They call it the Road to the Final Four. For this year's Virginia Cavaliers, the road was narrow, windy, and bumpy—that is at least for a team that was one of the best in college basketball for the entire year. They won the ACC, earned a number one seed in the tournament, and survived some close ones, but all with what happened to them last year on their minds.
You are supposed to put the past behind you. That's how the saying goes. Right? In sports, if last year was good, that's terrific, but you have a job to do this year and you need to get on with it. If what happened before was terrible, you are told 'lesson learned' and 'let's get better. You have a job to do.
Virginia defeated Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime tonight, and got to cut down the nets in Minneapolis, where this year's road ended. It wasn't just a good season for coach Tony Bennett's (no 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco' to use here) squad, it was great. Their record was 35-3. But even while celebrating their shining moment, they were still thinking about it, and talking about it. Last year.
They are such a good team, that you may have forgotten. They were the number-one seed that lost to a 16-seed in the first round. Just 13 months ago, the mighty Retrievers from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County not only knocked out off the overall top seed in the tournament, but trounced them. UMBC won 74-54. Since the tournament expanded to 64+ teams in 1985, number one seeds have a record of 139-1 against 16s. Virginia was the one. That makes tonight's game historical. Of course, no top seed had ever lost before, but now the Cavaliers went from losing to a 16-seed one year, to winning it all the next.
While this year's Cavalier team may be remembered for overcoming that loss, you can't say they didn'r earn it. Again being a number one seed, they battled it out with 16-seed Gardner-Webb, but won 71-56. Next was ninth seed Oklahoma, which they won 63-51. Those two games were their only double-digit victories. They survived 12th seed Oregon by four points (53-49), came back against Purdue (80-75), and then survived a somewhat controversial ending against Auburn 63-62. A double dribble that wasn't called, and then a foul that was (it was a foul but what a way for a game to end) and three free throws to seal the deal. Then overtime for the title in a thrilling game. Virginia seemed to lead most of the time, but couldn't shake Texas Tech, then made all 13 free throw attempts in the final period.
It will be interesting when these 20 year-olds have grandchildren. They'll certainly tell them about their great championship of 2019. They might start the story with the Maryland-Baltimore County loss the previous year, and not be embarrassed about it either.
Coaching carousel: While Texas Tech and Virginia were “Duke”ing it out (I don't apologize for the pun) in the first half, news broke that Tennessee coach Rick Barnes turned down an offer to move to UCLA. Barnes' Volunteers were ranked number one for several weeks during the season, and he accepted a contract extension to stay in Knoxville... The big departure a state away that is being felt in northern California, is in Reno. Eric Musselman is leaving the University of Nevada, where he energized a program, got the Wolfpack to the tournament several times, and had them ranked as high as sixth in the country this season. Musselman has taken a job in the SEC, at Arkansas.
Trout derby: Angel fans are celebrating the 12-year, 430-million dollar contract extension for outfielder Mike Trout, and with good reason, but the bigger bargain is 35 miles north at Dodger Stadium. Trout hit five home runs in the Angels' first four home games, including a grand slam against Texas, but Cody Bellinger has seven home runs in ten games—a franchise record. Bellinger's salary? 605-thousand dollars (which is actually a 20-thousand dollar raise from last year).
AAF Wiedersehen: With just two weeks remaining in its inaugural regular season, the Alliance of American Football abruptly announced on Tuesday that it was suspending operations effective immediately. No reason was given, but even though the league, which saw itself as a development league for the NFL, had television contracts with a myriad of networks (CBS Sports Network, NFL Network, and TNT), they seemed to be strapped for cash. The AAF had teams in Arizona, Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and San Diego. The Orlando Apollos had the best record at 7-1. The Western Division co-leaders were the Arizona Hotshots and San Antonio Commanders at 5-3.
Audio daily double: Today marks the 45th anniversary of Henry Aaron's 715th career home run, breaking the record held by Babe Ruth. Several years ago, I did a little audio feature on it.
Click here to check it out