(CBS Denver/CBS Local)- The pair of Final Four games didn’t exactly deliver the same amount of drama as Elite Eight weekend, but we did get at least one controversial moment. The foul call heard around the college basketball world with 0.6 seconds left and Virginia down by two gave Kyle Guy three free throws for the chance to take the lead and basically win the game. He sank all three, and Virginia did win, 63-62, to advance to tonight’s title game.
In the other semifinal, things weren’t quite as dramatic, as Texas Tech held Michigan State without a bucket for the final 2:29 of the game en route to a 61-51 win and the right to face the Cavaliers.
Both teams enter tonight’s action hoping to earn their first national title, and any fans hoping for an explosive offensive affair are likely to be disappointed. As evidenced by the semifinal scores, both of these teams play suffocating defense.
Texas Tech has allowed opponents to score just 55.8 points, while forcing them into 14 turnovers per game over the course of their five-game tournament run. The Red Raiders pressure the ball and hedge hard on screens, forcing their opponents to initiate their offense much further from the basket than they would like.
Running basically a seven-man rotation, Chris Beard’s crew pressures teams on the perimeter because of the interior presence provided by 6’10” senior forward Tariq Owens, who averages 2.5 blocks per game. Owens suffered an ankle injury on Saturday night, but was able to grit through it to return to the game. His health and level of explosiveness will be a huge key in tonight’s game.
Virginia, in a similar way, runs a man-to-man style of defense that forces opponents to be patient and use nearly all of the 30-second shot clock. Forward De’Andre Hunter and center Mamadi Diakite provide a shot-deterring presence inside that allows for the guards on the perimeter to dig in to their defensive assignments without fear of getting beat. Like the Red Raiders, their defense has shined in March, allowing 58.6 points per outing while forcing nine turnovers.
That brings us to tonight and what to expect from the championship game. Vegas has pegged Virginia as a slight (1.5) favorite with the over/under line set at 118 points. The reason the line is set so low isn’t just the defensive statistics. Both of these teams play at tempos that rank among the bottom third in the sport in terms of possessions per 40 minutes. Virginia ranks dead last, 353rd, in Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Tempo metric at 59.2. Texas Tech is better, but they still rank 237th in the country, averaging 66.5 possessions per 40 minutes.
All of that is to say that the old adage of “defense wins championships” appears to be proving true this season in the realm of college hoops.