March Madness 2019

Elijah Weston-Capulong, Sports Editor

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After an embarrassing 2018 NCAA tournament, becoming the first team in NCAA history to lose to a 16-seed, the Virginia Cavaliers won their first National Championship in program history, beating Texas Tech in overtime 85-77 in overtime Monday night. Texas Tech lead Virginia 68-65 with just 13 seconds to go, before a fantastic drive from Ty Jerome found De’Andre Hunter open in the corner, just behind the three-point line. Hunter, of course, knocked down the shot, his fourth three of the game, helping him to a career high 27 points on 50% shooting.

Hunter wasn’t the only player who rose to the occasion, as Kyle Guy (eventual Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four) dropped 24 points on 8-15 shooting, while Ty Jerome quickly took over the game with his ability to open up the Red Raiders’ defense, ending up with 16 points. Texas Tech’s story, unfortunately, was very different. Star player and Big 12 Player of the Year, went 5-22 shooting, while scoring only 3 points in the first half. This became a trend for Texas Tech, as their first field goal came seven minutes into the game, off of a three pointer from Davide Moretti. But, the spark for the Raiders came from the bench, namely Brandone Francis, who ended up with 17 points on 7-12 shooting, a game high for the Raiders.

The remainder of the game was heavily contested, as the lead changed constantly, both teams struggling to play against a defense as good as theirs. As Jarrett Culver finally started to heat up in the last five minutes of the game, he lead the Raiders to a 68-65 lead, with 12 seconds remaining. But, as always, Virginia found a way out, and forced overtime, the first time since 2008, that a national title game has gone to overtime. Virginia, though, proved to have better stamina, as they dominated Texas Tech in overtime, eventually winning their first National Title.

Even in the first round, there were a number of highlights. With 12 upsets and plenty of games going down to the wire, Ja Morant recorded the first NCAA tournament triple-double (17 points, 16 assists, 11 rebounds) since Draymond Green in 2012, as his team, Murray State (12 seed)  pulled off a blowout upset over Marquette (5 seed). Ja Morant is now projected to be the second pick in the 2019 NBA draft, just behind Zion Williamson. During the tournament, Williamson averaged 26.0 points, 9.75 rebounds, and 1.75 blocks per game, while shooting an outstanding 61.6% from the field. Even if, Zion’s incredible statistical and overall performances proved not to be enough for the Duke Blue Devils, as they fell 68-67 against Michigan State in the Elite Eight.

As it always has, March Madness proved again that it is the perfect platform for breakout stars and big name players and teams. Auburn, a 5 seed, struggled through the first round, beating New Mexico State 78-77, in a game that was easily winnable for the Aggies. After that though, the Auburn Tigers charged past some of the best teams in the tournament, to make it to the program’s first Final Four in history. Kansas, UNC, and Kentucky, the teams upset by the Tigers.

From last-second shots, to heartbreaking upsets, this year’s March Madness, to say the least, was not a disappointment. 39.2% of brackets around the world had the Duke Blue Devils winning it all, 15.7% of brackets had the North Carolina Tar Heels going all the way, both teams went out in the Elite Eight. On top of that, Virginia became the only team to ever go to the national championship without playing against a one or two seed. And, as Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Kyle Guy shined, this year’s NCAA Basketball tournament, without a doubt, is one of the most exciting we have seen in a while.