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With a National Championship, Virginia puts tired narratives to rest

The Hoos quiet the critics with high octane postseason.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-National Championship-Virginia vs Texas Tech Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If you listened really carefully when the final horn sounded in Minneapolis as confetti and streamers fell to the court as the Virginia Cavaliers celebrated its first ever National Championship in men’s basketball, you could hear the last gasps of air escaping the media’s favorite hot take. With the dramatic 85-77 win over Texas Tech in the title game, Virginia’s style could no longer be the punching bag for writers and personalities too lazy to make any effort in understanding the Cavaliers.

Takes about Virginia’s “inability to blow teams out”, “lack of stars”, and other cliches have run rampant since the 2014 squad bust onto the scene, won the ACC tournament, and nabbed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Underwhelming performances in the big dance in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018 fed the narrative that Bennett’s defense first style and grind-it-out wins were fine for the regular season but would never work in the postseason.

But the issue was actually that it never didn’t work before. Virginia didn’t lose to Michigan State in 2014 because of pace or possessions, they lost because they faced an incredible Spartan team that delivered one more body blow than the Hoos did. Virginia didn’t lose to Michigan State in 2015 because of playing slowly, they lost because they decided to forget how to play basketball all together.

In 2016? The most ironic part about Virginia’s collapse against Syracuse was that if Virginia had actually played their game instead of trying to push the ball after breaking the press, they easily win that game and the choking narrative never gains momentum in the first place. I’ve always maintained that the Sweet 16 game with Iowa State gave the Hoos false confidence in the fast break after Virginia easily dominated the Cyclones’ press and got out to an insurmountable lead. Two days later, that uncharacteristic play was their downfall.

The 2017 squad never had the same ceiling as the others as illness and injury built up. That team wasn’t going to win a National Championship, especially without a healthy Isaiah Wilkins. Virginia’s historic and soul crushing loss to UMBC was due more to the fact that the Hoos couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn coupled with the Retrievers’ inability to miss than any sort of “style”. If you don’t hit shots and the other team does, you’re going to lose no matter what pace you play.

Now, it’s Bennett and the Cavaliers who have the last laugh. “We told ourselves we were going to come back and do it, and do it with Tony Bennett’s system,” Mamadi Diakite said after Virginia’s 85-77 overtime victory against Texas Tech. “Now, if you don’t believe it, I don’t know. I guess you’re on another planet.”

During the season, members of the team and coaching staff wouldn’t let on much that they paid any attention to what the pundits said, but as they sat in the Virginia locker room with grins on their faces and bits of net tied to their “2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions” hats, you could pick up on some subtle — and some not so subtle — digs at the tired takes.

Before the title game, Yahoo!’s Pete Thamel said the teams in the championship matchup had, “... the aesthetic appeal of John Daly in a Speedo” and that it was the “least-sexy national title game of the past generation.” Virginia has been on the receiving end of some spicy Yahoo! articles for awhile, seeing as Pat Forde was ready to unleash the fire of a 1000 suns on Bennett and the Cavaliers after last year’s UMBC loss as he called Virginia basketball a “towering fraud.” After the Hoos emerged victorious, Forde changed his tune ever-so-slightly once Ty Jerome told him he was “...going to have to write a different article now” on the streamer strewn court.

Even though Mike Francesca has been a hot take artist for awhile now, this one is still fun to watch, too:

And then there’s ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who has been vocal on First Take and his radio show about how much he disliked the Cavaliers’ style. Jerome, for one, felt for Smith. “I just feel so bad for Stephen A. Smith,” Jerome said with a smile after the game. “You know what I mean? He said he hated watching us, and he had to watch us every round of the tournament. I feel so bad for him. It must have been hard for him.”

After the friendly jab, Jerome got to the heart of the matter. “For us to come out and score 85 against a team like that, and for them to put 77 on us...they hit some tough shots, we hit some tough shots. People made some plays, it was a high-level game.”

It isn’t just that the narrative is now dead, it’s how the Cavaliers killed it. Throughout the tournament, Virginia had to rely on their offense more times than not. Against Purdue, there was no defensive answer for what Carsen Edwards was doing to the Cavaliers. Instead, big players made big plays. Virginia didn’t escape with a win, they had to respond with huge shots against a star who couldn’t miss. A ridiculous corner three and three clutch free throws from Kyle Guy secured Virginia an improbable win over Auburn in the Final Four.

In the title game, two brands that were deemed “duds” by some of the talking heads came out and delivered one of the most exciting championship games in recent memory. Texas Tech and Virginia combined for the highest-scoring championship game since 2000, and the regulation score of 68-68 all was better than Duke’s wins in 2015 and 2010, among others.

In fact, the Virginia Cavaliers scored the most points in the Elite Eight (80, in overtime), Final Four (63), and obviously the title game (85). For a team that struggles to score, that ain’t bad. Of course, Virginia hadn’t struggled to score this season, finishing with the second most efficient offense in the country on KenPom behind just Gonzaga (which lost to Texas Tech).

So farewell to the “Virginia can’t get it done in the postseason” and “Bennett’s style will never win a title” narratives. I can’t say I’ll miss you. I will, however, enjoy the hell out of this National Championship.