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Monday’s 2019 NCAA Championship Game Will Be Low Scoring But Unbelievably Intense

Don’t focus on the score, focus on the effort.

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NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Semifinals-Virginia vs Auburn
Apr 6, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Virginia Cavaliers guard De’Andre Hunter (12) and guard Braxton Key (2) celebrates after beating the Auburn Tigers in the semifinals of the 2019 men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium. 
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Monday is already upon us and can we just start with two things?

First: go Virginia! We’d sincerely like for you guys to win. First, we think you’re worthy. There are no academic shortcuts, no controversies, and as far as we can tell, everything is honorable. There’s no Tom Sheehy (Meaghar spit in his face!) or Dave Leitao.

We thought that Kyle Guy might end up being an arrogant punk but he has bought in and is a joy to watch (although not necessarily to play against).

If it can’t be us, we’d like it to be you. So for Monday, we’re all in.

Second: ACC! ACC! ACC!

That’s for all those people who thought Duke and UNC fans would never go there. UNC is all about UNC. Duke is a bit more broadminded.

With that out of the way, we’re sorry to say that we don’t think Virginia is going to win.

For the last several years we’ve thought that Virginia has the best defense in the land. We can’t say that anymore.

Texas Tech’s defense is stunning.

We were impressed with it in New York when Duke played the Red Raiders and if you remember, it took a while for the Blue Devils to pull away.

We’d have to ask someone who is more knowledgeable but the defense Tech runs may be the best we’ve seen since UNLV’s Amoeba.

We’re not discounting Virginia’s defense either and it’s much, much more aggressive in person than it appears on TV. There’s a reason why Virginia so often pulls away at the end. It’s because the other team is just worn out.

Quite often the Pack Line just breaks you. We’ve talked before about the kid from Harvard who was nearly reduced to tears when his team visited Virginia. They can do that to you.

But it’s different.

Virginia’s defense is like running into a blob, like trying to push a sumo wrestler. You’ll get some baskets but it slows and then ultimately breaks you.

At least it does when it works.

And it doesn't always work.

We saw that last spring obviously when UMBC completely broke it. Syracuse broke it badly the last time the Orange went to the Final Four. Virginia Tech took it apart last season.

For the most part though it’s really hard to do.

Even so, it’s not like Texas Tech’s D. We’re not sure anything is.

There are plenty of aggressive defenses around. Press Virginia is usually quite aggressive. Florida State loves to get in the passing lanes and can break a team when it does. Michigan and Michigan State both are outstanding defensive teams.

But Texas Tech is just different.

Coach K used to talk about defense as an out of control car that you didn’t know where it was going to hit.

Texas Tech is like that except the Mad Max version. They’re really, really good.

Funny thing: we thought Chris Beard must be a defensive savant. Not exactly. It’s his assistant, Mark Adams who designed and oversees it.

So a lot of people are going to think this is going to be a boring game.

As if.

It’s going to be amazing. Comparing a game to war is really stupid because, well, most of the time you survive the game and with all your limbs intact. It’s a stupid comparison.

What you can talk about is the intensity of this matchup. It’s going to be incredible.

If you want to find something to compare it to, consider boxing. Specifically consider the riveting Frazier-Ali bouts.

Muhammad Ali was the better fighter and certainly the more skilled. But Smokin’ Joe Frazier...he just kept coming. He was relentless and he forced Ali to the absolute limits of his greatness.

That’s what we expect to see Monday night. Both teams are brilliant defensively. Both are supremely well coached. We think Tech is better defensively but not by much.

Consider this though: Virginia was really lucky to escape Purdue and only a bit of passing genius and composure by Kihei Clark allowed them to prevail.

Then they got even luckier to beat Auburn. In order for that to happen, the officials had to be oblivious to a double dribble and then have the courage to call a foul on a last-second three pointer. And even then Kyle Guy had to hit them.

It hasn’t been like that for the Red Raiders. Since losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament, they’ve won these games. Overall shooting percentages, three point percentage and turnovers listed:

  • 72-57 over Northern Kentucky (37.1 percent/22.7 percent/17 turnovers)
  • 78-58 over Buffalo (36.5 percent/33.3 percent/16 turnovers)
  • 63-44 over Michigan (32.7 percent/5.3 percent/14 turnovers)
  • 75-69 over Gonzaga (42.4 percent/26.9 percent/16 turnovers)
  • 61-51 over Michigan State (31.9 percent/29.2 percent/11 turnovers)

That’s pretty incredible.

By contrast, Virginia had a rough first half with Gardner-Webb, beat Oklahoma by 12, struggled with Oregon and had miraculous wins over Purdue and Auburn.

ACC fans know better than to underestimate Virginia. It’s become a legitimately great program and win or lose, playing for the national championship means you’ve arrived.

Watching these teams defend is going to be incredible. The irony is that the team that performs best on offense is like to win.

And in the end, the fact that Virginia has some really skilled offensive players may be their best hope.

Here’s a final thought: when you play a team that’s so tough-minded defensively and that held Michigan, coached by a true offensive genius in John Beilein to 1-19 from three point range, wouldn’t it be handy to have a 7-1 guy who can really stroke it?

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