Texas Tech Coach Tubby Smith has been around college basketball long enough to realize that teams should savor the opportunity of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Few coaches would know better.
The well-traveled veteran is one of two coaches to take five schools to the NCAAs now that the Red Raiders — in for the first time in nine years — are facing Butler in Thursday’s first round of the Midwest Region.
“I would like to be able to stay in one place,” Smith said Wednesday. “But every job we took, it was a step in the right direction. We’ve certainly moved our family quite a bit. … They’re not going to hire you unless you were successful at the prior university, so I’m really pleased about that.”
Smith, with 557 career wins in 25 seasons, has led Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and now eighth-seeded Texas Tech (19-12). Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger is the only other coach to take five schools to the NCAAs.
“I just think you can’t help but be incredibly impressed by what he’s done,” said Butler Coach Chris Holtmann, who grew up in Lexington before his family moved to Nicholasville. “Winning’s not easy and when you do it as much as he’s done it and as many places as he’s done it, there’s a reason: He does it the right way.”
Smith led Kentucky to the 1998 NCAA title to highlight his 10 years there. Next came a six-year stay at Minnesota, where Smith went 124-81 and reached the NCAAs three times before he was fired in 2013 and landed at Texas Tech.
I just think you can’t help but be incredibly impressed by what he’s done. Winning’s not easy and when you do it as much as he’s done it and as many places as he’s done it, there’s a reason: He does it the right way.
Chris Holtmann, Butler coach on Tubby Smith
The Red Raiders hadn’t played in the NCAAs since 2007 under Bob Knight, going 81-112 over the six seasons before Smith’s arrival. His first two teams had losing records, but this group — featuring four double-figure scorers — went 9-9 in the tough Big 12 and upset Oklahoma.
“He’s changed the whole program and he teaches us life lessons,” fifth-year senior Toddrick Gotcher said. “It’s amazing to see a legend come to Texas Tech and corral us up and get the right guys in and change the program around.”
Getting here is nothing new for the ninth-seeded Bulldogs (21-10), who have been in the NCAAs in eight of the past 10 years and have won at least one game in seven of its last eight trips.
“I think there’s somewhat of an advantage,” fifth-year senior Roosevelt Jones said. “I remember my sophomore year and the first time playing in the NCAA Tournament. I was very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. … But it’s not going to affect the outcome. You have to come out ready to play.”
Here are things to know about the Butler-Texas Tech matchup:
High-scoring ways: Butler’s Kellen Dunham (16.3 points), Ballard grad Kelan Martin (16.1) and Jones (14.0) headline an offense averaging 80.6 points and shooting 47 percent. And Butler is 18-0 in two seasons under Holtmann when shooting at least 50 percent.
Cashing in: Both teams want to get to the foul line. Texas Tech led the Big 12 by making 74.6 percent of its free throws, while Butler was third in the Big East at 73.1 percent.
Lewis’ return: Butler junior guard Tyler Lewis gets a homecoming of sorts. He played two seasons at North Carolina State, which plays home games here in PNC Arena, and was an in-state McDonald’s All-American in 2012. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I grew up loving N.C. State and I get to play in their gym again.”
Butler’s defense: Butler can’t afford a repeat of its defensive showing from a 74-60 loss to Providence in the Big East Tournament, where the Friars shot 61 percent after halftime and 55 percent for the game. “Our defense has to be considerably better than what it was the other night,” Holtmann said.
Added familiarity: Texas Tech and Butler both played in the Puerto Rico Tipoff in November, though not against each other. “We got to the arena early when they were playing,” Texas Tech’s Justin Gray said. “So we got to see them a little bit. Other than that we haven’t really seen what they have until we watched film (Tuesday) for sure.”
Texas Tech vs. Butler
What: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional first-round game
Where: PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
When: 12:40 p.m.
Records: No. 8 seed Texas Tech (19-12), No. 9 seed Butler 21-10