MINNEAPOLIS – On a weekend when three of the Final Four teams mostly have seen their defenses carry them to the biggest stage in college basketball, Texas Tech is a team that can challenge the more publicized programs like Michigan State and Virginia.

The Red Raiders are No. 1 in the nation in adjusted defense as computed by kenpom.com, No. 2 in field goal defense at 36.9 percent, and third in points allowed , with opponents averaging just 59.0 points per game. Those are all important numbers in their surge to the first Final Four in program history.

For Chris Beard, who in his third season leading the program was honored Thursday by accepting the Associated Press coach-of-the-year trophy, defense is the way he was raised in the game. He formed his philosophy from many coaches, including Tom Penders, who coached him as a player at Texas, and Hall of Famer Bob Knight, on whose staff he served for seven seasons at Tech.

“Certainly with Danny Kasper, my first job [at Incarnate Word],” he said, “and Tom Penders, a defensive coach in terms of traps and speeding you up, and Coach Knight, one of the best defensive coaches in the history of our game. It’s just been my upbringing in basketball as a player and coach.

“It’s just who you are. It’s in our DNA. It’s our identity. And we’ll never change. We’ve always been a team that tries to guard.”

Texas Tech showed that aggressive defense in the 2018 postseason, when it got as far as the Elite Eight before losing in the East Region final to Villanova. Even in winning, 71-59, the Wildcats knew they were in a difficult game, as evidenced by their 4-for-24 shooting from three-point range.

The Red Raiders lost three starters, including Zhaire Smith, now with the 76ers, and four other lettermen from that team. Redshirt senior guard Brandone Francis, one of the seven lettermen who returned, said remembering the loss to Villanova has been motivation for the players.

“I was thinking about that Villanova game, not missing box-outs, making sure you finish strong at the basket, making sure you knock down open shots,” Francis said. “You have to make plays when it comes down to that. We worked hard the whole summer thinking about that Villanova game, and I think it paid off this year.”

Texas Tech will take on Michigan State in the second game of Saturday night’s semifinal doubleheader. The Spartans have been successful with defense and toughness since Tom Izzo took over as coach in 1995, and will be playing in their eighth Final Four in the last 21 seasons.

“We kind of clone each other in some ways,” Izzo said Thursday of the Red Raiders. “I think Chris has done a great job with his team. We’re both disciples with Bob Knight and [former Michigan State coach] Jud Heathcote. Those two guys were best friends.

“Chris and I are getting to know each other, but great respect for what he’s done and how he’s done it, and, of course, for a couple of his players that are of the elite nature.”

One of those players, sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, averages 18.9 points and 6.4 rebounds and has collected his share of honors this season, including Big 12 player of the year and All-America.