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How Texas Tech can take the next step toward winning basketball, baseball championships

Texas Tech came just about as close as you can to winning a championship in two of the three major sports. What can this program do to take that last step toward greatness?

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Michigan vs Texas Tech Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

When I graduated from the great institution that is Texas Tech University, I made one grave mistake.

With my degree in hand, a variety of internships on my resume and polished clips in my portfolio, I brazenly waltzed my way to a small town in Texas for an interview with the local newspaper. An infinitely more rural community than my native stomping grounds of Austin, this town seemed almost beneath me, and before I even answered the first interview question I was already deciding whether or not I would accept the job.

Two weeks later, I got a call from the editor-in-chief informing me of their decision to go in another direction.

“This was one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make,” he said. “But the other candidate just had more experience.”

For weeks, months, hell - even years after that phone call, I viciously resented his reasoning in rejecting me. Experience? Come on. Anyone who knew me would vouch for my talent, work ethic and overall ability to build up an audience through compelling content and a dynamic social media presence.

My mistake wasn’t about driving eight hours to the middle of nowhere just to get turned down. In hindsight, that was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I would’ve faded into journalist obscurity to cover two high schools no one’s heard of while getting paid a salary that would make a Great Depression survivor pity me.

No, the real mistake was underestimating the value of experience. At 27 years old, I actually have some of it under my belt, and I gotta say, I am exceedingly more qualified and talented now than I could've hoped to be back then. And if you’re my age or older, you can probably relate to what I’m saying. Experience makes you a better version of you, and that’s the only way I know how to put it.


When the Texas Tech basketball and baseball teams were engaging in their respective season-ending contests, a pattern emerged that explained the outcome for each game - and foreshadowed something big in the future.

The basketball team went without a field goal until there were seven or so minutes left in the first half. Even though they clawed their way back into the game, it always felt like Virginia was in control and that Tech would need a miracle to bring home that championship. The Red Raiders managed to push the game into overtime, but the Cavaliers coasted from there, outscoring Tech 17-9 in the period to seal their fate.

The baseball game started out similarly. Michigan got out in front early, but Tech roared back to take a one-run lead. But, like their classmates on the hardwood, the Red Raiders couldn’t keep their momentum going against a truly elite opponent and the Wolverines ended up cruising to a 15-3 victory.

Both teams came so, so close to winning it all. But there was an inexorable talent gap between Tech’s rosters and their opponents’, and that was ultimately what prevented either team from winning a title. Tech’s pitching was no match for Michigan’s ruthless bats, and Virginia seemed to have an answer for everything the Red Raiders threw its way. As incredible as Chris Beard and Tim Tadlock are, there’s only so much you can do from the sideline or dugout. Both coaches dramatically outperformed the talent levels of their players, even with a couple of first-round draft picks in Jarrett Culver and Josh Jung. Virginia had three players selected in Thursday’s NBA draft, with two going in the first round (and one picked ahead of Culver). Michigan had three players selected in the first three rounds of the MLB draft, Vanderbilt had four, and Louisville had two. Jung was the only Red Raider taken in the first three rounds. Elite coaching can take you to the Final Four of just about anything, but you need elite players - and lots of them - to win it all.

Here’s where Tech fans can take comfort: that elite talent has arrived. Recent history tells us in basketball, you don’t need a No. 1 recruiting class to win a championship - in fact, the trend is that it actually sets you back. Villanova (2018) and Virginia (2019) are the two most recent champions and neither had a top-5 class in the three years leading up to their championship season. However, I found it interesting that the class from three years before each championship season was the best class for both teams.

Villanova - 2018 champions

2015 recruiting class - #29

  • Donte DiVincenzo - shooting guard that scored 31 points in National Championship victory over Michigan, named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four
  • Jalen Brunson - team’s starting point guard, averaged 19 points and four assists for that championship team

Virginia - 2019 champions

2016 recruiting class - #7

  • De’Andre Hunter - Defensive Player of the Year, second-team All-American, No. 4 overall draft pick. Dropped 27 points and nine rebounds in the title game.
  • Kyle Guy - Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, scored 24 in the championship. Averaged 15 points per game during the regular season.
  • Ty Jerome - scored 16 points with six rebounds and eight assists in the title game. Averaged 14 points a game for the Cavs that year.

As you can see, the class from the third year leading up to the title game is becoming the most important factor in winning a championship during the one-and-done era. Find talent that’s really good - but not too good, and pairing it with legendary coaches who can develop the hell out of talented players over a few years and you have the modern recipe for success at the highest level.

Let’s take a look at Tech’s recruiting classes and see if it doesn’t reveal anything about the future.

2017 recruiting class - #39

  • Jarrett Culver - Gone
  • Zhaire Smith - Gone
  • Davide Moretti - Still here
  • Malik Ondigo - Gone
  • Josh Webster - Gone
  • Hyron Edwards - Gone

Everyone is gone except Moretti. Going off the formula for the last two champions, it looks like we’re not winning a championship next year. I think we all knew that, but we can still go after the Big 12 title again.

2018 recruiting class - #33

  • Khavon Moore - Gone
  • Kyler Edwards - Still here
  • Deshawn Corprew - Still here
  • Kevin McCullar - Still here (redshirt)
  • Josh Mballa - Gone

Things aren’t looking great for 2021. Could Kyler Edwards be the next Jarrett Culver? Possibly. He’s really, really talented, but he has a lot of developing to do. McCullar has the makings of a big-time college player, and if he and Edwards stay for their senior years while the historic class after them mature into juniors, that’s going to be trouble for the rest of the country.

2019 recruiting class - #16

  • Jahmius Ramsey
  • Terrence Shannon
  • Tyreek Smith
  • Clarence Nadolny
  • Russel Tchewa
  • Andrei Savrasov

Beard also signed three transfers, but they won’t be around in 2022, so I’m going to leave them off here (let’s hope they make up for the weaker classes from the previous two years). Obviously, if any Texas Tech basketball team is going to win a national championship, it’s going to be the 2022 Red Raiders. Beard has had some trouble with turnover. He needs these guys to stay and develop, because if they do, this team will be a wrecking machine. This is the 2016 Virginia class on steroids, and I say that knowing full well that Virginia class was ranked higher. But Ramsey and Shannon are no-doubt NBA talents, Tchewa is a 7-footer with immense potential, Smith is a prototypical Chris Beard forward, Nadolny is a dynamic point guard, and Savrasov, a natural scorer at the small forward position, will be a polished role player after redshirting and spending a couple years in Beard’s system.

Baseball is in the same boat. Tim Tadlock signed the No. 6 overall class in 2018, so in the next two or three years, under his guidance, this team should have the strength to take down teams like Michigan, Vanderbilt and Louisville on college baseball’s biggest stage. As much as losing the likes of Josh Jung and Gabe Holt are going to hurt, the truth is that Tech’s redshirt freshmen and sophomores are fully capable of going the distance. Guys like Dylan Neuse, Micah Dallas, Dru Baker, Max Marusak, Mason Montgomery, Cade Farr, Cole Stillwell and Tanner O’Tremba are going to be running the Big 12 for the next three years (and some are obviously off to a great start).


Experience matters. It makes you a better version of you. If I went back to that small town today and applied for a job, the only reason I wouldn’t get is because I’m overqualified. I didn’t know the value of being thrown into the flames, whether I was prepared or not. But as I progressed through life, and believe me, I took my Ls, I gained invaluable experience that helped me evolve into the sports media expert I am today.

The young freshmen and sophomores making up Texas Tech’s basketball and baseball teams are among the most talented in Red Raider history. Some (Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew, Dyland Neuse, Micah Dallas, Dru Baker, etc.) already have experience playing on the biggest stage, and coming up just short of glory. Others have watched from the sidelines/dugout. Many have watched from home, patiently waiting for their turn. But, as long as Beard and Tadlock are running things, ALL will get reps playing deep into the postseason over the next couple of years, and as they hit their junior and senior campaigns, these two programs will have the ability to win those elusive national championships against even the most redoubtable competition.

Hang in there, Red Raiders. Your time is coming.

Poll

How confident are you Tech will win a title in baseball or basketball by 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Very confident
    (57 votes)
  • 42%
    Slightly more confident than I was before
    (64 votes)
  • 19%
    2019 was our chance and we blew it
    (29 votes)
150 votes total Vote Now