This is the first edition of Crimson Quarry’s Coaching Candidate Spotlight series, where we’ll break down names that Indiana could consider to replace Archie Miller. You can find other installments as well as the rest of our coaching search coverage here.
A prediction: If Indiana hires Texas Tech Coach Chris Beard to be its next men’s basketball head coach, you’ll hear some of the national voices who cover the sport – the same ones who write stuff like, “Indiana fans just need to get over Bob Knight. It’s just not 1987 anymore. The fans’ expectations are unrealistic – cling to the fact that Beard spent seven seasons on Knight’s staff at Texas Tech in the aughts.
They’ll overwrite the lede to their story with some bullshit like, “In seeking to establish the program’s new identity for the future, Indiana sought to reconnect with one of the better fragments of its past.” Actually, no one steal that. I might workshop that a little bit more.
You can guarantee that would happen, though, and CQ would be first in line to point out the hypocrisy of those statements from certain corners of the media.
Record: 141-59 (.705)
NCAA tournament appearances: Four (not including the lost 2020 NCAA Tournament)
NCAA tournament record: 9-3
Here’s what we know about Chris Beard, the head coach, not just Chris Beard, the former Bob Knight assistant, the latter of which should not and will not have any bearing in this coaching search: In two Division I stops as a head coach, Beard has won quickly and he has won big, and he has done so while remaking his roster at Texas Tech in ways that are both efficient and not Tom Crean-esque in their long-term volatility.
In his only season at Little Rock in 2016, he took over a program that went 13-18 in 2015, then helped the Trojans win 30 games, sweep the Sun Belt’s regular-season and conference tournament titles, and upset No. 5 seed Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament. His Texas Tech team also beat Purdue in the Sweet 16 in 2018, so Chris Beard has two more recent wins against Purdue than Indiana.
It’s fine, take a 30-second timeout after that last sentence, I know I needed to.
After Beard left his post at Little Rock after one season, a man named Wes Flanigan, who I refuse to acknowledge is a real person, went 15-17 in the first year post-Beard, then 7-25 in Year 2 and got fired. Little Rock won a combined 32 games in the three seasons after the Trojans won 30 games under Beard.
Texas Tech then hired Beard, who in Year 2 led the Red Raiders to a runner-up finish in the Big 12 and 27 wins, peaking at No. 6 in the AP poll (Texas Tech has never been ranked higher than that before or since, and that was in Year 2), plus an Elite Eight appearance as a No. 3 seed. Villanova tore through the NCAA tournament that year but Texas Tech played ‘Nova as close (12 points) as anyone the entire tournament.
Here’s where the magic happened: Texas Tech lost five of its top six scorers from that Elite Eight team, but after adding key transfers in Matt Mooney (South Dakota) and Tariq Owens (St. John’s), and overseeing the breakout of sophomore Davide Moretti (a brief but one-time IU target, I believe), the next year the Red Raiders helped end Kansas’ streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles by going 14-4 in conference play, along with Kansas State, before ultimately losing in overtime in the national championship game.
Jarrett Culver finished the season ranked No. 1 on kenpom.com’s National Player of the Year standings.
After losing four of its top five scorers from that team, Texas Tech (understandably) took a step back last season, but still finished 18-13 (9-9 Big 12) with a top-10 defense and top-50 offense. After eight NCAA tournament wins in two seasons and multiple roster overhauls, you’re allowed to have a down year, and that down year still would’ve likely ended in an NCAA tournament berth. Like Indiana, Texas Tech was projected to receive a No. 10 seed when the 2020 season ended, except the Red Raiders finished at No. 21 on kenpom.com to the Hoosiers’ No. 34 ranking.
Texas Tech lost its top two scorers from last season, yet the Red Raiders still earned a No. 7 seed after going 17-10 (9-8 Big 12). Beard has been able to replenish his roster annually, while keeping Texas Tech as a top-25-caliber team that spent three consecutive seasons ranked in the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
In many ways, Beard’s teams have the tempo and efficiency profile of what Indiana fans thought they were going to get during Miller’s tenure. Beard’s fastest team ranked No. 231 nationally in tempo – that was the national runner-up team in 2019 – and his slowest, at Little Rock, ranked No. 342.
That, combined with a commitment to his “no-middle” defense, which has ranked No. 33, No. 56, No. 4, No. 1, No. 9 and No. 24 in defensive efficiency from 2016 through 2021, respectively, has led to a lot of lower-scoring games but also a lot of wins. His teams have been strong enough offensively, too, with efficiency rankings of No. 44, No. 50, No. 25, No. 47 and No. 33 since he was hired at Texas Tech, respectively.
His teams have historically not taken many threes, on a percentage basis, and they’ve actually allowed opponents to take more threes than the national average. But his defenses force a ton of turnovers (at least a 20-percent defensive turnover rate in every year of his career, including at least 23 percent in each of the last two seasons), and they generally limit opponents’ assist rates, which suggests that they’re limiting opposing ball movement and forcing opponents to play a lot of one-on-one and isolation basketball.
In recruiting to Lubbock, Texas, of all places – no disrespect, but let’s state the facts – Texas Tech has landed the No. 11, No. 16 and No. 33-ranked classes, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, from 2020 through 2018, including six 4-stars.
Beard has spent five seasons as a high-major head coach and acquitted himself nicely on the recruiting trail, yet his programs have still reached high levels – a Big 12 regular season title, two No. 3 seeds, an Elite Eight and a national championship game appearance – without having premier talent. Maybe Beard doesn’t need top-25, blue-chip recruits, but if he ever manages to reel in one or two a year, wherever he spends the next 10 years of his career, then his program’s ceiling might be even higher.
Making use of the transfer portal
Somehow, Beard has dipped his toes in all three buckets of successful roster building: recruiting immediate-impact freshmen, signing high-potential players who can develop in his program and landing veterans from the transfer portal.
Two of the program’s starters during its national runner-up season were transfers – Mooney and Owens, and its sixth man, Brandone Francis, was one too.
Texas Tech’s fifth and seventh-leading scorers, who started a combined 38 games last season, were also transfers. And Mac McClung, who’s the team’s leading scorer at 15.7 points per game, transferred from Georgetown. Despite being a big name due to — if we’re being honest — being a white kid who could throw down vicious dunks in high school, McClung didn’t even make CBS Sports’s list of the top 101 players in the country entering the season, so Beard helped turn someone who was a bit of an afterthought into the leading scorer on a No. 7 seed. Oh, by the way, the team’s fifth-leading scorer transferred from VCU.
Assuming college athletes will soon be able to transfer without having to sit out a season due to current redshirt rules, the ability to maximize the transfer portal will become even more critical in college basketball, and Beard maximizes it as much as anyone in the sport currently.
Late in the regular season, the Indiana men’s basketball Twitter account posted a graphic about the program’s player development – seemingly a thinly veiled shot at naysayers who questioned that aspect of Miller’s program. Beard has an impressive track record of player development at Texas Tech, especially among guards and wings, which are the players that modern basketball is largely based around.
He helped turn Zhaire Smith from the No. 194 recruit in the 2017 recruiting class into the No. 16 overall pick in 2018. Smith’s classmate, Jarrett Culver, was ranked No. 312 in that same recruiting class, then he was the top-rated player in the country as a sophomore, according to kenpom.com. Eventually, he was drafted sixth overall in 2019.
The top-ranked player in that recruiting class, Moretti, blossomed from the team’s 10th-leading scorer (3.5 ppg) as a freshman to the most efficient scorer in the Big 12 as a sophomore, when he posted a 139.2 offensive rating in conference play and averaged 11.5 points per game on the season.
In the history of Texas Tech’s men’s basketball program, there have been 16 NCAA tournament wins and Chris Beard is responsible for eight of them, and he picked up those wins in just two NCAA tournaments.
He arguably maxed out Little Rock’s potential in Year 1 – 30 wins, a No. 12 seed and a win in the tournament, and he arguably maxed out Texas Tech’s potential by Year 3.
Indiana needs to hire someone who can win, win big and win big quickly, and Beard has arguably done that at each of his two stops, when adjusted for each school. His ability to reload his roster at Texas Tech through high-profile transfers and 4-star recruits, along with some meteoric rises during the careers of 3-stars, suggests a level of sustainability, which is especially promising for a coach whose defense continually rates as one of the best in the country.
Tony Bennett needed time to install and perfect his pack-line defense at Virginia and a common refrain in Indiana circles was that Miller needed time to do the same, although the improvements on that end of the floor were too small, if not backslides at certain points. But Beard’s ability to get his players, many of whom are fresh faces annually, to play high-level defense, while still producing a top 30 to 50 offense, is something that Indiana fans would take kindly to. It may not be Nate Oats’ offense that takes almost half of its shots from three and most of the rest of its shots at the rim, but as the wins come, Indiana fans would presumably fall in love with the style of play. Beard’s track record suggests the wins would come and stack up quickly, if there ends up being mutual interest between a program that defines itself by its performance in national championship games and a coach who took an unlikely program there in just his third season.