National title game likely to be defensive struggle between Virginia and Texas Tech
MINNEAPOLIS -- The old sports adage of “defense wins championships” will be on full display during Monday night’s national-title game.
Quality offense has actually been a better indicator of NCAA tournament success over the past decade. That won’t be the case when Virginia takes the floor against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium. This unlikely title matchup will be decided by stops and stretches of scoreless play.
The Red Raiders have been the nation’s No. 1 defensive team on KenPom for most of this season behind head coach Chris Beard’s hard-nosed culture and assistant coach Mark Adams’ strategy. Even though the Red Raiders had to replace most of last season’s Elite Eight core, they find themselves 40 minutes away from the national title thanks to their relentless pressure on defense.
“Coach Adams is the secret sauce. He gets on us and tells us what to do, he gets us prepared. He just puts together a good game plan for us,” Texas Tech guard Kyler Edwards said.
Virginia, the nation’s No. 5 defense on KenPom, has suffocated opponents during the Tony Bennett era. The Cavaliers slowly choke opponents like a boa constrictor thanks to their trademark pack-line defense. In a league with offensive juggernauts like Duke and North Carolina, Virginia continues to win ACC regular-season titles thanks in large part to their defense.
“I have a lot of respect for Virginia. I watch them on TV all the time, and we study the things they do defensively. I think their offense is really, really efficient and good too. I’ve always thought they’re related. You know, like you can’t play great defense unless your offense contributes to that,” Beard said of the Cavaliers.
The matchup of top-five defenses is arguably going to be the biggest storyline heading into Monday night.
Beard might call Virginia’s offense great -- and the Cavaliers are certainly better on offense this season than they’ve been given credit for in the past. There’s also a reason Vegas has predicted an initial over/under for Monday’s game at 118.5.
We’re likely going to see a major offensive struggle during the biggest game of the college basketball season.
Most casual fans watch college hoops to see future star NBA talents and, ideally, fun offensive games. Virginia battling Texas Tech is going to be the opposite. Both teams clamp down with the best of them. Playing at a methodical tempo is an ideal scenario. There isn’t much that is sexy about this title game to anybody outside of hardcore college basketball fans and defensive-minded coaches.
A potential head-to-head matchup of Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter is the closest thing fans will see to a future NBA matchup in Monday’s game. And Culver is coming off of a mostly-shaky performance against Michigan State while Hunter has struggled to create his own shot at times during the tournament.
Which is to say that this title game will not be the most aesthetically-pleasing contest. During a season in which Duke and superstar freshman Zion Williamson opened the year with an impressive offensive effort in a blowout win over Kentucky in the Champions Classic, Virginia facing Texas Tech is a fitting way to end a Final Four lacking star NBA talents and offensive firepower. For this season, at least, defense wins championships.