The regular season, conference tournaments, selection Sunday, round of 64, the Final Four — all come and gone. Now, just two teams are left standing. Tony Bennett’s No. 1 seed University of Virginia Cavaliers will face off against Chris Beard’s No. 3 seed Texas Tech Red Raiders on Monday night, with a National Championship at stake. It is the first time in the big game for both college programs.
For fans that love lots of offense, this is not the ideal matchup. Both the Cavaliers and Red Raiders ranked as two of the top three teams in opponent points per game during the regular season. Additionally, both have gone up against elite offenses in the tournament — Texas Tech played against Gonzaga and Michigan State, and Virginia faced Auburn and Purdue — and came out on top.
Although it is clearly a defensive matchup, each team get stops in different ways. Virginia wants to slow its opponents down, control the pace and create pressure without overextending itself. Texas Tech thrives by being all over the place, with hands in passing lanes, trying to get deflections and turnovers by switching every screen. It is an extremely athletic and active team. Despite the slight difference in style, both of these teams are more than comfortable playing games in the high 50s to low 60s range, so don’t expect huge outbursts of scoring from either.
Since both of these teams play team defense at such an elite level, it is important to highlight the key players that could give their respective team the edge.
Jarrett Culver, F, Texas Tech — is Texas Tech’s preferred No. 1 scoring option this season and has been the key to the team’s offense all year. To start the tournament, he came out red-hot against Northern Kentucky in the first round with 29 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists on 59% shooting. Since then, though, he has been very inconsistent, culminating in a performance Saturday night against Michigan State when he struggled to score until the last few minutes of the game, finishing with only 10 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists on 25% shooting. Culver’s offensive performance Monday night is going to be a huge factor in determining who cuts down the nets as National Champions. If he plays well, Texas Tech will certainly like their chances.
Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter, starting guards for the Virginia Cavaliers — naming three players here is sort of a cop out, but all three deserve recognition for carrying a huge load for Virginia’s offense this season. These three guards combined to score more than 60% of Virginia’s total points per game this season, averaging a combined 43.6 points per game. They are the only three players on the Cavaliers roster that can consistently get shots for themselves out of the natural rhythm of Bennett’s offense, which will make them absolutely vital figures on Monday night against a Texas Tech defense that will attempt to throw them off their offensive rhythm. When the game slows down, Virginia will look to one of these three guys for a bucket. It is vital for Virginia that they can deliver.
Honorable mention: Mamadi Diakite, F, Virginia, and Matt Mooney, G, Texas Tech — both of these players deserve at least a mention. Diakite is a major force for Virginia on defense. Mooney, after a lackluster senior season, proved on Saturday night versus Michigan State that he can still light it up and be a huge factor on offense for the Red Raiders.
Both of these teams are very well-deserving of the national title. Personally, I like Virginia in a close, low scoring matchup. I also think that in a defensive showdown, they’ll have slightly more offensive firepower.
Score Prediction: Virginia over Texas Tech, 63 to 58.
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