The road ends here! Both Virginia and Texas Tech are in their very first Final appearance of the NCAA Tournament. How are the Virginia fans reacting to the moment? Mostly awe and excitement? Some nerves mixed in?
This team has been such a delight to follow and cheer for this season, and they literally refuse to lose at this point. I’m sure some fans would appreciate some less-dramatic endings, but it all plays into this feeling that the season is just pure magic. I think most are trying to appreciate making it to the biggest stage for the first time in 35 years and just enjoy it. Being at the Final Four is a dream come true, and being able to fight a super talented and tough Texas Tech team for a title is honestly still so unbelievable.
With replicating their regular season success and advancing to the Final, it seems this Virginia team is finally pushing away the dark cloud of that UMBC loss. What makes this team so special? Who are the players Texas Tech fans should know?
This team handled that catastrophic loss better than I could have imagined, and that starts with Tony Bennett. At no point did the guys shy away from the loss, and the team was very communicative internally about how to use it to fuel a run like this...how to grow from it. Kyle Guy opened up about dealing with anxiety after that game, and it was such a delight to see him hit those clutch free throws to send his team to the pinnacle of the sport.
Red Raiders should definitely know about “The Big Three”, aka Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter. That trio carries the team in most games and bring a lot of diversity on offense. Guy can pop off quick shots, Jerome is a sharpshooter with pinpoint accuracy on the pass, and Hunter is the potential lottery pick who can play both inside and out.
When they say defense wins championships, we’re living it. Both Texas Tech and Virginia rank top 5 for the adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom’s rankings. How does the Cavalier’s defense look in comparison/contrast to the Red Raiders? What makes Virginia so good defensively?
I love that this is the game we got to end the season, especially to end the “Tony Bennett’s style won’t work in the tournament” narrative. At first glance, the two defenses are incredibly different while being incredibly effective. TTU forces more turnovers, whereas Virginia doesn’t rely on forcing turnovers and will swarm you and limit good looks. The premise of the Pack Line is to close in on driving lanes and cut off all looks inside at the basket. Virginia has been effective thanks to guys who know the defense and are committed to it. I think y’all know better than literally any other team in the country how important it is to have buy in from the players and guys who are willing to work hard to play good defense. Mamadi Diakite has been a blocking machine as of late, so if anyone gets into the lane, he’s there to make up for mistakes. Braxton Key coming off the bench offers rebounding help and a lengthy body, and freshman Kihei Clark is a pest (in the nicest way).
What about this game brings you the most excitement? What matchups are you looking forward to and what about Texas Tech gives you nerves for the game? Is it possible to be all excitement and all nerves at the same time?
The match up to watch is 100% Jarrett Culver vs. De’Andre Hunter -- and that goes for both sides of the ball. Those two are the two most talented players in the Final Four, and it’s going to be incredible to watch that matchup.
Texas Tech is just a damn good team. They are disciplined, physical, and good at making teams uncomfortable. Virginia has struggled at times this season with long teams, especially when the shots outside aren’t falling. That said, I don’t think the Cavaliers have played even remotely near their best ball in the post season, and they still made the national title game.
At this point, media outlets are pouring all their resources into these two teams - but more often than not they miss a key story we know & love about our teams. What can you tell us about Virginia that the media doesn’t capture?
I wrote about Virginia’s international roster (read that here), something that TTU’s fans could probably relate to a lot as y’all players from the Dominican Republic, Italy, and France. That international flavor has helped the team connect and learn about themselves and other cultures, and this team is probably more connected than any other I’ve seen. They really like each other, and it shows on and off the court.
Finally, what’s your prediction for this game?
I’m going to chicken out and not pick a winner because I’m too nervous, but I think this is going to be a game the casual fan hates and the die-hard college basketball fans love. It’ll end something like 62-57, and I hope it’s Virginia cutting down the nets.