On Monday Night we will crown a new national champion in college basketball. Texas Tech got here after a 61-51 win against Michigan State on Saturday and Virginia got here with some controversy. Kyle Guy was fouled shooting a three in the final second against Auburn down two, in a play that was definitely a foul. But before that play the officials did miss a double dribble by Ty Jerome. Nevertheless, Virginia found a way to win against Auburn after nearly squandering a 10-point lead and now both of these programs will be going for their first championship in program history.
Matchup-wise these two teams are very similar. They both play a slower pace and play amazing defense (1st and 6th nationally in defensive rating). While the defense of both of these teams gets the headlines, both of these teams can play on offense. Virginia has one of the better offensive ratings in all of college basketball and they have three star players who can get hot at anytime from anywhere on the floor, while Texas Tech has its star Jarrett Culver, who is a likely first-round pick in the NBA Draft, and then of course Matt Mooney, who was the offensive star on Saturday with Culver struggling until the last couple of minutes where he made some huge baskets.
Expect this game to be on the lower-scoring end of things, which isn’t surprising because of the way these teams play defense. It’s pretty simple, whoever wins the game is going to be the team where the stars play better. We know that Guy, Jerome and Hunter should score the ball for Virginia and Culver and Mooney should score the ball for Texas Tech.
With that being said, we do have some very interesting matchups and the first one is in the paint. Mamadi Diakite has been very productive for the Cavaliers during the tournament and has been somewhat of an unsung hero, while Tariq Owens for Texas Tech is the most athletic player that either team has, but he suffered a brutal-looking ankle injury on Saturday and while he was able to come back in, he didn’t have nearly the same presence or activity-level as he did before the injury happened. With him not being in the middle of a Final Four game and having the adrenaline pumping, how will he look in this one? How well Owens is able to move will be huge because if he’s healthy he’s a freak athlete and someone who can really deter Virginia from trying to attack the basket, which will enable the Red Raiders perimeter defenders to apply more pressure and guard the three-point line against Virginia, which will be huge because Virginia shoots the three ball really well.
The other key matchup in my opinion is the point guards. Davide Moretti is very good at getting the Texas Tech offense moving, he doesn’t turn the ball over and he is averaging 11.4 points per game this season. On the other side is Kihei Clark. Clark is small in stature, but he has been pretty big in this tournament, playing well enough on offense to take some of the pressure off of the stars for Virginia, while also being a pest on defense and of course he made the amazing pass to Diakite to tie the game against Purdue at the buzzer in the Elite Eight. Clark’s numbers aren’t generally very impressive, but when you watch him you know he’s having a bigger impact on the game than what the numbers would suggest.
Those two matchups are going to be huge in determining who wins this game, but with that being said, if the stars for either team don’t play well, their team will lose. The three stars for Virginia played well on Saturday and Matt Mooney was huge for Texas Tech, but Jarrett Culver will need to play better from the start of the game than he did on Saturday.
When it comes to the bench for each team the advantage goes to Texas Tech. Brandone Francis played pretty well off the bench for the Red Raiders on Saturday as did Kyler Edwards. Virginia only had 18 combined minutes out of their bench on Saturday and those minutes came from Braxton Key and Jack Salt, who only combined for 2 points, 4 rebounds and a block. The Cavaliers will also sometimes use Jay Huff off the bench, but he didn’t play on Saturday.
This game is likely going to come down to the wire and assuming the stars play well, the secondary players are likely going to have a huge impact on who wins this game and probably the most important thing to watch for, especially early, is the mobility of Tariq Owens, assuming he plays.
Now go enjoy the last game of the college basketball season!
Biggest x-factor for each team
Texas Tech: Brandone Francis
Virginia: Kihei Clark
Top Photo of Kyle Guy, courtesy of: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images