Vir­ginia, Texas Tech clash set to be bat­tle of de­fenses

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY DAVE CAMP­BELL

MIN­NEAPO­LIS

Slap the floor, bend those knees and get both hands up.

This na­tional cham­pi­onship game is go­ing to be a clinic on de­fense.

Vir­ginia and Texas Tech are the last two teams alive in the NCAA Tour­na­ment, and they’re here be­cause they barely let their op­po­nents breathe with the ball.

Two of the three best de­fenses in the na­tion will meet for the ti­tle on Mon­day night, the first ap­pear­ance in the fi­nal for each pro­gram. So af­ter sur­viv­ing a low-scor­ing semi­fi­nal on Satur­day, here come the Cava­liers and the Red Raiders for an­other clash of the paint pack­ers and ball hawk­ers.

Vir­ginia stunned Auburn 63-62, when Kyle Guy sank three free throws with 0.6 sec­onds left af­ter a late foul call. Then Texas Tech grinded past Michi­gan State 61-51, buoyed by 22 points from Matt Mooney and bol­stered by coach Chris Beard’s smoth­er­ing de­fen­sive ap­proach.

“I have a lot of re­spect for Vir­ginia,” Beard said. “I watch them on TV all the time, and we study the things they do de­fen­sively.”

The Red Raiders are now Ph.D. level de­fend­ers, too.

No mat­ter the num­ber of shots made, the tro­phy will be lifted and the confetti will be dropped ei­ther way at U.S. Bank Sta­dium, where 72,711 fans packed the 3-year-old foot­ball fa­cil­ity for the semi­fi­nal games. The last time the na­tional ti­tle was awarded in Min­neapo­lis was in 2001, when Duke beat Ari­zona at the Metrodome.

“Hope­fully we won’t have to have a close game like that on Mon­day, but if we do, we have ex­pe­ri­enced it and I feel like we’re go­ing to be ready,” Vir­ginia’s De'An­dre Hunter said.

The last big-time sport­ing event held in this build­ing was the Su­per Bowl just 14 months ago when the Philadel­phia Ea­gles beat the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots 41-33 in the sec­ond­high­est-scor­ing NFL ti­tle game in league his­tory.

The chance of Vir­ginia and Texas Tech es­tab­lish­ing a sim­i­lar feat will be slim at best, con­sid­er­ing the record for com­bined points in an NCAA cham­pi­onship game is 182, when Ken­tucky beat Duke 94-88 in 1978. The Cava­liers (55.4) and Red Raiders (59.0) en­tered the Fi­nal Four ranked first and third, re­spec­tively, in the coun­try in av­er­age points al­lowed per game.

To no sur­prise, gam­blers

seized on the un­der.

The pro­jected scor­ing to­tal for this NCAA fi­nal opened at 121 and bet­tors quickly drove it down to 117

1⁄ within an hour. Vir­ginia opened 2 as a 2-point fa­vorite, and early ac­tion tight­ened the spread to 1 over Texas Tech.

“We just want to con­tinue to be the un­der­dog,” Red Raiders backup guard Bran­done Fran­cis said.

Vir­ginia has been a fix­ture in the top 10 of bas­ket­ball data ex­pert Ken Pomeroy’s de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency rank­ings since the team’s break­out 2014 sea­son un­der coach Tony Ben­nett. The Cava­liers en­tered the week­end fifth na­tion­ally with 88.7 points per 100 pos­ses­sions, a met­ric fac­tor­ing out their slower of­fen­sive pace and of­fer­ing a sharper mea­sure of per­for­mance than scor­ing av­er­ages de­pressed by low-pos­ses­sion games.

Texas Tech has made a rapid rise in three sea­sons un­der Beard, en­ter­ing the Fi­nal Four with the best de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency rat­ing (84.0) ever recorded in the KenPom rat­ings that date back to the 2002 sea­son.

Vir­ginia, the No. 1 seed from the South Re­gion, gives the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the cham­pi­onship game for the fourth time in five years.

Even with this six-year run as one of the best teams in the coun­try, the Cava­liers don’t have that DukeNorth Carolina ca­chet. They’re best re­mem­bered for los­ing to UMBC last sea­son, the only No. 1 seed to ever be beaten by a No. 16 seed. They’re also the pro­gram guilty of one of the big­gest reg­u­lar sea­son up­sets in his­tory, when the Cavs lost to tiny Cham­i­nade in 1982 as the No. 1 team in the As­so­ci­ated Press poll with all-time great Ralph Samp­son in the paint.

Ben­nett beamed next to guards Guy and Ty Jerome at the podium af­ter­ward, re­call­ing the pain of one year ago.

“Now to sit with them here brings great joy to my heart, it re­ally does, be­cause it’s good. That’s all I can say, and I’m so thank­ful,” Ben­nett said.

Texas Tech, the No. 3 seed in the West Re­gion, has even less of a hoops his­tory.

“Why not us? We’ve got good play­ers. We’ve got a great univer­sity. We play in ar­guably the best league in the coun­try,” Beard said, mak­ing the ar­gu­ment that, of course, coaches from three or four other con­fer­ences would. “We won the Big 12 reg­u­lar sea­son ti­tle. We’re a good team.”

MATT YORK AP

Vir­ginia’s Ty Jerome (11) blocks a shot by Auburn’s J’Von McCormick on Satur­day in the Fi­nal Four NCAA col­lege bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment in Min­neapo­lis. Vir­ginia is the South Re­gion’s No. 1 seed.

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