March Madness Roller Coaster
By: Kenneth Harrison Jr.
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
The 2019 Men’s NCAA Tournament is one of the most surprising in as long as I can remember.
Duke looked like a lock to win it all when the season began. After Zion Williamson was injured in February, the team struggled. Once he returned for the ACC Tournament, the Blue Devils were back on track.
Other than the first round, Duke struggled in the tournament. They barely beat UCF and Virginia Tech. Then they lost to Michigan State in the Elite 8.
North Carolina is another No. 1 seed from the ACC that was expected to reach the Final 4. They only advanced to the Sweet 16 and lost 97-80 to Auburn.
The Tigers were the lowest seed (No. 5) to reach the Final 4. They are known as a football school that typically has a poor basketball team. They beat a few blue blood programs in the tournament like Kansas, UNC and Kentucky.
No. 3 seed Texas Tech had a great season. They won the Big 12 regular season title. Kansas had a streak of 14 consecutive Big 12 titles that the Red Raiders snapped. Texas Tech ranked third nationally in scoring defense, only allowing an average of 58.8 points per game.
They beat a very good No. 2 Michigan State in the Final 4 to advance to the national championship game. Virginia had also never won a national title before. It was the first title game where both teams had not won before since 1979.
Virginia has to be the most resilient team I have ever seen. Last season they were the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 — the one thing that had never happened in a tournament where anything can. They did not just lose; they were blown out by 20 points against University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). That was an embarrassing loss that the Cavaliers tried to overcome all season.
Going into the tournament, I did not have any faith at all in Virginia because of that. It looked like they were going to do the same thing this year. In the first round against No. 16 Gardner-Webb, they were down by 14 points in the first half. The Cavs cut the deficit to 6 points at halftime.
It looked like history was going to repeat itself. UVA did not panic and they came out in the second half and outscored the Runnin’ Bulldogs 41-20. They are led by their defense which was the best in college basketball, only allowing 55.5 ppg.
The road to the championship was difficult. They beat No.3 Purdue in the Elite 8 in overtime 80-75. They beat Auburn in the Final 4 63-62.
Sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter helped lead them this season. He averages 15 ppg, 5 rpg and he shoots 52% from the field. In the championship game, he scored 27 points and had 9 rebounds. The Cavaliers won in overtime 85-77.
“Surreal,” Hunter called it. “It’s a goal we started out with at the beginning of the season. We knew we were going to bounce back from last year. We achieved our dreams.”
They went from the lowest point last season to the pinnacle one year later.
“I told them, I just want a chance at a title fight one day,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “That’s all I want. … You’re never alone in the hills and the valleys we faced in the last year.”
This might have been the best season of college basketball in history with all of the upsets and storylines.