As I'm compiling this, it is almost 24 hours to the minute since Braxton Key sunk the second of his two free throws and the Virginia Cavaliers were crowned the king of college basketball.
We're not ready to stop talking about it.
So please jooin me in welcoming back Seattle Hoo, StLou Hoo, MaizeandBlue Wahoo and HooAmp as we carry the conversation along a little further.
StLou: I'll get us started. What one pre-Final Four thought or prediction would you like to revisit, either because you were proven right or proven wrong?
Maize: The last time we rounded the ol' table, I said the Final Four was a great story, but I didn't want to settle for just a great story. I wanted, as I put it, the greatest story ever told. That's what a championship would mean, the year after the worst loss in tournament history.
And now we have it. And if anything, the size of it is greater still than what I envisioned.
Val: Well, I mentioned in that Roundtable, my friend Mike's shirt. And then I celebrated the shirt again here: The Shirt. We won because of the shirt. <<Derisive snorts>>
Seriously though, on our last Hoos Cast, I mentioned that we had, at several points in the tourney, faced the hottest teams in the country. Gardner Webb had to have had the most confidence of any 16 seed in history, knowing that they were playing the cursed Hoos. Against Oregon, we were facing the hottest defensive squad in the country, playing better D than ourselves, better even than Texas Tech. And in a game in the 40s, we won. Then we faced Purdue and the hottest player in the country, Carsen Edwards, who did light us up, but again, we prevailed. We faced off against Auburn, riding one hell of a wave, having beaten Tennessee twice (!), and then running roughshod over bluebloods Kansas, UNC and Kentucky in their journey to the Final Four. I was confident that we could handle Texas Tech, a better defensive team than us on this season and that Kihei Clark could defend Matt Mooney and that DeAndre Hunter could neutralize Jared Culver. I was right about that.
StLou: That Hunter's rediscovery of his jumper would be the key to a win on Monday. It was my 2nd "Key to the Game," about it being Hunter's turn to shine, but I really drilled down on the shooting slump he'd been in for 6 games. Starting with the FSU loss through Auburn, Hunter, a 50% 3P% shooter in ACC regular season play, was on a 5 of 22 (22%) slump. His ability to hit the 3 completely changes how teams guard us, because they now have to chase him around the perimeter opening up the paint for everyone else. Well he went 4 of 5, all after halftime, from deep in this one and it was, to me, the singular key in uncorking the offense and carrying the day.
HooAmp: Before the NCAA tournament, I was talking with a friend and we were in agreement that Virginia would need to average more than 70 points to win the title. The Cavaliers did not quite get there, finishing at 69.2 ppg in the six games. However, we also said we'd need to average more like 74-76 in the Final Four and the 'Hoos did land on 74 ppg in the final two games. And in our pre-Final Four roundtable, I predicted UVa would need to score at least 75 once, and that came true in the final. I was also of the belief the team would need to play a complete game to win the championship, and it hadn't really done that before Minneapolis. Perhaps Tony Bennett would argue with it being complete on the defensive end, but UVa played great on offense and needed every bit of it. Anything less than the Big Three all clicking plus having a couple of role players doing their part wasn't going to be enough Monday.
Seattle: The thought I kept having all season, and then the modification of it that I had after the Elite Eight win over Purdue: Let's save all our "big game winning mojo" for the NCAA Tournament where it really matters, and let's just keep grinding to the championship game then play our best game. It wasn't a prediction in either case but rather a recognition of what to then was the situation and a wish. I first made the mojo comment after the first loss to Duke. We had the big win over Duke last year and the big plays that made it happen, and we had the big win over Louisville, and other big wins in past years, but they all were in the regular season, so they were forgotten by everybody else and our guys were still derided as chokers. So I wanted our guys to do those things where the world would see.
And look at the reaction to the championship game. The college basketball media is agog over how good that game was, how good the teams were. The Big Three all had scintillating performances in that game and they really raised their profiles on that stage. Dre is back to being the undisputed lottery pick. Ty Jerome is now seen as an NBA player, and I have to think a few NBA execs watched Kyle in the Final Four and can see him as a potential next Joe Harris.
Lots of big plays and ESPN SportsCenter moments. What's your single favorite memory?
Seattle: Mine has to be The Play, because it happened right in front of me, and until it unfolded, I was standing there in the middle of the dream turning into a nightmare right around me. Dark horse would be the moment Carsen Edwards' last pass bounced out of bounds, because that's when it was certain: UVA was going to the Final Four!
StLou: Juyst how long are you going to lord it over us that you were at that game, Seattle?
In terms of In game highlights, I agree fully: The Play. I still marvel at the Kihei-to-Diakite pass to force OT vs Purdue. Of all the great moments the last couple weeks, clutch 3's and defensive stops, to me that pass just defied expectations, to have the awareness to make that pass in the heat of the moment, and make it so accurately. From a freshman, no less.
Non-game: Tony and Dick embracing, both after the Final 4 ticket was punched, then again Monday night among the confetti. Magic.
Val: Any team that wins the national championship has won 6 games under the brightest of spotlights and there will be lots of quality moments. Kihei to Diakite is going to relegate Grant Hill to Christian Laettner from the NCAA montages. But I think my favorite moment was Braxton Key snuffing out Culver's shot at the end of regulation.
We had a miracle finish to the Auburn game as Kyle Guy was fouled on a desperation shot and then he made the FTs with time expired. Culver also got the ball with the same time remaining in the same position on the floor, and the mantra for coaches and players alike has to be, it has to be: Do. Not. Foul. My stomach instantly knotted up as I saw Key rise up and towards Culver. And yet Key got all ball, just as he done on several occasions all year. We went into OT and Jared Culver, Big XII player of the year and presumed lottery pick, did not score all, and we won going away.
HooAmp: The Dia-Kihei play is the one that will go down in NCAA tournament lore, but for me, the one that has stuck in my mind, is De'Andre Hunter's baseline tying 3 with 12 seconds left in regulation. Without that, Virginia does not complete the storybook ending. And prior to the second half of the game, he had been struggling so much from beyond the arc and when he was lining up and hesitating on shots, it wasn't helping. He took a long, deep look at that one, so I got nervous, but he nailed it, and it is going down as a legendary shot in UVa history. Dia-kihei was more miraculous, but Hunter's 3 was just as important.
Maize: After all the insanely clutch plays and sunk shots, it's just this: Watching the last seconds tick off. Mamadi grabbing a rebound and bearhugging it. The inbound play to Key for the dunk. Counting the number of seconds that each sequence peeled off of the clock. There comes a point in every basketball game where you realize, that's it - the drama has left the stage and the party can begin. The game time in between then and the final horn - that's what I loved the most.
Seattle: Do you agree with the Final Four Most Outstanding Player selection (Guy), and why or why not?
HooAmp: Sure, I have no problem with it, and the players are so team-oriented, I'm sure they don't care. There are arguments to be made for all three of the Big Three. Jerome had the best all-around games, Guy was so, so clutch in hitting free throws against Auburn and got hot against Texas Tech, and Hunter had the biggest game in the biggest moment and hit the huge clutch 3 to tie the score at 68 and also knocked down the go-ahead triple in OT.
StLou: So obviously it has to be one of the Big 3. Let's look at their stats:
Hunter: 81 minutes, 41 points (on 27 shots), 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 6 turnovers, 2 blocks, 1 steal
Jerome: 76 minutes, 37 points (on 32 shots), 15 rebounds, 14 assists, 3 turnovers, 1 block, 1 steal
Kyle: 84 minutes, 39 points (on 26 shots), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, no blocks, 1 steal
All incredible, efficient, well rounded stat lines. Hard to say there's a right on wrong answer here. To me, Jerome gets it because of the work he did on the glass and facilitating, but Kyle and Dre each scoring 1.5 points a shot is remarkable.
Seattle: I do, because Kyle was the most consistently solid player of the Final Four. In the Auburn game, while Ty had the stats and kept us moving with his scoring during some key stretches, he had several serious lapses in defense that contributed to Auburn runs. His effort level was a bit more up and down than Kyle's. Dre similarly had several lapses on defense in that first game and for long stretches seemed disengaged. It was Kyle who was the vocal leader out there talking to teammates, upholding accountability, and really hustling. He struggled with his shooting at times, but the way he closed out the game says it all for him. All he did was more of the same but with 24 points in the Championship Game.
Ty and Dre both had outstanding performances. Dre's second half was phenomenal - one-upping Kyle's second half against Purdue. Ty was Ty. Had either of them been named Most Outstanding Player, I would not argue, but I like what Guy did around the statistics, and as a leader.
Maize: It's just awesome that this is even a question. We can look at the stat lines StLou just laid out for the Final Four and Guy, Jerome, and Hunter all have a case. You look at the earlier games and Mamadi Diakite has a case. (Remember, it's not the Final Four MOP - it's a whole-tournament award.) You look at the clutch performances and everyone did a little something.
But Kyle just feels like the right choice, by the margin of a Davide Moretti fingertip brush on the ball as it skitters out of bounds. It was Guy who traded punches with Carsen Edwards. It was Guy who nailed three free throws to sink Auburn and hit the fallaway three just seconds before. It was Guy who played all 45 minutes against Texas Tech. After a cold-as-ice first half of the tournament, Guy caught fire and was the most consistent presence we had in the last two and a half games.
Val: Sure. Why not? Guy won the game for us vs Auburn with a clinical set of free throws. Sure, he makes 81% of his FTs, but the statistical likelihood that an 81% shooter makes all three is about 53%. He had ample time to think about the enormity of the free throws, and he admitted after the game that he was terrified, but known of us knew that at the time. He embraced the limelight and owned it.
Another large lead evaporated in the last 4-5 minutes of the game? Why did we have so much trouble closing out the wins?
StLou: Because it's the Final Four and teams that get here aren't going down without a fight? Steve Levy on Sportscenter used to be famous for the phrase, "It's the NBA, every team makes a run," because when you have this many high level basketball players, leads are never safe while there's still time on the clock. Auburn and Texas Tech were veteran teams with lots of talent and excellent coaches... when their backs were against the wall, they found a way to bury tough shots, the same way our guys did when UVA's back was against that same wall. It's just high-level competitive basketball.
Seattle: I agree with StLouHoo. Teams get this deep in the tournament because they respond. You hit them with a combination and stagger them, they are going to recover and nail you with a flurry. While I thought Auburn's late run was powerfully aided by some poor play from the Hoos, I didn't have the same feeling about the Texas Tech comeback. Their defense is so much better than Auburn's, and they tightened up when they recognized their danger.
Both teams did have big shooters get hot when needed - which these teams do.
Val: I don't know. I'm asking you guys. Twice all tournament I felt confident. And both times, we took on water. I know these games are harder than our run-of-the-mill ACC contests, but Virginia basketball is about placing the stranglehold on the game at these times. And we didn't. I may very well have had a heart attack vs Auburn, but the Cardiac Cavs won three games despite behind with less than 10 seconds. 3 games! The demons from UMBC weren't just exorcised, they were eviscerated.
Maize: Val, could it be just that we were playing really good basketball teams?
HooAmp: I'm not sure, as yeah, it is usually more of a vice grip in regular-season games. I think it is just a testament to how tough the Big Dance is, and there was no way Texas Tech was going to quit. It wasn't going to give in even if the game was played in December, but I think there's something to be said for the Red Raiders being more desperate in the title game than in a regular-season meeting and rising to the occasion and rallying.
I go back to the 2016-17 season, when we lost double-digit leads against Syracuse, Villanova, and Virginia Tech, and maybe another game or two, and lost each of those three games. The important thing in the Purdue, Auburn, and Texas Tech games was that the Wahoos showed that extra bit of resiliency that the UMBC trials gave them, and they fought back to win all three contests in spectacular fashion. The UMBC-fuel motivation is getting the headlines, and Bennett has brought up the Florida loss in the 2017 NCAA tournament as well, when he told Guy and Jerome at the end of the game that they needed to take the next step, that they would get better. But you can argue that even before that blowout loss, earlier in the season, losing leads against those three teams taught Jerome and Guy, who were true freshmen, what it would take to close out games. Every experience over the past three seasons really cooked up what we saw as the culminating event, which was the ultimate jubilation.
12/12. This is THE number of the tournament. How incredible is it that we went 12 for 12 from the free throw line in OT?
Val: Shooting free throws is hard. It may look simple to those of us who no longer play the game, but consider that professional ballers, those who have trained and practiced and devoted their entire lives to the game, only make about 77% of their free throws. You get a free shot, with no defensive pressure, just 15 feet away from the basket. How could this be hard? I look at similar statistics for penalty kicks in soccer, which ought to be even easier since the goal is huge: 8' by 24' feet. How do professionals miss? And yet they do. Most professional teams have a single guy who takes PKs, and he might make 80-85% of his penalties, but the conversion rate for the rest of the pros, hovers around 60%.
I think there's two reasons for this. First, there's the incredible pressure of knowing "you should score". And secondly, the free throw and the PK are palpably different from the very nature of their games. In soccer, a game where the ball is in play for maybe 70 minutes of a 90 minute game, it may take two minutes from the time the ref signals the penalty to the time it is taken. In such a game, this time discrepancy is jarring. Same in basketball where once the guy steps up to the "charity stripe" the other team sets up in the lane, subs are brought in, and an opposing coach can try to ice the shooter. These guys have been running and chasing for the entirety of the game, and then to have to wait until the ref tosses you the ball? The free throw is the very antithesis of the game.
Ryan Cline, a career 41% bomber from 3, missed one of two free throws to allow the Dia-Kihei miracle. Jared Harper, shooting 83% from the line this year, similarly misses one of his free throws, and we're still alive.
We've struggled at the line this year, and we've struggled getting to the line, and if we'd shot what our season averages might have predicted, Tech may very well have won the game. Instead:
DeAndre Hunter: 2 for 2
Kyle Guy: 2 for 2
Ty Jerome: 2 for 2
Kyle Guy: 2 for 2
Mamadi Diakite: 2 for 2
Braxton Key: 2 for 2
Five different Wahoos were perfect from the line, with Ice Water Guy going for 4 for 4.
HooAmp: Very awesome and very clutch. Huge tip of the hat to the boys. Nerves of steel. I think having seen the basket for one game against Auburn maybe settled the nerves and helped the players see the rim better and figure out the depth perception issue shooting in a football stadium. Diakite in particular worried me because he clanged a pair with UVa up one on Auburn late, but he calmly sank his OT shots against Texas Tech and went 5 of 6 overall.
StLou: Remarkable. These guys played long, hard games, and were likely to be fatigued. They had the pressure of the moment on them. None are bad shooters (Mamadi at 70% is the worst), but nothing that says "automatic" either. The poise, the endurance, is a testament to the coaching staff to prepare them for the moment.
Seattle: It is extremely impressive, but it was due. As a whole, the team did not shoot well from the line this tournament. The exceptions were, of course, crucial. The Purdue game, the final three of Auburn, and the overtime free throws against Texas Tech were crucial to victory. By good fortune and by design, we had good shooters at the line, and they were the best versions of themselves. Timely, so wonderful to see.
So, break it down. Why did we win the final game?
Seattle: In short, we won because our scorers were a little better than theirs, and De'Andre is a better defensive player than Culver. I thought our advantage would be that Guy and Jerome have more offensive creativity than Moretti and Mooney, their shooter counterparts. In a battle of two great defenses, that edge in play creating ability would prove to be the difference.
We also won because Tony and his staff coached a hell of a game. Sticking with the five players he rode at the end was the right call. Kihei played well, but he required help, and in that battle we just could not afford to have a player on the floor who needed help. Having to double Mooney when Tech targeted Kihei's size was costing us elsewhere on the floor. With Braxton, everybody was able to handle his man in general, thus help could be situational and within the normal defensive principles.
HooAmp: As I also referenced in the game recap, the Hoos pretty much played a complete game, especially on offense. To deal such a huge blow to a historically great defense was just incredible, because I was pretty worried about how the team could even get to 60 with the way the offense had been so touch and go. Each star played great, and Key gave a big contribution with his physicality off the bench and grabbed 10 boards. That was a solid coaching move by Bennett. And then we hit the clutch free throws down the stretch. Really, every time the bell needed to be answered, the guys did so. Texas Tech kept coming and coming, and the Hoos made more plays and responded over and over again, whether it was a shot, a stop, a rebound, a block. And now they are champions.
StLou: Intangibles: Because the moment never got too big for them. The way they always found a way to get that big block, or make that extra pass for a open shot, or convert free throws with everything on the line. Moment never got too big for the coaches either, being willing to make hard choices with the lineup (sitting Clark and Mamadi Saturday for a big Braxton Key night), or drawing up perfect plays for the closing minutes to get good looks or good stops.Â
X's and O's: We didn't bail them out with cheap fouls after the first few minutes, and we had a small but significant edge on the glass, 11 OReb grabbed, only 7 allowed. In a tight game, those made the difference. Holding Jarrett Culver to 15 points on 22 shots helped too. As much as Hunter helped his national profile on Monday night, Culver hurt his, failing to succeed while playing against UVA's length and athleticism (both Hunter and Key).
Val: Our offense finally caught up with our defense. We played a great defensive team in Texas Tech, and yes, we needed OT to get to 85 points, but we did score 85 points. And it took us only 70 possessions to do that. That's 1.21 points per possession. And in this year, this production is NOT an anomaly.
Maize: I want to revisit the free throw question, because while (mathematically the chances of hit 12 of 12 free throws are pretty rare, I wasn’t surprised in the least.
We won the final game and raising the banner because we wanted it more.
Bear with me… The subconscious mind is better than the conscious mind at anything and everything that humans do. I don't just believe that, I know it for a fact, because even in my mediocre athletic career, it's come to me personally. When you want something badly enough, when you're motivated beyond your normal competition drive and you're now in hopes and dreams territory, something else in the brain takes charge. Your subconscious mind takes over, even more so than it normally does, more so than you thought it could, and everything you do is perfection. It's more than muscle memory. It's a little greatness center inside the mind, somewhere.
That's why they say the greatest are so driven. It's not just that they practice and train hard. It's that they can access that hopes and dreams territory almost on a whim because they can find the motivation to do so, and yes, they've worked their legendary little keisters off, but they also have some kind of fierce motivation that most of us can hardly fathom, if we've felt it at all. I had one brush with this phenomenon, one time, and when it hit, I realized right in the middle of it that I was outperforming everything I'd ever done up to that point. By a lot. And when I'd achieved what I set out to do, and the feeling passed, the next time out I realized again what was happening - but that this time I was underperforming, and despite what I thought was my absolute best effort, I couldn't get it back.
So, this is not to disparage Texas Tech at all. They obviously wanted to win, and wanted it bad. They were as devastated at the result as anyone would be. But there's a difference between wanting it, and really being in the zone and wanting it even more. Why did Kyle Guy sink all three free throws with complete ease? Why did every clutch three-pointer fall without a rim-rattle? Why did the team collectively go 12-for-12 in overtime from the line?
"Wanting it more" is a wildly overused announcer trope, because it's not the reason most of the time. It doesn't exist most of the time. But sometimes it does. UVA won the final game, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that too, because they got in that zone, they got the motivation factor working for them every time, their subconscious mind controlled their actions and took their every clutch shot, and when you get to that level, well, it sounds like some cheesy line out of a Rocky movie, but then, there's a fine line between cheesy and motivating, and when you successfully walk that tightrope you tend to win.
Texas Tech wanted to win that game as much as anyone ever has, and played like it. UVA wanted it more.
What a thrilling run to the National Championship. We're all going to buy the t-shirts, and rewatch the highlights and savor the memories. For those of us "older" Hoos, this has been a long time coming. Enjoy the moment, because next year is going to be just as interesting and even more challenging. Wahoowa !!!