The 2019 Final Four
By Max Druckman
The Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Basketball March Madness tournament is known for its intense unpredictability, excitement, and sometimes for the losing side, downright sadness. The 2019 edition did not disappoint. The four teams participating had beaten all the rest in the field of 64. Some did so narrowly, while others utterly dominated the opposition. Nonetheless, all of their paths led to Minneapolis, Minnesota, which hosted the final four for the third time. The universities that made it to the Final Four this time were the University of Auburn Tigers, the University of Virginia Cavaliers, the Michigan State University Spartans, and the Texas Tech University Red Raiders. Each one of the three games contested provided many thrills and showed what this tournament is all about.
The first matchup of the final four pitted the underdog 5-seeded Auburn against the mighty 1-seeded Virginia, the only 1 seed in the final four. The Tigers had never made it this far in the tournament in their history, as their athletic prowess was mostly focused on football. However, this bunch had defied the odds by winning the Southeastern Conference championship and defeating basketball powerhouses Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky en route to the final four. Lead by balanced scoring from Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, the Tigers were a legitimate threat to the high-powered Cavaliers. Virginia was on the hunt for redemption after crashing out early in the 2018 tournament. Just like this year, Virginia was a 1 seed in the 2018 edition. However, they became the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed in the tournament, being destroyed by the University of Maryland Baltimore County Terriers. They had had a pretty easy path to the final four this year, coming up against Purdue, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Gardner-Webb, four teams with few basketball stars. The game itself was a tight battle in the first half, with solid defense making the score 31-28 in favor of Auburn after 20 minutes. In the second half, Virginia took a convincing lead. A 9-0 run by the Tigers saw them take a 62-60 lead with just seconds remaining. A last gasp effort saw guard Kyle Guy shoot a three-pointer for the lead. The referee blew his whistle for a foul on his shot. Guy, cool as a cucumber, knocked down all three free throws and gave his Cavaliers a thrilling 63-62 victory.
The other semi-final matchup saw the 3-seeded Texas Tech against the 2-seeded Duke. Texas Tech was a team on the rise, having made it to their first final four under the stewardship of defensively-brilliant head coach Chris Beard. They had knocked out juggernauts to get to this point, Michigan and Gonzaga, and were a downright brilliant team with outstanding tactics, lead by NBA-bound Jarrett Culver. Michigan State was no stranger to big stages, having won two tournaments and appeared in 10 final fours. Along the way to this final four, the Spartans took down the heavily favored Duke Blue Devils, who many had picked to win the entire tournament. They were lead by superstar Zion Williamson. Michigan State dispatched them in a tight thriller that went down to the last minute. Their game against Texas Tech, however, was not very tight. After having only a two-point lead at halftime, the Red Raiders ran away with the game and won comfortably 61-51. The top scorers were Matt Mooney on Texas Tech and Cassius Winston on Michigan State. The Red Raiders were off to their first National Championship Game!
The stage was set. Two universities both looking for their first ever titles, on a buzzing Monday night at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. One in the hunt for redemption, the other to prove that underdogs could indeed come out on top. In a back and forth game, the Cavaliers were winning 32-29 at the half. The game was a gritty defensive matchup and even after the second half was played, the match was knotted 68-68. This was headed to overtime! The overtime was not even close, as Virginia walked all over a tired Texas Tech and won 85-77. Virginia fans could now step out of their misery and into celebratory moods, as they were now champs. Kyle Guy’s outstanding performances earned him the Most Outstanding Player award and Cavaliers nation went home knowing that they were the lone survivor of a March Madness to remember. Devoted fans will be counting down the days until next season’s tournament, hoping it will be as exciting as this year’s!