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Some Passing Thoughts On A National Title Game Few Expected, or Wanted

April 8, 2019

Taking a glance at some of the statistics of the participants in tonight’s NCAA Men’s Division I College Basketball Championship™ game, one wouldn’t be faulted for thinking the first team between Virginia (34-3) and Texas Tech (31-6) to 40 points will cut down the nets.

First, both teams play at what can generously be called a “glacial” tempo; Virginia is the slowest team in Division I, #353 in KenPom AdjT (possessions per 40 minutes, adjusted for opponent) at 59.3, while Texas Tech is only slightly more uptempo, #237 at 66.5. Both teams rank Top 3 in the country in Points Allowed per game (#1 Virginia 55.5 PA/G, #3 Texas Tech 58.8 PA/G) and Top 5 in KenPom’s AdjD Efficiency (#1 Texas Tech 83.3, #5 Virginia 88.7).  Both Virginia and Texas Tech take care of the ball and can defend without fouling, averaging 10 or less turnovers (Virginia is #1 in committing the least turnovers per game) and 16 or less fouls per game against the heightened level of competition that the NCAA Tournament provides.

This game has all the makings of a real grinder, a dogfight that some observers believe will not be the best showcase of college basketball. Real anathema to the “pace and space” game favored by the professional game, a potential gloomy foreshadowing of where the college game might be heading with high school talents heading straight to the pros in the near future.

I still hold out hope tonight’s NCAA Final will be more entertaining, and possibly even more positive offensively, than others think. Both teams have future NBA Draft Lottery picks in DeAndre Hunter (Virginia) and Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech), capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor. Both teams shoot well form the field overall, with both in the Top 50 in FG% (Virginia 47.4%, Texas Tech 47.0%), as well as above average percentages from the free throw line (Virginia 73.9%, Texas Tech 72.9%).

As such, I believe this game will likely be decided by which team shoots better from three, and who can generate opportunities on the offensive glass. Blueprints for victory can be found in the few losses each team suffered earlier in the season to teams similar in nature to tonight’s opponent. One of Virginia’s three losses this year was to Florida State in the ACC Tournament, a physical team with length much like Texas Tech (albeit with even more height inside than Texas Tech) that dominated Virginia on the boards (33-18, including a 24-12 edge on the defensive glass) and neutered their perimeter shooting, holding the Cavaliers to 20.4 3P% (5/24). Texas Tech had a similar experience in a loss at Kansas State, getting outrebounded 31-24 (25-17 on the defensive glass) and held to 21.7 3P% (5/23) by a scrappy, quick Kansas State team that ended their season ranked #3 in AdjD (88.4). Both teams only had seven (7) offensive rebounds in those losses. Despite shooting well below their 3P% season average in the NCAA Tournament – 31.0 3P% compared to their season-long 39.3 3P% rate, good for #8 in the country – Virginia has four rotation players shooting above 40% from three, whereas Texas Tech has three, so the potential for a hot shooting night is there.

Whoever wins tonight, the program will be a first-time NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion, and the coach (Virginia’s Tony Bennett or Texas Tech’s Chris Beard) will become the 50th coach to win a NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. I think Virginia wins this game by three, maybe even on a late three-pointer by Saturday Night hero Kyle Guy, in a game where both teams exceed 65 points, but don’t hold me to that.

From → Basketball, Sports

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