansas, Tech the Red Raiders would win the last six games in February as part of a 9-game winning streak to close out the regular season and claim a share of the Big 12 on their way to a National Title Game appearance.
But last season, the close game problems that this program has become synonymous with once again flared up. Going just 5-4 in February and ending the month on a two-game losing streak which was part of a longer 4-game slide to end the season, the Red Raiders found themselves squarely on the Tournament bubble prior to the season’s abrupt cancellation. two of those four losses came by three points as Tech failed to figure out how to make winning plays n the closing minutes.
Now, we are at the end of another February and Tech needs to beat Texas on Saturday to have a .500 mark for the month. That’s no small task given that the Longhorns are one of the top teams in the league this year but for the Red Raiders, time for coming together as a team and playing winning basketball ahead of the postseason is running out.
It’s certainly been a frustrating February but it’s hard to put all the blame on the Red Raiders for their struggles this month. After all, a COVID-19 postponement and two weather postponements forced Tech to undergo an 11-day layoff in the middle of the month only to return to the court to face Kansas in Lawrence. That’s not an ideal formula for gelling as a team.
But also making this February a tremendous challenge has been the schedule itself. In a Big 12 year that is as brutal as any in the history of the conference, this month will have Tech face four ranked teams (including the Longhorns). In the rest of the Beard era, Tech has faced only nine ranked teams in total in February.
Also making this month a struggle for Tech has been another injury, this time to star sophomore Terrence Shannon Jr. Sustaining a nagging ankle sprain, the team’s second-leading scorer has been slowed over the past several games. Twice this month he’s had games in which he played only 15 minutes or fewer and in each of those contests, he failed to score more than five points.
The good news for the Red Raiders is that Shannon is coming off of a 16-point effort on Monday against Oklahoma State. That’s a possible sign that he’s starting to round back into form.
Meanwhile, his team needs to do the same over the final four regular-season games, the first of which comes tomorrow to close out February. And beating the No. 14 Longhorns would be a great start towards that accomplishing goal.
March is right around the corner and Tech is not storming into it like a lion. But the good news is that Beard’s teams have historically been able to put forth a better effort in that month than they have in February, a trend that we hope continues again this year.