When the Texas Longhorns and the Texas Tech Red Raiders meet during the 2021-22 season and beyond, a Longhorns alum will prowl the sideline on one side of the court and a Red Raiders alum will prowl the other.
On Monday, Texas Tech announced that associate head coach Mark Adams will remain on Lubbock at his alma mater, ending a stretch of six seasons, including a year at Little Rock, during which Adams served as new Texas head coach Chris Beard’s defensive guru.
The hire of Adams by the Red Raiders doesn’t just impact any continued attrition on the South Plains or ensure that another Big 12 school will join Texas and Baylor in running the no-middle defense — it means that Beard won’t have Adams on his bench to coordinate a defense that vaulted the two to within a play of a national championship and Beard back to the Forty Acres.
Beard got to know Adams while he was working as an assistant at Texas Tech and Adams was coaching Howard College south of Lubbock in Big Spring. When Beard took the Little Rock job, he hired Adams, but this story really begins after the two returned to Texas Tech.
Following a disappointing 2016-17 season defensively in Beard’s first year back with the Red Raiders, Adams convinced Beard to adopt a defense that kept opponents out of the middle and then trapped the ensuing baseline drives with an aggressively-rotating defense.
Adams had run the side defense before at stops that ranged from junior college to Division III to NAIA, but still spent the summer of 2017 justifying his vision of the defense to Beard and the other Texas Tech assistants.
The defense had an immediate impact, making it extremely difficult for opposing offenses to run their offense and forcing low-percentage shots along the baseline.
“I’ve always preached keeping the ball out of the middle, but it’s evolved,” Adams said in 2019. “We’re now much more aggressive. My belief is that offense has so many advantages over the defense, and we don’t want to be a victim. So we try to be as aggressive as we can, and try to make them uncomfortable and attack and push them to the sideline and baseline.”
Listening to Adams paid immediate dividends for Beard and arguably became the most important single decision of his coaching career — after ranking No. 56 nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric, the Red Raiders jumped all the way to No. 4 during the 2017-18 season en route to an Elite Eight appearance.
The Beard mythos began to grow.
A year later, an overtime loss to Virginia cost Texas Tech a national championship, an opportunity earned thanks to the nation’s top defense as the Red Raiders ranked second in effective field-goal-percentage, third in two-point field-goal percentage, and 14th in turnover percentage.
To keep opponents out of the middle, defenders point their toes to the sidelines in their stance as they provide heavy ball pressure. Pick-and-roll defenders often “ice” ball screens, leaving ball handlers with no option other than to refuse them. Other defenders are ready to quickly rotate to trap players on the baseline while a weak-side defender gets as low as the driving player to take away skip passes. By typically fronting post players, entry passes to bigs in the paint become more difficult and defenders are in better position to rotate.
“Schematic wise, they don’t let you get to your stuff,” then-Buffalo head coach Nate Oats said during the 2019 NCAA Tournament. “I mean, they get the ball to a side, they keep it to the side. Their help defense is better than anybody in the country — when they come to help you, they’re coming aggressive and they’re trying to steal the ball.”
The aggressive rotations also punish players who overpenetrate.
“Look, if you put your head down on a drive, you’re going to get a charge. They take charges better than anybody in the country,” Oats said. “If you come and you’re soft going to the rim, they’re gonna block your shot, so you’re either getting a charge or you’re getting your shot blocked.”
The worst fears for Oats came true, as a magical season that featured 32 wins for Buffalo ended with a 20-point loss to Texas Tech in the second round of the tournament as the Bulls shot 36.5 percent from the field and scored a season-low 58 points, at one point going 18 straight possessions without a field goal.
With Adams remaining in Lubbock, however, a major question facing Beard as he prepares for his first season as the Texas head coach is how important Adams was to that scheme and how well Beard can adjust to not having Adams on his bench.
The answer to the first question is that Adams was hugely important.
“He’s everything we are these last two years defensively,” Texas Tech center Norense Odiase said of Adams two years ago. “Every scheme we have is from him. It’s all him. It’s his mindset, it’s his genius, it’s his emphasis and imprint on our program.”
Luke Adams, Mark’s son who played at Texas Tech and now coaches himself, gives his father credit for his scouting work and his ability to make adjustments within his game plan, formed after 20-30 hours of film work for each opponent.
“The way they game-plan is unique,” Luke said. “The original game-plan may be to switch ball-screens, but they’ll have like back-up plans. If that doesn’t work, they’re going to side everything. Then they might trap it, and then they’ll go zone, all based on the adjustment that the other team makes.”
“And they are so well prepared. They know what the other team is going to do.”
It all starts with how Adams emphasizes details in practice or when watching film with players, but extends into the pregame stories that Adams would tell the team.
Taken all together, associate head coach and defensive guru are truly apt descriptors of Adams, whose contributions to Beard’s success at Texas Tech were myriad.
The answer to that second question, though? How well Beard can adjust to not having Adams as an assistant?
Well, the answer to that question could go a long way in defining Beard’s tenure as the Texas head coach.