Expect the unexpected in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a well-known adage tossed around ahead of the Big Dance each and every year. And yet the most surprising aspect of the 2019 rendition of March Madness was the expected won out more often than not.
For the first time since the NCAA Tournament expanded to a 64-team field in 1985, all 16 betting favorites advanced out of the round of 32. It also came as no shock in the opening round to see a 12th seed Murray State best a 5th seed Marquette. The 12/5 upset has become so formulaic, hardly anyone batted an eye when Oregon pulled off the same feat against No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 12 Liberty knocked out Mississippi State.
Auburn nearly became the fourth victim to fall to a No. 12 but lucked out when New Mexico State, down by two with a second left, got fouled on a 3 but went 1-of-3 from the line, then missed an open 3 as the clock expired.
Tigers Shred the Blue Blood Bracket
From there Bruce Pearl’s team went on a massive tear through the Midwest Region and sparked a little madness in an otherwise predictable tournament. The Tigers took down blue blood after blue blood, defeating Kansas 89-75, North Carolina 97-80 and Kentucky 77-71 in overtime.
The onslaught earned Auburn its first trip to the Final Four. On the West side of the bracket, another team achieved the same milestone, surging past Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga all in the name of defense.
Texas Tech Makes A Statement
The Texas Tech Red Raiders and head coach Chris Beard didn’t just inch past the opposition; they blew right past it. They also stuffed some of the nation’s top offenses in the process. They beat Buffalo’s fifth-best scoring offense by 20, though Texas Tech went into the game as just four-point favorites. In the Sweet 16, as a two-point underdog, the Red Raiders annihilated Michigan by 19.
Next the Red Raiders encountered Michigan State in the national semifinal—Tom Izzo’s eighth appearance in the Final Four. In the Elite Eight the Spartans edged past Duke, the overwhelming choice to win the national championship.
In the national semifinal, however, the Spartans ran out of steam. Texas Tech looked poised against a veteran Izzo team and held Michigan State to 31.9 percent shooting and 29.2 percent from 3-point range in a 10-point win against the Spartans.
Texas Tech achieved another first with its appearance in a NCAA national final. Then came the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers, who were looking to reach their first title game, too.
Avenge the Fallen
The team who made history by losing to a No. 16 seed the year before wanted nothing more than to prove the naysayers wrong. The road to redemption was far from easy, though. In the weaker South Region, the Cavaliers never looked like much of a dominant force.
They let No. 16 Gardner-Webb take a lead into half time in the opening round. Virginia played better against No. 9 Oklahoma in the second game, winning 63-51. Then came the Cavaliers’ first true test—the 12th-seeded Oregon Ducks. The Pac-12 squad led by three with 5:44 remaining in the second half, before Virginia squelched the Ducks offense to secure a four-point win.
In the Elite Eight, Virginia had to force overtime against Purdue with a buzzer-beater by Mamadi Diakite. The Cavaliers outlasted the Boilermakers 80-75 in OT to take one step closer to a long-awaited championship.
But Auburn was a handful. The Hoos gave up a 10-point lead in the last five minutes, with the Tigers going up by two in the final 7 seconds. On the next play Ty Jerome appeared to double dribble, but no call was made. From there Auburn gave up a foul and Virginia inbounded the ball to Kyle Guy, who got bumped on a 3-pointer. He made all three of his free throws, and the rest was history.
Hey, sometimes destiny is met with a ton of luck and a few swallowed whistles. The confounding no-call enraged some of the college basketball world, but Virginia made sure to capitalize on their brush with fate.
The Comeback is Complete
The nation’s top defenses tipped off Monday night in Minneapolis. It was slow-paced and offense looked shaky at times, but the two schools turned a game some billed mundane into one of the most exciting in recent memory.
For the eighth time in NCAA history, a championship game went into overtime. After eight ties and eight lead changes in the contest, Virginia, behind the leadership of De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy, made it clear it was meant to hang a banner.
Tony Bennett and his Cavaliers completed their season-long quest. The storyline seemed almost too obvious not to come to fruition. And yet the clash against Texas Tech in the national final was a matchup only 0.03 percent of the nation predicted would occur.
It was a tournament far more certain than most, but it still gave us a glimpse of the madness we’ve come to love. So, if you think you can predict anything about next year’s bout, think again. Because the only thing you can ever prepare for in March is to expect the unexpected.
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