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Sunday, April 21, 2024

NCAA Tournament in Review

Virginia captures first National Title in thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech

In what turned out to be a tournament lacking in upsets and traditional program dominance, the University of Virginia reigned supreme after pulling off an 85-77 overtime win over Texas Tech in Minneapolis on Monday night — a year after becoming the first top-seeded team to be upset by a 16 seed.

    Coming into the tournament, Duke, Gonzaga, North Carolina and Virginia were all number one seeds. However, all eyes were on Duke freshman Zion Williamson, the probable number one overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and his top-seeded Blue Devils. Williamson had a dominant season averaging 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game all while shooting 68 percent from the field. Williamson also won the AP Men’s college basketball player of the year award by a landslide and joined Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis as the only players to win the Naismith Trophy as a freshman.

With a supporting cast of other potentially NBA-bound players like RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, this seemed like the Blue Devils’ tournament to lose. According to Forbes who had odds from BetOnline.ag, Duke entered the tournament as outright favorites to win the National Title, followed by Gonzaga, Virginia and North Carolina. In ESPN’s Bracket challenge, Duke was the most popular pick to win the tournament, with 37.7 percent of brackets projecting a Blue Devil championship.

But Duke’s Achilles heel throughout the season was its three-point shooting. Shooting a mere 30.2 percent from beyond the arc, the Blue Devils ranked 328th in the nation — near the bottom of college basketball. In today’s era, not being able to shoot the three consistently can be a team’s downfall in such an offensive-minded game. After surviving very close games in the second round and the Sweet 16, Duke fell to Michigan State in the Elite Eight by a score of 68-67, most likely ending the college careers of Williamson, Barrett and Reddish as they embark on their journey to the NBA.

    Fellow one-seed and ACC rival North Carolina was ousted in the round before, falling in the Sweet 16 to the five seeded Auburn Tigers — a team that surprised many in the college basketball world and was the lowest-seeded team remaining in both the Elite Eight and Final Four. Head Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn squad came into the tournament as the unexpected champions of the SEC and intended to maintain that championship momentum deep into March.

The Tigers did just that, but ultimately suffered a heartbreaking loss to Virginia in the Final Four. Up two with very little time left in the game, Auburn’s Samir Doughty fouled Virginia’s Kyle Guy as he attempted a three-pointer with 0.6 seconds left. There was little question a foul was committed, but controversy surrounds a sequence that took place five seconds earlier, where Virginia’s Ty Jerome seemed to commit a double dribble violation that was not called. Guy would go to the line and sink all three free throws, giving Virginia the 63-62 win and a spot in Monday’s National Championship game.

The second favorite coming into this tournament was Gonzaga, but Head Coach Mark Few’s Bulldogs failed to make the Elite Eight. The Zags have been to only one National Championship game and lost it in 2017. Outside of two years ago, they have been given a high seed yearly but repeatedly fail to secure the school’s first title.

This year, the Bulldogs lost to three-seeded Texas Tech in the Elite Eight. The Red Raiders were seeded high, but not many expected that they would make it to the National Championship game. Fueled by stellar defense and clutch shooting, Texas Tech controlled most of its Final Four showdown with Michigan State and ran away with a 61-51 win to advance to the school’s first ever National Championship game.

This was the first final since 1979 that included two teams playing in their first-ever national championship game. Both teams appeared nervous from the jump, starting the game shooting a combined 1-10 from the field in the first five and a half minutes of play. A Jerome three-point basket with a second left in the first half gave Virginia a 32-29 lead at halftime.

Coming out of the half, Virginia scored the first six points and extended its lead to nine. The Cavaliers seemed to be in control throughout the half, but Texas Tech then went on a 9-0 run to tie the game and eventually lead by three with 22 seconds remaining. Desperately in need of a basket, Virginia turned to sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter, who drilled a three from the right corner with 12 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

In the extra period, Red Raiders senior guard Matt Mooney gave Texas Tech a quick three-point lead. But once again, another clutch three-pointer from Hunter gave the Cavaliers a lead with two minutes remaining. Virginia never looked back and went on to win its first ever national title by a final score of 85-77.

   Overall though, in a tournament that’s known for its buzzer-beating shots and wild upsets, this year’s tournament was one that was, for the most part, predictable. For example, the record for most correctly predicted games in a row on a March Madness bracket was broken this year by 40-year old Gregg Nigl, who picked the first 49 games in the tournament — shattering the previous record of 39.

The lowest seeded team to advance to the second round was the 13-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters out of the Big West Conference. UC Irvine beat four-seeded Kansas State in the first round but lost to 12-seeded Oregon in the second round. Oregon was then the lowest seed that made it to the Sweet 16, where its season ended in a loss to Virginia. The other 15 teams in the Sweet 16 were all between a one and five seed. Of course, there were several highly-competitive games that went down to the wire, like Duke-UCF, LSU-Maryland or Purdue-Virginia but low-scoring, slow-paced games like Oregon-Virginia and Texas Tech-Michigan reminded viewers that this still is amateur basketball.

Aside from Williamson, this tournament seemed to lack individual star power, leading some to question whether the ratings for the Final Four and National Championship will dip due to the elimination of Williamson and Duke. There is no question that the teams in the Final Four were quality programs, but they did lack the star power that can attract the casual fan. But regardless of how relatively predictable this tournament was or how many tuned in to watch, the 2019 NCAA tournament did deliver its fair share of exciting games, heroic performances and controversy.

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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