Gonzaga, Michigan, Florida State and Texas Tech. The last team there is the odd one out in the West Regional, as the three others played last year in Los Angeles.
Odd one out? Disrespect? All this leads to a motivated Red Raiders team entering Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup with the Wolverines in Anaheim (9:39 p.m. EST, CBS).
It’s a familiar mindset for head coach Chris Beard and company. In the preseason Big XII poll, his team was picked to finish seventh just a year after the program’s first-ever Elite 8 appearance. They bucked the odds by tying with Kansas State for first in the regular-season, boxing the Kansas Jayhawks out of the title for the first time in 15 years.
During Wednesday’s media availability at the Honda Center, Beard plainly stated how the consistently low expectations fuel his team.
“We got a chip on our shoulders,” he told reporters. “We weren’t supposed to be here. We were picked in the bottom-half or last in our league. Even today, we see people calling out saying Buffalo was going to beat us.
“We respect everyone’s opinion,” he said, pausing. “But we fear no one.”
This isn't the first meeting Beard has had with John Beilein. As an assistant under Bobby Knight at Texas Tech, he helped guide the Red Raiders to the Sweet 16 in 2005, where they bowed out against Beilein and West Virginia.
“I have bad dreams about (Kevin Pittsnogle) from time to time,” he said. “Defense for that guy was not to let him get the ball, because once he got it, it was going in.”
He kind of contradicted himself, saying that he is scared of “everything” about Beilein and Michigan.
“Starts with their Hall of Fame coach,” Beard said. “If you’re going to beat Michigan you have to score more points than them. We will have to play our cleanest game of the year...our best 40 minutes...Michigan has great talent, several great players...best defensive team we have played all year and an offensive balance that concerns us.”
Red Raiders star guard Jarrett Culver, a potential top-5 NBA Draft pick, struggled to think of a team the Red Raiders played that even resembled Michigan.
Fellow guard Matt Mooney compared Michigan’s defensive tenacity to that of fellow Big XII champion Kansas State. The Wildcats rank No. 5 in defensive efficiency, whereas the Wolverines and Red Raiders are No. 2 and No. 1, respectively.
“Kansas State was real good defensively,” Mooney said in the locker room. “(They both) play in the gaps, just guarding the ball real well. Good rotations....probably alongside Duke, (Michigan) will be one of the best teams we play this year.”
The Red Raiders lost to the Blue Devils 69-58 in Madison Square Garden back on Dec. 20. Since Feb. 4, they’ve won 11 out of 12 games, including a 29-point obliteration of Kansas.
Michigan torched a Texas team last year in the Sweet 16, raining 14 triples in a 99-72 rout over Texas A&M. They may need that perimeter prowess again to claw past an angry and hungry team.