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The Virginia Cavaliers as Champions

Cole Stefan

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For the first time since 2006, the NCAA has a first time champion in Men’s Basketball. That honor belongs to the Virginia Cavaliers out of Charlottesville, Virginia. They were a one seed that did not have to compete against a single number one or two seed in the tournament in the previous two years. The results for Virginia this year are much better than last year after their devastating first round exit against 16th seeded UMBC. The long wait ended after a decisive overtime win over the 3rd seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders, who were also playing in their first ever March Madness championship game by a score of 85-77. This comes 429 days after the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl, of which also occurred at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

For Virginia, this was a long time in the making. Prior to this year, the last time Virginia went to the Final Four was in 1984, when they were a seven seed and where they lost to second-seeded Houston by a score of 49-47. From there, the wait kept piling up. Virginia did not qualify for the tournament in 1985, 1988, 1992, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013. When they did enter the madness, they either lost in the first round or in the Elite Eight. The loss last year to UMBC in the first really might have been a turning point for the Cavaliers. The devastating loss was felt throughout the country as people thought that 2018 was their year, having only lost once before the tournament.

This year, the Cavaliers entered the tournament with three losses, once to Florida St in the ACC semifinals and twice to Duke in the regular season. Although they did not win the ACC championship, their record was good enough for entry into the tournament as a one seed in the South region with teams such as Tennessee, Villanova, and even UC Irvine. The road back began with a matchup against the sixteenth-seeded Gardner-Webb Bulldogs. This was an easy 71-56 win, the upset in the first round would be avoided this year. Then it was the ninth-seeded Oklahoma Sooners. Without Trae Young or any other stars, Oklahoma was defeated by a score of 63-51. In the sweet sixteen four days later, Virginia faced off against the twelfth-seede Oregon Ducks. The Ducks´ cinderella run was halted by a score of 53-49. In the Elite Eight waited the third-seede Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue was trying to make their first ever final four appearance, but was denied the dream to go to Minnesota by a score of 80-75 in overtime.

Virginia now returned to the Final Four as a dominant one seed and their redemption tour was almost complete. Another first time opponent awaited them and that was the fifth-seeded Auburn Tigers, who were making their first ever final four appearance. The game went back and forth between Virginia and Auburn lead. In the end, two big fouls on Auburn changed the game from Charles Barkley seeing his team in the finals to Virginia being able to win by a score of 63-62. Those last three points were thanks to a pushing/shot interference foul on Auburn that sent Kyle Guy and his 82% free throw completions to the line to make three shots. After all the suffering, their first championship awaited them. In order to get there, they had to play the third-seeded Red Raiders. This game went back and forth and in the end, Virginia was able to pull an 11-0 run in overtime to win it all.

Virginia might not have been able to win the title for the first time if not for players such as Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, and Jack Salt. Also to note is their head coach Tony Bennett, whose name will go down in history. Some of these players on the championship team will return for another year of Virginia basketball and try to make the program very good. Either way, this was one of the best final fours in the history of March Madness because of how many teams were trying to go for their first title. One year and twenty-three days removed from the greatest upset in college basketball history, Virginia managed to pull themselves together, rally a community, and stand on top of the collegiate world.

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The Virginia Cavaliers as Champions