The Virginia Cavaliers don’t deserve to be in the national title game. The quicker they recognize that fact the better off the Cavaliers will be during Monday night’s national title game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Luckily, there is only a day in between games. Therefore, the Cavaliers have the opportunity to acknowledge, reset and take the court against a comparable opponent.
3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (31-6) vs. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (34-3)
When: Monday April 8 – 9:20 p.m.
Where: Minneapolis, MN – US Bank Stadium
Betting Line: Virginia -1.5 o/u 118
The Red Raiders possess the No. 3 scoring defense in college basketball. They lead the country in defensive rating. In fact, only one team has scored more than 60 points against the Red Raiders during the NCAA Tournament. As a result, the Red Raiders are giving up 55.8 points per game on their run to the title game. That is three points better than their overall number of 58.8 points per game.
Some people lament the way the Red Raiders play. But nobody hates it more than their opponents. The Red Raiders are in your face. They will deflect a number of passes even on simple entry plays. The Red Raiders will also switch up defenses in the middle of a possession. Therefore, opponents have been constantly off balance throughout March Madness.
It’s not a coincidence that all five opponents have consistently had off nights against the Red Raiders. This stat might be the most amazing of the entire tournament. Their five NCAA Tournament opponents combined to average 79.5 points this season. Meaning, the Red Raiders are holding opponents to 25 fewer points per game. That’s incredible.
Yet, the Cavaliers have a better scoring defense than the Red Raiders this season. They come into the game with the best scoring defense at 55.5 points per game. Although the Cavaliers have been slightly worse during the NCAA Tournament, they are still a stout unit. Keep in mind, they held the streaky shooting Auburn Tigers to 62 points in the one point win. Overall, opponents are scoring 58.6 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
Clearly, this game looks like it will come down a defensive battle. However, it will be interesting to see which team deviates from their normal offensive game plan first. Will the Red Raiders try to get into transition and shoot before Virginia’s defense gets set. Can Ty Jerome create early offense?
Prior to the semifinal matchup, we noted that Jarrett Culver doesn’t need to produce a great offensive game for the Red Raiders to defeat the Michigan State Spartans. More importantly, Matt Mooney stepped up to the plate with 22 points. He dominated the early part of the second half, while Culver closed it out down the stretch. Well, roles may be reversed this time.
On the surface, it just seems like a matchup between Culver and DeAndre Hunter is inevitable. Yet, the Cavaliers start a small three guard lineup with Kihei Clark at the point. He won’t have a likesized point guard matchup this time around. Keep in mind, Mooney is 6’3” tall. Davide Moretti is 6’2” and is adept at playing off the ball. Moreover, reserve players Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards are both big guards on the perimeter. They combined for 15 bench points in the Final Four win. As a result,Clark will be the smallest player on the court.
Therefore, a Culver vs. Hunter matchup may result in the Cavaliers going big in the paint. Could we see Mamadi Diakite and Jack Salt in the lineup together? That becomes a likely scenario if Tariq Owens is healthy. The Red Raiders’ center injured an ankle in the second half of Saturday’s win. He returned for one minute before heading to the bench for good. However, if Owens is unable to play, both teams will go small for a majority of the game.
Pick: Kyle Guy has had some big moments to help lead the Cavaliers to the title game. He came up big against the Purdue Boilermakers in the second half. He hit three free throws to finish off the Tigers in the Final Four. Now, Guy has a chance to shoot the lights out against an incredible perimeter defense on Monday night. It won’t be enough.
Texas Tech 60 – Virginia 55