So much for preconceived narratives.
If all you heard leading up to Monday’s NCAA title game between Virginia and Texas Tech is that it was bound to be a low-scoring and ultimately boring affair … well as they say, that’s why they play the games.
But Virginia’s thrilling 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech did underscore a few trends that might have gone unnoticed in the context of what we thought we knew. Namely: Virginia has been a very good offensive team all season.
The Cavaliers entered the game No. 3 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, a fact that often gets overlooked because of their top-five defense and their propensity to play slow. You probably heard about them being last in the nation in adjusted tempo — per KenPom.com — far more than you heard about their ability to get and convert quality shots.
Perhaps the lesson here is that patience shouldn’t be mistaken for clunkiness. The Cavaliers were relentlessly smooth on the attack, finding cracks against a Texas Tech defense known for its No. 1 rating in adjusted efficiency and its ability to switch defenders seamlessly in order to throw brick wall after brick wall up on opponents.
Virginia predicated much of its offensive efficiency during the season on excellent shot-making. The Cavaliers ranked No. 9 in the nation in three-point accuracy (39.3 percent) entering Monday’s title game, and they took it up a notch by connecting on 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) against the Red Raiders — who allowed opponents to shoot just 29.3 percent from deep this season, ninth-best in the country.
No shots were bigger than a pair from sophomore De’Andre Hunter. Both came from the right corner; the first tied the game 68-68 with 12 seconds left in regulation, while the second gave the Cavaliers a 75-73 lead with 2:10 left in overtime. They did not trail again.
Early on, it looked like the game might play out exactly as expected. Virginia flustered Texas Tech into long, fruitless offensive possessions. The Red Raiders only made one field goal in the first 10 minutes as the Cavaliers built a 17-7 lead.
“I think at all levels not many teams advance without being strong defensively, even in the NBA,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Sunday.
“That’s what I knew, and I’ve seen it work and be successful, and then you always continue to adjust your offense, but that probably sealed it for me as I watched the success come.”
Texas Tech had held four of its first five NCAA tournament opponents to 58 points or fewer, and the fifth — Gonzaga — was held to 69 after coming in with the nation’s best offense.
But the biggest difference between the two teams Monday proved to be the quality of its long-range shooters. Texas Tech makes 36.6 percent of its three-pointers — not bad, but just No. 66 nationally. On Monday, the Red Raiders shot themselves back into the game with a barrage of threes in the first half, but they might have been a bit of fool’s gold. They finished just 10-for-30 (33.3 percent).
Virginia took fewer threes and made more. That’s the model of efficiency. It told much of the offensive story of the Cavaliers’ season.
And on Monday, it carried them to their first-ever championship — a game that will be remembered for being the very opposite of boring.