Last Updated: 2019-04-07
And then there were two. In the minds of a lot of people, it isn’t the right two. The Virginia Cavaliers benefited from a missed double dribble and an iffy foul call to knock off the Auburn Tigers and advance to the National Championship Game. Texas Tech withstood a Michigan State second half run just long enough to put some more margin in the game and punch a ticket to the final game of the season. Whether or not these are the two teams that should be there is irrelevant because they are here and those are the teams that we have to handicap for Monday night’s winner-take-all title game at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Virginia is a one-point favorite with a total of 117.5 for this showdown that will end with nets being cut down from the baskets. It will be very interesting to see how the line swings for this game. Virginia took some ample sharp money against Auburn and was only in a position to cover for a few minutes in the second half with a lead big enough to be outside the number. Kyle Guy hit three free throws with very little time on the clock and the Cavaliers escaped with the outright win, but never had a prayer of covering.
Texas Tech got a little bit of love as the game approached and most reputable shops closed in the +2 range. The line was +3 early in the week, but the Red Raiders were the right side throughout and cashed tickets for underdog bettors. We’ve got a Virginia team in this game that some people believe shouldn’t be there and we typically see the public’s emotion on display when it comes to how they bet the game. With UVA the sharp side against Auburn, will those influential bettors come back in on Tony Bennett’s team despite the poor showing?
On the other hand, we may never see another coach with the helium that Chris Beard has right now. He deserves every bit of it. That was a dominant defensive performance from the Red Raiders to hold Michigan State to 8-of-23 on two-point shots and to just .852 points per possession. In this tournament, Texas Tech’s worst defensive showing is .968 points per possession, which is what Gonzaga had in the Elite Eight.
In every game of the tournament, Texas Tech has had over a point per possession. This is no fluke. This is no coincidence. This is a very well-coached team outmaneuvering and outplaying its opponents. The crazy thing is that Texas Tech had 1.019 points per possession against Michigan State and Jarrett Culver only had 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting. It was Matt Mooney who had 22 points and carried the Red Raiders. Culver even had more turnovers than assists, but Texas Tech still found a way. That’s what good teams do. That’s what elite teams do.
What do we make of Virginia’s last two performances? The Cavaliers got fortunate late in both games. Mamadi Diakite’s lob with less than two seconds happen floated into the basket to send the Elite Eight game against Purdue to overtime and UVA benefited again in the Final Four in the waning seconds of the game with a botched call on a double dribble and an iffy foul call on Guy’s three-point attempt.
More than how those games finished, Virginia allowed 1.217 points per possession to Purdue and 1.057 points per possession to Auburn. That being said, Virginia had 1.298 points per possession against Purdue and 1.074 against Auburn, so the offense is actually picking up the defense. That seems a little bit scary going up against a Texas Tech team that can beat Virginia at its own game on the defensive end of the floor.
Virginia only forced five turnovers against Auburn. We expected Auburn to shoot poorly against a stout Virginia defense and in that tough shooting environment and it did come to fruition as the Tigers were 9-for-31 from deep. Ifs and buts and all that, but the Cavaliers were very fortunate that Auburn did shoot as poorly as they did. Virginia got outrebounded 33-31 by a rather marginal rebounding team and hasn’t forced many turnovers in the tournament as a whole.
If you’re into recent form, you really have to like the way that Texas Tech is trending. They haven’t allowed double-digit threes since February 27 and have only allowed it twice since the start of February. They’ve held five straight NCAA Tournament opponents under a point per possession and four of them to under .9 points per possession. Virginia had similar success early in the tournament, but that was against Gardner-Webb, Oklahoma, and Oregon. Texas Tech is doing it against teams like Buffalo, Michigan, and Gonzaga.
Using Bart Torvik’s Game Score metric, Texas Tech has played two perfect games in this tournament and no games lower than 96. In fact, going back to February 4, Texas Tech has played four 100 games, six 99 games, a 98, two 96s, and an 83, which was a game where Oklahoma State shot 17-of-32 from 3.
Using that same metric, Virginia has been the more consistent team all year, but hasn’t played any 100 games. The Cavaliers do have five 99 games dating back to the loss to Duke, a couple 98s, a couple 97s, a 96, a couple 93s, including the game against Oregon, and some lower scores. These are two of the most consistent teams in college basketball, but if you look at the last two months, it’s hard to say that anybody has been better than Texas Tech.
Again, that’s just one metric, but even just this tournament is a microcosm of where these teams have been. Virginia has definitely been good enough to survive and advance, but nobody seems to be talking about just how dominant Texas Tech has been.
That should continue here. The Red Raiders look unstoppable right now and they’ve got the perfect coach in these types of games in which both teams are extremely similar and the differences will be at the margins.
Pick: Texas Tech Red Raiders +1
There are some 1.5s out there and the money line is always an option. The total opened 120 or 119.5 at some places and has already gone down. It is hard to see this total going much lower than this, especially because Virginia has actually slacked off a bit defensively. I still wouldn’t want to be holding an under ticket here.
I’ll take Texas Tech and their underrated and underappreciated dominance in this tournament and over the tail end of the regular season.
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