Sports Capital Journalism Program
By Mike Williams
Tonight’s game has the potential to be one of the biggest stories in tournament history. Virginia, one year removed from being the first No. 1 seed to be upset by a No. 16 seed, is one win away from its first men’s basketball championship.
The Cavaliers will be entering the game with the nation’s top defense, only giving up 55.5 points per game. For as good as they are on the defensive end of the ball, they are just as great at protecting the ball with a nation-leading average of only 8.9 turnovers per game. Virginia is also among league leaders in rebound margin, ranking 29th with a 5.2 margin. That will be important as we can expect a lot of missed shots.
Texas Tech also touts a great defense, third in the nation while allowing just 58.8 points per game. The Red Raiders are not a team of stars, but they are a group of good basketball players who can play multiple positions and they can do it well. That’s something that Texas Tech coach Chris Beard prides himself on. “We have interchangeable parts,” he said. “We don’t have guys who are ones, twos, threes, fours, fives defensively…This allows us to switch and guard different people and stuff like that. That would be one part of our defense that I think is pretty good.”
Defense will be the word of the night. Somebody will need to step up and fight through a tough defense. Saturday night, Virginia held Auburn’s shooters to just 29 percent from behind the arc while Kyle Guy stepped up and hit some big shots at the end of the game and made the three free throws to win it at the end.
Texas Tech shut down one of the nation’s best passers in Cassius Winston and held him to just two assists and forced him to commit four turnovers. When rim protector Tariq Owens went out with a lower-body injury, it was Matt Mooney who scored 11 of his game-high 22 points in Owens’ absence.
I believe Virginia’s amazing story will come to a sad end as Texas Tech will be the team to win its first men’s basketball championship.
Texas Tech 58, Virginia 50
By Zach Griffith
If you’re a fan of high-powered offenses, you won’t be a fan of this game. Texas Tech boasts one of the most dominant defensive squads in the country, while Virginia can also force opponents into undesirable situations. In their semifinal duel with Michigan State, the Red Raiders consistently forced the Spartans off the 3-point line, limiting them to just 29.2% from the behind the arc and 31.9% from the field. Even after losing 6-10 senior Tariq Owens to an injury at the 14:33 mark of the second half, Tech still managed to keep both Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward off the offensive glass. Owens and 6-9 senior center Norense Odiase could cause some grief for the Cavaliers in the paint. Virginia coach Tony Bennett will be forced to play 6-10 senior center Jack Salt, who encountered foul trouble against Auburn on Saturday.
On the outside, we all know how much of a threat sophomore guard Jarrett Culver
will pose, but senior guard Matt Mooney’s range from deep (22 points, 4-8 from 3 against Michigan State) will prevent Virginia from doubling Culver at times.
However, if Virginia’s offense goes on a run with semifinal hero Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, or De’Andre Hunter, Mooney and the Red Raiders are far from ill-prepared to deal with it.
After the Spartans launched an 8-0 run in the second half, Mooney said, Tech had “been there a couple times this year. Teams have come back and made runs. Playing in the Big 12 is great experience for moments like that. You can’t quite replicate the Final Four atmosphere and stuff like that, but we played a tough schedule in one of the best leagues in the country that got us ready for that moment.”
Culver, who ran into some foul trouble against Michigan State, is poised for a 20-point outing. As both teams fail to eclipse the 60 point mark, Culver’s offensive capabilities will prove to be more valuable than ever for coach Chris Beard and Texas Tech. Virginia will hang in there until the very end, but I see the Red Raiders claiming the throne at the end of this battle.
Texas Tech 56 Virginia 51