The Virginia Cavaliers and Texas Tech Red Raiders will compete for the national championship on Monday night in Minneapolis. Our panel made predictions for the final game of the 2018-19 college basketball season and addressed other issues surrounding the matchup.
Myron Medcalf, senior college basketball writer: I don’t think this tournament needs redemption. We just witnessed a great Elite Eight, and the controversial conclusion of Saturday’s Virginia-Auburn outcome was fueled by the emotions more than the facts. But it would be nice if Texas Tech and Virginia somehow shocked us all by manufacturing an entertaining finale. I think many are anticipating an ugly game. Both teams have played some thrilling games this season. If we get the measured matchup we expect to see, I think the lasting memory from this tournament, for many, will be Saturday’s controversy. And this season’s NCAA tournament deserves better.
Jeff Borzello, college basketball insider: I’m not sure it needs to be redeemed, and I think a lot of people have forgotten the fairly lackluster first weekend of the tournament. And if they haven’t forgotten it, oh well. The regional final round was perhaps the best in the history of the NCAA tournament, and we’ve gotten some all-time great games (Virginia vs. Purdue chief among them). As for Saturday night, it was a clear foul by Samir Doughty on Kyle Guy. End of discussion. Fouled him on the way up, and didn’t let him land. The missed-double-dribble debate is a different story, but then we have to get into a debate about the missed foul when Bryce Brown grabbed Ty Jerome a split second before the double dribble. Missed calls happen. It is what it is.
John Gasaway, college basketball writer: No redemption needed, but speaking less abstractly, a great title game will drown out such talk, whether that’s fair or not. The incorrect non-call on Jerome’s double dribble followed by the correct (if brave) foul called on Doughty with 0.6 seconds remaining were yet two more examples of the deal we make when we care about this “sports” thing. Calls are wrong all the time, and even technically correct calls can be questioned. We knew the “calls are wrong” part after last season’s NFC Championship Game. I feel for Charles Barkley and every other Auburn fan, and welcome to that club, Tigers. A faint but tenacious and inescapable residue of injustice is, alas, a feature and not a bug.
Jordan Schultz, insider/analyst: The tournament was redeemed with an exceptional Elite Eight that featured blue-blood programs, clutch shot-making and high-level NBA talent. As disappointing as the opening weekend was from an upset standpoint, all we need now is a clean game without referee drama. In Texas Tech and Virginia, Monday’s national title tilt has two teams that mirror one another. Both rank in the top five nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and both are comfortable playing half-court slugfests. That does not necessarily translate to a boring game, however. Defense and rebounding will come into play, and offense will be at a premium, which puts additional pressure on the future pros, especially Tech’s Jarrett Culver, who has struggled to find his shooting stroke of late. But Culver thrives on pressure — he single-handedly closed out the Spartans with a personal 6-0 run — and we hope it will bring out the best of him once again.
Courtney Cronin, college basketball/NFL reporter: Nah. Isn’t that the beauty of the news cycle in sports? Whenever there’s one big moment, whether rooted in glory or controversy, another is bound to pop up not long after and allow us to move on in the process. Monday’s national title game is going to be an affair that comes down to the wire, so it’s not far-fetched to believe we’ll get another thrilling finish as a champion is crowned. Will it make everyone forget about the non-call on Jerome’s double dribble? Will that erase the fact that Auburn had Virginia beat and then lost it all within a matter of a moment? No, but this is what we signed up for as sports fans.
Maybe I’m in the minority here, but what happened in the final moments of the Auburn-Virginia game does not feel as egregious as what transpired on the blatantly missed pass interference call in the NFC Championship Game. Not taking away from the heartbreak of the Tigers’ fan base, but even Bruce Pearl pointed to the fact that Auburn had other chances to close out Virginia long before Doughty jumped into Guy while he was shooting a last-second 3-pointer. We’ve been treated to a lot of excellent games in the tournament, with the best Sweet 16/Elite Eight weekend in years. Virginia-Texas Tech might not be the sexiest brand of basketball, but the storylines surrounding each team and the circumstances of how the Cavaliers and Red Raiders got to be the last two teams playing Monday night are intriguing and worthy of the game’s biggest stage.
Texas Tech won in spite of Jarrett Culver’s ineffectiveness for the first 38 minutes on Saturday. Virginia’s Kyle Guy hit three huge, game-winning free throws but has had an up-and-down tournament. Which team can least afford a bad game from its top scorer?
Medcalf: I think it’s Texas Tech. In Texas Tech’s six losses this season, Culver has 30 turnovers. How did West Virginia (West Virginia!) beat Texas Tech in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament? Well, Culver’s 0-for-6 mark from the 3-point line and four turnovers in that game didn’t help. Virginia has weathered stretches this season when Jerome, Guy or De’Andre Hunter have struggled. The Cavaliers have more offensive options. I just don’t see Texas Tech winning if Culver can’t put together a solid 40-minute effort Monday night.
Borzello: It’s probably Texas Tech, and that’s why I believe the Culver vs. Hunter matchup is the most intriguing. Both players are lottery picks, if not top-five selections. But both players, particularly Hunter, have been somewhat streaky offensively in the NCAA tournament. Culver was invisible for about 38 minutes on Saturday night before hitting a couple of big shots late — including the dagger 3 with just under a minute left. He has struggled shooting the ball for much of the tournament, going 5-for-19 against Gonzaga, 9-for-19 against Michigan and 6-for-17 against Buffalo. Hunter had 23 points in the first game of the NCAA tournament against Gardner-Webb, but he has averaged just 11.3 points in the four games since. He has had stretches of showing aggressiveness over the past couple of contests, but Virginia needs that more often. That said, I’m not sure Tech can win without a big game from Culver.
Gasaway: May I choose “none of the above”? Honestly, these are two of the least “leading scorer-reliant” teams we’ve seen come down the pike in a while. Texas Tech’s defense could in theory put the team in position to win games in which the Red Raiders score 45 points (just an illustration, not a request). And anyway, who knew Matt Mooney would blow up to “Jarrett who?” levels like this? As for the Cavaliers, they too have a pretty stout D, and you can make a case that the more versatile Ty Jerome is the perhaps most indispensable Hoo on offense.
Schultz: Culver must be locked in for the Red Raiders, who rank just 78th nationally in offensive efficiency — as compared to Virginia, slotted at seventh. The problem for Chris Beard & Co. is that the future lottery pick has not quite been himself in March. Gonzaga coerced Culver into a 5-for-19 performance; and despite his late-game heroics against Sparty, Culver finished with just 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting. While senior grad transfer Matt Mooney was brilliant with 22 big points versus Michigan State, we cannot expect a repeat performance against Virginia’s pack-line defense. The Hoos rank first in allowing just 55.5 points per game and third in allowing 28.7 percent from distance.
Cronin: Honestly, I think Virginia will be far worse off if Jerome is having a bad night. Jerome carried the Cavaliers against Auburn (21 points, nine rebounds, six assists) and made momentum-changing plays against Purdue in the Elite Eight to get Virginia to the Final Four. The consistency he has provided in running this team while Guy has struggled at points this tournament is a reason why the Cavaliers have gotten this far. And things tend to unravel when Jerome is not on the floor, like how when Auburn came back from a late-game deficit after Jerome went to the bench with four fouls. While Virginia has been able to get by without Guy in his best form at all times, it won’t be able to surpass the Red Raiders’ smothering defense without its other star.
Tony Bennett and Chris Beard have both heard their names speculated in connection with other coaching positions, in particular the UCLA job. Which of these coaches will still be at their current school in five years — one, both or neither?
Medcalf: I’ll say neither. They’ll just have too many options. Within the next five years, Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse could all open up. Kansas could too. The domino effect that’s coming will create opportunities too lucrative and intriguing for two of the top coaches in America to ignore. Now, I think we’ll see both of these guys on the sidelines at their current schools next season. Five years from now, however, feels like the distant future in their profession. Whether it’s a college gig or something in the NBA, which is always searching for fresh faces and approaches, Beard and Bennett will have new zip codes in five years.
Borzello: Good question. I’ll say neither. I think Bennett — and the feeling would be stronger if he can bring a national title to Charlottesville — will either be in the NBA or at one of the true blue bloods in college basketball, more so the former. If North Carolina or Duke opened in the next couple of years, would Bennett be on the list? Outside of that, though, I think the NBA is a legitimate possibility. When talking to industry sources about college coaches making the jump, Bennett’s name is generally the first one that comes up. As for Beard, I see him at Kansas or Texas or Arizona or somewhere like that, and that could be as soon as in the next 12 months. Beard is a perfect fit for Texas Tech, but at some point, one of the big boys with deeper pockets is going to come calling, and I think he would make the jump.
Gasaway: Bennett will either still be in Charlottesville or he’ll have grown bored with going 65-6 or so over two-season periods at the college level and will have taken a shot at the NBA. Call that 50-50. Beard, on the other hand, will be long gone. What’s the precedent for a 3-point-era coach emerging at a slightly off-map basketball program, taking it to Monday night in April and then actually staying? Jim Calhoun at UConn once upon a time, I suppose. Yes, Mark Few at Gonzaga. That’s it. Those guys are the exceptions that prove the rule. Win or lose Monday, Beard can write his own ticket as the hottest coaching target in the sport since Brad Stevens eight or nine years ago. He’ll be gone.
Schultz: Both. Beard has found a true home in Lubbock; he can recruit Texas hard while still “staying small” and continuing to build a national power. Bennett, meanwhile, is as classy as he is loyal. He has morphed into a demigod now that he finally has Virginia within striking distance of its first national championship. Could one or both coaches leave? Certainly. They are young and highly touted, but I’m banking on both schools paying them handsomely to stay put, even when the more traditional powers come calling. If anything, you almost have to wonder whether Bennett would ever try his hand at the NBA game.
Cronin: Neither. Texas Tech reportedly anticipates no financial restrictions in being able to retain Beard beyond this season. The success he has cultivated in Lubbock in a short period of time backed by the culture he has built in a basketball program rooted in Bob Knight principles is something the Red Raiders will continue to benefit from for the next few years — until a program such as Kansas comes calling. While Beard’s jump to a bigger program feels inevitable, I don’t think it has to come in the next few years while Texas Tech’s crescendo as a Big 12 power continues. But by 2022, I would expect the AP coach of the year to be at a much bigger program. As for Bennett, my money is on him continuing the great thing he has going in Charlottesville before the NBA comes calling.
Who is going to be the final image of the “One Shining Moment” montage on Monday night?
Medcalf: It’s going to be Bennett. And I don’t even think it’s a conversation if Virginia wins. He has endured the most embarrassing loss in the history of the NCAA tournament, and now he is on the mountaintop. On Monday night in Prince’s hometown, I think his squad will write the final scene of a story that Disney will one day showcase on the big screen. Dick Bennett, his father, will be there. I imagine they will embrace as the confetti is falling at U.S. Bank Stadium. I believe ultimate redemption is coming for Tony Bennett.
Borzello: Zion Williamson. Just kidding. I think. It’s going to be Culver — and I think it’s going to look awfully similar to his pose after making the 3-pointer with 58 seconds left to bury Michigan State. When Tech needs a basket, it goes to Culver. Not off screens or pindowns, either. The Red Raiders give him the ball and say go get a bucket. So, if Monday’s game comes down to the wire, which it will, I see Culver getting the ball and hitting either the game winner or a shot to seal the victory. Beard hugging his daughters after winning the national championship would be a close second choice.
Gasaway: I’ll stick with both my preseason and my post-Selection Sunday picks and say the final image will be a beaming Bennett as time expires, the UMBC ghosts having been banished at last and forever. Now, do I feel serenely confident in that pick knowing Texas Tech was the laptop underdog in each of the past three games yet was never seriously challenged in the last two minutes of any of those contests? Not in the slightest. However, I guess the one thing we’re yet to see from five Red Raiders opponents in this tournament (something West Virginia supplied when it beat Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament) is 3-point shooting that clocks in at better than 33 percent. Virginia can deliver that.
Schultz: Kyle Guy. After calmly knocking down the three biggest free throws of his life, Guy will put together another clutch performance against Texas Tech’s top-ranked defense. Guy is a great shooter (39.2 percent on 3s) who has the creativity and charisma to handle the big stage. Expect Jerome to find him out of pick-and-rolls for some clean looks, but also expect Guy to create his own offense, an area in which he does not get enough credit. Guy is capable off the bounce — especially as a pull-up jump shooter — and a high-level athlete who finishes through contact. Who knows: Maybe he will finally remove that indelible Twitter avatar image of the UMBC loss from 2018.
Cronin: My guess is we’ll see a smiling Guy in similar fashion to the hero’s walk-off he had against Auburn. Guy’s up-and-down tournament and shooting struggles might have caused him to fade into the background at moments over the past few weeks, but when Virginia’s season came down to the junior needing to hit three free throws, no one on that team doubted the ability of the person taking those shots. The type of pressure he faced at the free throw line on Saturday is something so few will ever be able to understand, and whatever demons he needed to exorcise during this tournament never caused his confidence to take a hit. For a team that has been among the top stories of the tournament in its thunderous charge back after being on the wrong side of history last March, I bet we see Guy with another ice-in-his-veins moment against Texas Tech that is celebrated as confetti pours from the ceiling and the nets are cut down in Minneapolis.
Score predictions for Virginia/Texas Tech, 9:20 p.m. ET, CBS (Virginia -1, Over/Under 117.5)
Medcalf: Virginia 61, Texas Tech 60
Borzello: Texas Tech 54, Virginia 51
Gasaway: Virginia 64, Texas Tech 62
Schultz: Virginia 70, Texas Tech 63
Cronin: Virginia 60, Texas Tech 58