Texas Tech (31-6) and Virginia (34-3) are both vying for the first national championship in men’s basketball for their programs. Neither of the schools has even been to the title game before. The Cavaliers are the more established program with back-to-back ACC regular-season titles, and they are a long way from the historic 1-16 upset in the NCAA tournament’s first round last year. The Red Raiders continue to be the biggest surprise team this season, winning a share of the Big 12 regular-season title despite being picked to finish seventh. These two programs have never played each other. Here’s a look at how this historic first meeting might play out:
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Great defenses collide: A good offense usually beats a good defense, but what happens when great defenses battle? UVa is No. 1 in the nation in points allowed at 55.5 per game, but Tech isn’t far behind in third at 58.8. The lowest-scoring NCAA title game ever was Wisconsin beating Washington State 39-34 in 1941. It won’t be that ugly, but it could resemble the 53-41 UConn-over-Butler stinker in 2011.
Officials’ controversial calls: Virginia got plenty of glory with Kyle Guy’s winning free throws after drawing a foul with 0.6 seconds left in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Auburn. The Cavaliers are also getting an abundance of grief, though. There wasn’t much to that foul on Guy. And many were upset at a no-call on a double-dribble by Virginia’s Ty Jerome just before that.
Tony Bennett vs. Chris Beard: Only three years in age separate Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Tech’s Chris Beard, who are 49 and 46, respectively. But three years can make a lot of difference. In 2016, Beard was finishing his first season at Arkansas Little Rock after coming from Division II Angelo State. At the same time, Bennett was going to the Elite Eight in his 10th season as a Division I head coach.
One to watch
Kihei Clark, Virginia: At 5-foot-9, he is the shortest player in the Final Four, but he made the biggest play to get the Cavaliers to Minneapolis on the pass to Mamadi Diakite for the buzzer-beater in the Elite Eight overtime win vs. Purdue. Clark’s facilitating, defense and basketball instincts are well beyond your typical freshman. The California native has eight assists and zero turnovers in the past two games.
Matt Mooney vs. Ty Jerome
A turning point in Texas Tech’s victory over Michigan State on Saturday was when Mooney scored eight of his team-high 22 points during an 11-2 second-half run to put the Red Raidersup by 13. Mooney only had one 20-point game all season before that. Virginia’s Jerome had a great all-around game Saturday against Auburn with 21 points, nine rebounds, six assists — all team highs.
Virginia will win if ...
The Cavaliers can get double-figure scoring from at least three players, especially Guy and De’Andre Hunter.
Texas Tech will win if ...
The Red Raiders hold Virginia under 60 points (the Cavaliers average 71.1 points per game).
Prediction: Virginia 62, Texas Tech 60