Defensive-oriented title game on tap as the Red Raiders and Cavaliers meet for the first time ever on the court
Defense will hog the spotlight when Texas Tech and Virginia battle for the national championship tonight. In the end, a first-time national champion will be crowned in men's basketball.
The No. 1-seeded Cavaliers fluster opponents with their trademark pack-line defense. They limit opponents to only 55.5 points per game — best among all NCAA Division I teams — and allow them to shoot 38.4 percent from the field. Virginia thrives on locking down in the paint and setting a methodical tempo. Still, the Cavaliers needed three free throws from Kyle Guy with 0.6 seconds to escape with a 63-62 win over Auburn in the Final Four.
The No. 3-seeded Red Raiders are an equally tough customer on the defensive side of the ball. Texas Tech ranks third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 58.8 points per contest. Forcing contested shots and attacking the perimeter is what the Red Raiders do best. Texas Tech averages 4.9 blocks per game and allows opponents to shoot just 36.9 percent from the field. Michigan State shot just 31.9 percent and didn't score a point over the final two minutes in a 61-51 Final Four loss to the Red Raiders.
This is the first meeting between the two schools.
National Championship: No. 3 Texas Tech (31-6) vs. No. 1 Virginia (34-3)
Time: 9:20 p.m. ET (Monday)
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
Keys for Texas Tech
Finding an early rhythm from the perimeter will help the Red Raiders loosen up Virginia's defense. The Cavaliers force opponents to settle for outside shots and they excel at making those looks as ineffective as possible. Texas Tech has the ability to get it done from outside. The Red Raiders are shooting 36.5 percent from 3-point range for the season.
Getting a big game from Matt Mooney is essential. The senior guard's poise and leadership give the offense a valuable spark while the defense does its thing. Texas Tech is 11-0 when Mooney scores 14 or more points this season. When Mooney is productive on offense, it draws away some defensive attention from Jarrett Culver and gives the Red Raiders' leading scorer more breathing room. Culver is capable of going off for 20 points at the drop of a hat, but he can't do it alone if Texas Tech wants to cut down the nets.
Keys for Virginia
The Red Raiders thrive on creating turnovers to generate offense. Virginia can put a stop to those plans by playing disciplined offense and taking care of the ball. This isn't a scenario that's out of the ordinary for the Cavaliers. Virginia sports a 1.59 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Cavaliers lead the nation with just 8.9 turnovers per game.
Ty Jerome needs to continue his recent run of play. Virginia's run to the championship game wouldn't be possible without Jerome coming through with big plays on both ends of the court in back-to-back close games. In victories over Purdue and Auburn, Jerome averaged 22.5 points and 6.5 assists. His late foul trouble helped open the door for Auburn to make a rally from a 10-point deficit in the final minutes. If Jerome can stay on the court, and meet his usual productive standard, it could give the Cavaliers the edge they need against Texas Tech.
If you crave old-school defensive battles, watching Texas Tech and Virginia for 40 minutes will satisfy your hunger. It may not be a stretch to say that the first team that reaches 50 points will win this game. Points will be in short supply with two of the nation's top defensive teams sharing the same court. Ultimately, the Red Raiders have shown a greater capability of shutting down opponents far below their usual capabilities on offense. They will do the same against the Cavaliers.
Prediction: Texas Tech 61, Virginia 58
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.