‘Hoos the Concrete Winner?

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Redeem: to compensate for the faults or bad aspects of something.

It may have cost them the most devastating loss in sports history. A blowout defeat to then 16 seed UMBC, the first 1 seed to ever lose in the first round (16 seeds are now 1-139 against 1 seeds).  

As constant banter about Tony Bennett’s coaching ability in March increased; his 7-6 record in the NCAA tournament with UVA at the time didn’t help either. Yet Virginia didn’t change their play style: they kept their slow tempo, lost zero pivotal players, and added Taft High School product, Kehei Clark.  On paper, Virginia looked as strong as ever entering this year, but they were behind both North Carolina and Duke in odds to win the ACC. Despite this, they conquered the conference and won a share of the regular season title. And then won… it ALL.

Nonetheless, the Cavaliers journey in the NCAA tournament did not come without road bumps. They found themselves in a similar situation, this bout, trailing 16 seed Gardner Webb during the second half.  Two rounds later, 12 seed Oregon held a three point lead over UVA with five minutes remaining. The Cavs win in the Elite Eight took a miraculous buzzer-beating jump shot by Mamadi Diakite against the Carson Edwards led Boilermakers.  Lastly, the final four victory did not come without a controversial call at the buzzer, concluding in three clutch free throws by Kyle Guy. It resulted in nothing more than a National Championship.

Their defense led them all the way, but it was their offense which showed out in the final. Virginia that is, but Texas Tech actually performed in the same fashion. The final featured sturdy defensive teams, and what emerged was a potent offense. The difference maker was Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter. Hunter was held in check to a modest 5 points in the first half, but exploded for 22 in the second half and overtime, including two pivotal three pointers. Projected as a lottery pick, Hunter will almost certainly forego his final two years of eligibility.  Another impact performer was Ty Jerome. The 6’ 5” versatile guard did it all for Virginia with 16 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds after posting a dominant 21/9/6 in the final four match vs. Auburn. His draft stock has skyrocketed, and if he decides to waive his senior campaign, he could be selected as early as the middle of the first round.

However, the big winners of the National Championship may have just been the two coaches. Not only did Tony Bennett bring the first title back to Charlottesville, but it was for a program that was on the brink of reaching glory. All the criticism of Bennett’s postseason coaching can be put to sleep. On the other hand, Texas Tech’s coach Chris Beard has gone from a head coach at a mid major school to the leader of a runner-up in the span of three years. By taking Texas Tech to the Elite Eight and Final Four in adjacent years, he has brought them to national prominence.

Perhaps the ultimate winners are the fans who resisted the raillery from others with reference to the UMBC loss and can now rejoice for years on end. Or maybe the ultimate winners are the fans who picked Virginia to go all the way in their very own bracket! Who do you believe is the ultimate winner?