Survive and Advance: The Joy and Heartbreak of March
A Recap of the 2019 NCAA March Madness Tournament
By Maya Gomes
There is something innately special about college basketball. Playing collegiate basketball is a short window of time for any player, limited even more by the growing trend of “one and done” star players declaring for the NBA draft after their freshman year. This creates a very unique playing environment; an atmosphere of complete dedication and desperation, accentuated by the hype that surrounds NBA scouting. It makes sense that the three-week long, season culminating tournament nicknamed March Madness is similarly emotional and entertaining. The 2019 tournament did not disappoint: buzzer-beating shots, juggernauts, underdogs, injuries, heartbreak, and redemption paved the way for a memorable tournament.
Going into the tournament the overwhelming favorite to win it all were the number one overall seeded Duke Blue Devils, led by rookie phenom Zion Williamson. Other popular picks were the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Virginia Cavaliers.
Round of 64:
The first round kicked off with an upset, with (10) Minnesota coming out on top of (7) Louisville. Other starts included Ja Morant of (12) Murray State, who led his team to a beatdown of (5) Marquette with the tournaments first triple-double since 2012, (7) Wofford sharpshooter Fletcher McGee who led his team past (10) Seton Hall with a three-point shooting clinic, and the (1) Duke tandem of Zion and RJ Barrett as they cruised past (16) North Dakota State.
Round of 32:
The second round proved increasingly entertaining with several close games including (2) Tennessee over (10) Iowa, (1) Gonzaga over (9) Baylor, a buzzer beater propelling (3) LSU over (6) Maryland. However, no game stole the show like (1) Duke and (9) UCF, with a wild last few minutes that included a layup and foul for Zion Williamson, who then missed the free throw, only for RJ Barrett to go up and put it back for the lead. UCF then had a chance to win but missed two close shots in the dwindling seconds.
The Sweet 16 also yielded several nail-biting finishes, with (2) Tennessee falling to (3) Purdue 99-94 in overtime on the backs of big performances from Senior Ryan Cline and Junior star Carsen Edwards. For the second straight game, (1) Duke found themselves on the ropes as (4) Virginia Tech came close to beating them with several good looks in the final minute. However, another lucky bounce allowed Duke to prevail, winning the game 75-73. Other winners included (1) Gonzaga over (4) Florida State, (3) Texas Tech over (2) Michigan, (1) Virginia over (12) Oregon, (2) Michigan State over (3) LSU, (5) Auburn over (1) North Carolina, and (2) Kentucky over (3) Houston.
The tournament continued with day one of the Elite Eight, which gave us our first fallen number one seed as (1) Gonzaga lost to (3) Texas Tech – which gave the Red Raiders their first trip to the Final Four in school history. The excitement continued with an absolute thriller between (1) Virginia and (3) Purdue: a red hot Carsen Edwards (42 points) keeping the game close for the Boilermakers as Cavaliers guards Kyle Guy (25 points) and Ty Jerome (24 points) pushed to build Virginia’s lead. The game went to overtime after a regulation buzzer beater by Mamadi Diakite, and a defense suddenly capable of containing Edwards coupled with a costly Boilermaker turnover allowed Virginia to put the game away 80-75.
Day two also had some shocking finishes, kicking off with the (5) Auburn Tigers and the (2) Kentucky Wildcats. The Tigers entered the game without star forward Chuma Okeke who tore his ACL in the Tigers win over UNC but managed to keep pace with Kentucky as the game was sent to overtime. Led by junior point guard Jared Harper, Auburn managed to put away Kentucky and secure the school’s first trip to the final four. The final game of the round yielded an absolute stunner as (2) Michigan State managed to defeat juggernaut (1) Duke after a close game. In a game that bolstered several lead changes, a stifling Spartans defense and a lack of support from the Duke bench, 20+ point games from both Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett failed to carry Duke over Michigan State. A missed free throw by RJ Barrett proved fatal to Duke, and the Spartans survived to advance to the Final Four.
The Final Four kicked off with the (5) Auburn Tigers taking on the (1) Virginia Cavaliers. Following the Cavaliers exciting Elite Eight ending was another agonizingly intense finish against Auburn. In an exceedingly close game, the win was decided in the final seconds. After, Jared Harper made one of two free throws at the seven second mark, putting Auburn up 62-60, Virginia desperately sent the ball up the court, and managed to get the ball to Kyle Guy who was fouled attempting a three-pointer. Fans were outraged to see that Ty Jerome seemingly double-dribbled on Virginia final possession, which should have made a turnover, however, the call was missed and Kyle Guy sunk all three free throws, putting Virginia up and sending them to their first-ever NCAA championship.
To decide Virginia’s opponent (3) Texas Tech faced off against (2) Michigan State, pitting the Red Raider’s top-notch defense against Spartan’s star Cassius Winston. The Red Raiders defense held true, just as it had all season, holding the Spartans to 15-47 field goal shooting (32%). A 22 point game from Senior Matt Mooney helped lift Texas Tech to their first-ever NCAA title game.
The conclusion of this year’s March Madness was both thrilling and heartbreaking.
In a game that featured two teams with stifling defenses, yet it was the offenses that made the championship so entertaining. After going down by a 10 point deficit at two separate times during the game, the Texas Tech Red Raiders powered forward and overtook the Cavaliers by 3 with 22 seconds left on the clock. Virginia, living through yet another high-intensity ending, leaned on the game’s top scorer, sophomore De’Andre Hunter who drained a wide-open three-pointer with 12 seconds on the clock to send the game to overtime. Another key three by Hunter and a turnover that just barely touched Red Raider Davide Moretti, Virginia managed to put away the Red Raiders, and secure the school’s first-ever NCAA championship.
Coming into this year’s tournament, Virginia had something to prove. Last year, the Cavaliers became the first number one seed to ever lose to a sixteen seed in the first round. In a season punctuated with themes of redemption and questions about the ability of the Cavaliers to close out games, Virginia could not have asked for a better tournament. Despite a first-round scare against (16) Gardner-Webb that for many fans felt all too familiar, the Virginia Cavaliers showed up when they needed to, surviving several nerve-wracking finishes. And when it mattered most, their start players stepped up, showing all the doubters that the Cavs were a truly formidable team capable of winning it all.