NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHUP
Who: Virginia (34-3) vs. Texas Tech (31-6)
When: 5:20 p.m. Monday
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
TV/Radio: KLAS-8; KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: Virginia -1 1/2; total 119 1/2
How they got here: Virginia plays for its first national title because of the noncall (a clear double dribble by Ty Jerome in the final seconds against Auburn on Saturday) and the right call (a foul on the Tigers’ Samir Doughty on Cavaliers guard Kyle Guy), all of which led to a 63-62 win in the Final Four. Texas Tech plays for its first national title because it was again the tougher, more defensive side in taking out Michigan State 61-51 in the other national semifinal.
Virginia will win if: It’s Virginia. Have we reached a point where Tony Bennett’s pack line defense has surpassed the 2-3 zone of Syracuse as the nation’s most frustrating scheme by which opponents prepare for and attack? This is a final for all the Ken Pomeroy enthusiasts, and his metrics suggest Virginia has been the most complete team all season. It ranks the Cavaliers No. 1 overall, third in adjusted offense and fifth in adjusted defense. But this is a big test. Texas Tech scores in spurts. Virginia needs more from bigs Mamadi Diakite and Jack Salt than it received Saturday. The Red Raiders are built differently than Atlantic Coast Conference teams that Virginia has beaten so often the last several years. But if they play as KenPom has suggested all season, the Cavaliers should be standing last.
Texas Tech will win if: It finds a few of those scoring spurts. Virginia allows an average of 55 points, and as good as Texas Tech is defensively, if it can’t produce more than that, it can’t win. Well, at least I don’t think it can. The Red Raiders own the best defensive efficiency rating since KenPom began tracking the statistic 17 years ago. But you also don’t want the pressure of feeling you need to hold Virginia to under 55 in this big of a moment. Texas Tech needs another big scoring effort from graduate transfer Matt Mooney and for star guard Jarrett Culver not to slump as long as he did Saturday before coming alive against Michigan State. Texas Tech can beat the pack line if it makes 3-pointers. The Red Raiders scored 61 against the Spartans. One more basket could give them a title Monday.
Matchup to watch: Guy against Mooney. Guy was a McDonald’s All-American and ranked 39th nationally coming out of high school and Mooney had zero recruiting stars and one college offer … from Air Force. But the guards find themselves with the same opportunity Monday night, and whichever can make more shots and lead their teams in an efficient manner is probably the one smiling when it’s over.
Possible unsung hero for Virginia: De’Andre Hunter. He’s a 6-foot-7-inch sophomore forward, a first-round NBA prospect and terrific defender, which would lead one to believe he will be asked to guard Culver a bulk of the time. If he can shut down Texas Tech’s leading scorer and rebounder — a lottery pick in this own right — Virginia’s chances at winning become even more enhanced.
Possible unsung hero for Texas Tech: Tariq Owens. The graduate transfer from St. John’s badly rolled his ankle in the second half against Michigan State, returned and finished with seven points, four rebounds and three blocks. How the injury responds to treatment on such a quick turnaround could go a long way in determining Texas Tech’s chances.
Key stat: The record for combined points in an NCAA championship game is 182, when Kentucky beat Duke 94-88 in 1978. Virginia allows 55 points on average and Texas Tech 59. Um, the record is safe.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett: “Everyone has dreams and that’s why we have a door knocker. You just keep knocking. Sometimes, it gets slammed in your face. But sometimes, you get your foot in the door and then your shoulder, and then you can bust through. It’s a continual process.”
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard: “A couple years go, we would get hammered in recruiting — ‘Don’t play for Beard and those guys, they play positionless basketball.’ All of a sudden, Golden State wins a few (NBA) championships and positionless basketball becomes a hot thing. All of a sudden, we’re cool again. We don’t have 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s. We have players.”
Prediction: Virginia 62, Texas Tech 58
Ed Graney Las Vegas Review-Journal