Three thoughts on Virginia’s 85-77 overtime victory against Texas Tech in the NCAA championship game Monday night at U.S. Bank Arena:
The officials got the call right.
Which was wrong.
The situation: With 1:06 left in overtime and Virginia leading 75-73, Texas Tech guard Davide Moretti was racing downcourt when De’Andre Hunter reached in and knocked the ball out of bounds. Tech’s ball, the officials pointed.
Except it was under two minutes, and Virginia coach Tony Bennett was pointing at the replay monitor. The officials obliged, determining after an exhaustive review that the ball had last hit, yes, Moretti’s right pinky before bouncing out of bounds.
The Cavaliers ran 25 seconds off the shot clock before Ty Jerome drove and drew a foul. His two free throws made it a two-possession game, and after Texas Tech missed at the other end it had no choice but to start fouling. Championship over.
File this under careful what you wish for. For years, fans clamored for replay in the closing minutes with the mandate of “getting it right,” failing to realize or understand the delicate balance between the letter and spirit of the law.
Happens all the time: A guy nudges someone on a rebound but the player fouled touches the ball last before it goes out of bounds. Officials have a choice — call a soft foul or just give the other team the ball. Often they pick the latter in the interest of efficiency and fairness.
Or take the closing seconds of Virginia’s semifinal win against Auburn, when officials supposedly missed a blatant double-dribble by Jerome. Look closely, and you see Auburn’s Bryce Brown grabbing Jerome’s jersey — a foul, according to the rules — moments before. The officials called neither. Play on. Even Steven.
But Monday night they were at the monitor with millions of folks in their living rooms seeing many of the same replays. Because it was the NCAA final, there were more cameras, more angles, better equipment than at your typical SWAC game in the dog days of February.
The replays irrefutably showed the ball last touching Moretti’s pinky. They also showed Virginia’s Kyle Guy bumping him.
The rules demand that they reverse the out-of-bounds call but don’t allow them to retroactively call a foul on Guy.
“They didn’t call the foul,” Moretti said in the Texas Tech locker room. “I wasn’t looking for the foul. I was looking for the possession.”
Don’t blame the officials. Blame the system.
Much is made of the inspirational messages and methods of Virginia coach Tony Bennett after last season’s historic exit against 16-seeded University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The pithy quotations. The motivational videos. The discussions about faith. The whitewater rafting trip.
All that, no doubt, contributed to one of the great reversals in NCAA Tournament history. But so did a more tangible consequence of the UMBC loss.
Bennett changed attitudes. He also changed his offense.
“From a basketball standpoint,” Bennett said, “that was such a pivotal moment and devastating in so many ways, and humbling … That situation made me take a look at a lot of things.”
For years, the Cavaliers almost exclusively used the blocker-mover offense that Bennett’s father, Dick, popularized decades ago in stops at Wisconsin and Washington State. Two huge oafs are basically professional screeners (or blockers) while the other three, more agile players (movers) run off them.
Bennett also employs his father’s old pack-line defense, recruiting specific body types and mentalities to conform to the system, so rigid and assured was he in his basketball tenets.
But then UMBC came along, a 74-54 humiliation in the opening round of the tournament that exposed the deficiencies of blocker-mover. The Cavaliers didn’t adjust because they couldn’t.
Just days after the loss, Bennett had lunch with Jerome and picked his brain about ways to open up the offense. He also flew in Kirk Penney … from New Zealand.
Bennett had coached two years in New Zealand and used those connections to recruit Penney to Wisconsin when he joined his father’s staff there. After his collegiate career, Penney played and coached all over the world, making him the ideal resource to help incorporate the progressive ball-screen offenses that are the rage in the international game.
Bennett installed a motion offense predicated on ball screens. He added a third offensive option where the bigs screen for each other in the paint to free Hunter, a projected lottery pick, at the high post.
As this season wore on, Bennett began trusting the alternative schemes more and relied on blocker-mover less. In Monday’s championship game, he ran blocker-mover on their opening four possessions; after scoring just once, he quickly switched to his new offensive systems. Because, this time, he could.
The result? None of Texas Tech’s previous five opponents in the tournament cracked 1.0 points per possession. Virginia was at 1.288 on Monday night.
The basketball world knows about Texas Tech coach Chris Beard now.
San Diego knew four years ago, or should have.
Beard didn’t get his first Division I head coaching job until 2015, for a Little Rock team that finished 13-18 the previous season and had the nation’s 288th-rated defense according to the Kenpom metric. The Trojans’ third game under their unknown head coach from Div. II Angelo State was at Viejas Arena.
Trojans 49, Aztecs 43.
SDSU scored 19 points in the first half, shot 28.6 percent overall and had 16 turnovers in a low-possession game. Seniors Winston Shepard, Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol had zero points in a combined 63 minutes.
At the time, it was considered SDSU’s worst home loss in nearly a decade. By the end of the season, it didn’t sting so much.
Little Rock finished 30-5, rose to 33rd in defensive efficiency and knocked off fifth-seeded Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. Beard would be hired by UNLV — for 19 days — and then bolt for Texas Tech after the job opened when Tubby Smith unexpectedly left.
The 49-43 decision at Viejas was the Trojans’ signature regular-season win, the first shot across the bow of Div. I that Beard and defensive guru Mark Adams — after toiling for years in anonymity at jucos and Div. IIs — were next-level good.
“I’m proud of those guys,” Beard said of his players that day. “It’s just like we told them in the recruiting process, the preseason and practice every day: Why not us? The first step in building something special is, you have to believe. Tonight, I thought there was a lot of trust on the bench. The coaching staff did a good job, Mark Adams had a great scout and our senior leadership was good.
“Just a lot of good things tonight in San Diego … It’s a good day to be a Little Rock Trojan.”