The 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship is a fitting ending to a college tournament because it features two college basketball teams. Many media outlets try to find a unique angle from which to cover an event that happens every year, but THIS YEAR is actually unique. If the previous sentences sound redundant and inane, please bear with us and read on.
In years past, specifically the last 10, the championship game, and often the final four, have featured the “blue-bloods” of college basketball. Teams like North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Villanova, Duke, Louisville, Gonzaga and Butler. These schools have
Texas Tech vs. Virginia sounds more like a college football bowl game than the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship. Even our wild prediction of Cincinnati making it to the final four would have been more normal than what we now have. These two schools don’t have basketball programs near what the list above have and they haven’t had the recent success of the previous 10 champions or runners-up (albeit Virginia did appear in the final four 2 previous times but those were during the Reagan administration). What they do have though, is student-athletes.
But wait, doesn’t every year the championship game feature two college teams comprised of student-athletes? Well, by definition, yes, but upon closer examination, the final four and the subsequent championship games have included teams/programs that are run more like NBA teams/programs. These players usually operate with at least an ultimate goal of making it to the NBA and their decision to attend their school of choice is usually fueled by the program’s proclivity to produce and develop NBA talent. This connection to the NBA is part of the reason behind the sustained success of these programs and coaches who have adapted to an era of “one and done” recruits. In a sense, these players are not student-athletes because these players could have gone directly from high school to the NBA and view their time in college mainly as a gateway to the pros.
What is refreshing is that this year doesn’t have the “star power” or “blue-bloods” of the past and that is a good thing. Yes, normally to an audience with no rooting interests it would be a bad thing to not have the “stars” or the “best” players in the championship game, but this is college basketball. C-O-L-L-E-G-E basketball. The NBA exists for the elite individuals and that is good and well, but college is about finding oneself in a sea of others.
College is about finding out how you will fit into society and with whom you fit well. In short, it is about finding out what you and your “teammates” are made of and if you can weather the adversity and persevere beyond and above it. College basketball is about teams, not collections of individuals. It is about the sum being greater than its parts.
Texas Tech and Virginia have more in common than one might think and the term “Cinderella” shouldn’t apply to either. “Cinderella” teams shouldn’t make it very far given their talent or play-style. Usually these teams have one or two good players or play really well as a team. Often the “Cinderellas” get steam rolled when they play a team that is comprised of future NBA stars that play well enough defense to get by. Virginia and Texas Tech currently don’t have any players on their roster that have NBA teams drooling but what they both have is a supreme emphasis on team defense and attention to detail.
These traits are often the things that leave teams like Duke and North Carolina lacking. Duke’s Zion Williamson was forced to will his team to victory against teams that were committed to overcoming Duke’s “Lottery Lineup” (a lineup that features potentially 3 top 5 picks). Zion had been able to successfully carry Duke further than their style would have warranted devoid their exceptional talent. Duke ran into a team that was forced to win with defense. This defense will be on display tonight.
Texas Tech’s commitment to defense resulted in them outlasting the Duke-defeating Michigan State Spartans and Virginia’s tough-nosed defense was able to slow down an exceptionally fast Auburn team. Two teams focused on team defense and comprised of student-athletes attempting to out-work and out-hustle each other should be more commonplace the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship