A team that felt it perished a year ago needed this. The game needed it more.
College basketball has a lot of problems — someone check to see if there has been another Twitter dump of documents in the last five minutes accusing Nike of paying top prep recruits — but what the players from Virginia and Texas Tech gave us in Monday night’s national championship aren’t among them.
In a snapshot of 45 minutes, a classic of elite play and coaching and everything you want this tournament to be was delivered. The Cavaliers and Red Raiders had never met.
What a premiere.
Redemption ultimately came for the Cavaliers, who officially exorcised all their demons with a 85-77 victory in overtime before 72,062 at U.S. Bank Stadium, completing one the most implausible 12-month comebacks in the event’s history.
In sports history, really.
They became the first No. 1 seed to fall to a 16 in March of last season, getting whipped by Baltimore-Maryland County.
Virginia then offered another first Monday. A national title.
“I played a song for (the team) today called ‘Hills and Valleys,’ and it means that you are never alone in the hills and valleys,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We faced those from last year to this year, but all the credit goes to those young men.”
There is a bigger picture here, a separation of what has occurred in college basketball on and off the court.
The stench of an FBI investigation into charges of corruption, bribery and fraud that began with several arrests of assistant coaches and an Adidas rep in 2017 is not yet complete. Now, we have celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti, facing extortion charges, offering documents via Twitter that he says proves Nike paid top recruits to attend certain schools.
It’s all a hot mess and not going away any time soon.
Which made what occurred Monday all the more significant.
I suppose the narrative might change now for some, that it really is OK to be a defensive-minded team and not bore those watching to sleep. Virginia proved so many notions wrong, beginning with the one that said its overly deliberate style — see an adjusted tempo rating of 353 nationally — wasn’t built to ever win six NCAA games.
The Cavaliers actually captured this title on offense. No team in the tournament had cracked 1 point per possession against Texas Tech’s top-ranked defense. Virginia recorded an outstanding 1.22.
The 162 combined points are the most scored in a final since 2000, and it’s the first final where both teams made at least 10 3-pointers.
First one to 90 wins?
“I thanked our four seniors for believing in us,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, unable to fight back tears. “And here we were, playing on the last Monday and sending Virginia to overtime.
“But this is life. We’ll bounce back. You know, I just love these guys. And then I told the young ones and returners to do everything we can in the next 365 days to try and get back. Recruiting starts (Tuesday). We go back to work.”
The game on the court is more than fine and will remain so even when the current one-and-done rule is likely abolished and many prep stars never make it to a college class. Virginia had five redshirts on its roster. Villanova has its share in winning last year’s title. Older, stronger, more mature. That’s what wins in March.
It was a game of two outstanding coaches mixing and matching to gain an advantage, of going big and small and changing offenses and even modifying some things about their highly rated defenses. Someone should have broken out a chess board.
Mostly, it was about the players, some like a Findlay Prep product in freshman Kyler Edwards (12 points on 4-of-5 shooting) being efficient for Texas Tech and others like sophomore star Jarrett Culver (5-of-22 shooting) not as much; some like Virginia standout De’Andre Hunter scoring 22 of his 27 points in the second half and overtime, and the guard duo of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome combining for 40 points.
This was Guy on the eve of the final: “This is just two basketball teams. Both teams kind of have the same sense: It’s not about you, it’s about everyone on your team. I think that’s great for the sport.”
Monday night was great for Virginia.
It was better for college basketball.
It was needed for both.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @ edgraney on Twitter.