The lowest over / under for a national championship game heading into 2019 was 128, both in 2010 (Duke vs. Butler) and 2006 (Florida vs. UCLA). The current number for Monday night's predicted slugfest between Virginia and Texas Tech is 119.
When the Cavaliers and Red Raiders take the court together inside Minneapolis Bank Stadium, the title of both college basketballs official king and unofficial title of defensive king will be on the line. It's sort of like at WrestleMania VI when Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior wrestled for both the World Championship and the Intercontinental Title. The result of that one would seem to bode well for Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard and company.
If you're losing interest already, just know your old middle school basketball coach who said "defense wins championships" no less than 300 times in a three-month window is loving all of this.
You can make the case that in recent years, Tony Bennett's pack line defense has passed Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone as the most well-known defensive philosophy in college basketball. And if it hasn't become the most well-known, it certainly has become the most talked-about.
Virginia has won four of the last six ACC regular-season titles and become a fixture on one of the top two lines in recent NCAA tournaments, and most of the thanks for that rests with the Cavaliers ’defense. UVA currently features the fifth-best-adjusted defensive efficiency in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. Their standing in that same category about the five years prior? No. 1, no. 2, no. 7, no. 2, and no. 4.
But if the conversation is limited to just the 2018-19 season, Virginia is not college basketball's current king of defense.
Texas Tech's defense might not have a moniker as well-known as "pack line" … in fact, it doesn't have a name or a title at all. What it does have is the current best defensive efficiency rating (14.0) or any college basketball team since Ken Pom ground tracking the statistic 17 years ago.
The Red Raiders swallow opponents by forcing ball-handlers towards the baseline and not allowing them to get the ball near the lane. On the rare occasion where they do allow that to happen, they are the blessed with the gift of having elite shot blockers who can quickly erase the mistake.
The presence of two elite defenses does not necessarily guarantee a national championship game or anything resembling quality offense. Virginia enters Monday ranked No. 3 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, and Texas Tech is an admirable No. 28. Both teams have a likely top -0 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft (De'Andre Hunter for Virginia and Jarrett Culver for Texas Tech) and both have multiple players with the outside stroke and overall offensive flair to become this year's Donte DiVincenzo or Luke Hancock.
What a Virginia-Texas Tech matchup does guarantee is a title game that flies by in real time but crawls at a snail's pace on the court.
The Cavaliers play at the slowest pace of all 353 teams in Division I. The Red Raiders rank 237th in the same category. The downside to this, if you're a sports fan in need of constant stimulation, is that this championship game should feature the fewest total amount of possessions or the shot clock era. The upside is that it could be the title game with the fewest total number of whistles and stoppages of the same era. Virginia's Final Four game against Auburn became the first of the "TV timeout" era to go without a single whistle from the under-4 mark or the first half until half-time. This forced the brass at CBS to compensate by making halftime two minutes longer in order to air all of the paid-for advertising.
Texas Tech has its five tournament opponents to 0.85 points per possession. That's the best tournament defense played by any national finalist since UCLA in 2006 (0.83).
– John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) April 7, 2019
Perhaps the detractors will be right, and we're all about to watch the apex of the 2018-19 college basketball season be a 10-8 game with three minutes to go in the first half where neither team is shooting better than 20 percent from the field. Maybe it's going to be beautifully played 40 minutes that drives the most offensive-minded basketball fans in the country to label the contest a thing of beauty.
Regardless, Virginia-Texas Tech is guaranteed to be a championship game that is uniquely college basketball, a sport largely defined by its massive number of teams and almost equally massive amount of contrasting styles.
Neither team the Red Raiders or Cavaliers are overloaded with natural ability. In fact, the recruiting rankings or Texas Tech's starting five have become something or a viral sensation in recent days.
Texas Tech starting 5
Tariq Owens – 185th in 2014 3⭐️
Jarrett Culver – 312th in 2017 2⭐️
Davide Moretti-132nd in 2017 3⭐️
Norense Odiase – 358th in 2014 2⭐️
Matt Mooney- Unranked 0⭐️
All playing for the Nat’l title.
Coaching & Development matters! #BeCoachable
– Matt Wells (@TTUCoachWells) April 7, 2019
What both teams do have unique and effective styles that both accentuate each squad's strengths and productively bridge the talent gap between the teams and their more naturally gifted opponents. There were questions about whether either style could pass the sport's biggest test (the ability to win six consecutive games in March / early April), and yet here we are.
Regardless of how low the final score is, regardless of how snarky the in-game tweets get, and regardless of how many overreactive postgame columns wind up being written, one of these teams are about to be crowned the king of college basketball. Ultimately, that's the only thing that matters to the parties concerned.
Notable championship game tidbits
– Regardless of which team wins, college basketball is guaranteed to have its first new champion since Florida claimed its first national title back in 2006. Overall, 35 different programs have won the NCAA tournament. Virginia or Texas Tech will become the 36th.
– This is the first national championship game with two teams making their championship game debut since all the way back in 1979, when Magic Johnson and Michigan State took Larry Bird and Indiana State down.
– If Texas Tech wins, the Red Raiders will become the first team ever to lose their first conference tournament game and go on to win the national title. No. 10 seed West Virginia Texas Tech in the quarterfinals or the Big 12 tournament last month.
– This is just the third time that a. 1 seed has played a No. 3 seed for the national title. No. 1 seeds won both of the previous meetings.
– Since the expansion of the NCAA tournament, ACC teams are 10-6 overall in national championship games. Big 12 / Big 8 teams are 2-4.
– If Texas Tech wins, it will become the first Big 12 team both Kansas to win a national championship. Oklahoma State owns a pair of national titles, but those took place in 1945 and "46 when the school was known as Oklahoma A&M and played at the Missouri Valley Conference.
– No. 1 seeds are 21-12 all-time in national championship games. No. 3 seeds are 4-6.
Despite the fact Virginia is the better seed and betting favorite, it is not hard to make the case that Texas Tech is the more logical pick here. Since the start of the NCAA tournament three weeks ago, there is no question that the Red Raiders have the more impressive of the two teams. They've been pushed near the green just once (by Gonzaga in the Elite Eight) and have beaten a No. 1 seed and two 2 seeds by a combined 35 points.
Virginia, meanwhile, has rarely looked like the best version of itself. They trailed by 14 in the first half against 16-seed Gardner-Webb, they failed to effectively put away 12th-seeded Oregon in the Sweet 16, and they needed a miracle sequence of events to win each of their last two games just to get to this point.
Logic is on one side. Serendipity on the other. At this point it feels like college basketball's ultimate turnaround storyline is an unstoppable force.
Virginia 65, Texas Tech 63