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Big 12 offseason reset: The Streak broken, will Kansas get back on top?

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Big 12.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

How will Kansas react with The Streak snapped?: You’d have to go back to John Wooden’s UCLA teams to find a program as dominant in a major league as Kansas has been under Bill Self. The Jayhawks won 14-straight Big 12 regular season championships, winning a national title and going to three Final Fours over that time, too. It all came to an end last year, though, as a roster that first failed to live up to expectations and then crumbled with injuries and off-court issues as that 14-year run – known around the conference simple as ‘The Streak’ – was halted by Kansas State and eventual national runner-up Texas Tech.

The Jayhawks, however, have retooled and are going to be the favorite to win the league again. Things change, but they stay the same, too, ya know?

Kansas will have one of the best frontcourts in the country with Udoka Azubuike back from injury and Silvio De Sousa surprising ruled eligible by the NCAA after sitting out last season. Quentin Grimes transferred to Houston, but the other half of the 2018 five-star backcourt is back with Devon Dotson seemingly turning a corner late in the season. Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss provides some athleticism and outside shooting.

That’s a strong foundation for getting back on top of what’s been the best league top-to-bottom in recent years. If Kansas can get contributions from Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji or the freshmen, they could separate themselves from the conference.

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Can Texas Tech reload?: The Red Raiders sustained major losses from last year’s national finalist, including a lottery pick in Jarrett Culver along with stalwarts Matt Mooney, Brandone Francis, Tariq Owens, Khavon Moore and Norense Odiase, but we said that after their 2018 Elite 8 appearance and we saw how that turned out, right?

Virginia Tech transfer Chris Clarke, who was suspended by the Hokies last season for off-court issues, is sure to figure in largely in this retooling effort, as does Stephen F. Austin transfer T.J. Holyfield. So the cupboard does have some talent for Chris Beard to work with, and Beard has shown in his three years in Lubbock what he can get out of rosters, especially on the defensive end. We’ve got the Red Raiders ranked in our preseason top-10, so we’re betting Beard has it figured out.

After “miserable” season, will Bob Huggins and West Virginia regain their footing?: ‘Press Virginia’ helped Huggins and the Mountaineers make the transition to the Big 12 after a rocky start, then got them to four-straight NCAA tournaments with three Sweet 16s. It all fell apart last season, with West Virginia stacking losses and Huggins admitting to just how horrible all of that losing was with a team that just could never get going until it was already well too late with a 4-14, last-place Big 12 campaign.

There looked to be some signs of progress late after a number of players were sent packing, with the Mountaineers beating Iowa State at home and then two games in the Big 12 tournament, leading to questions of addition by subtraction. Can that continue on to this season or will things continue to be the kind of slog that wears on Huggins, who wears his emotions on his sleeve?

What will Iowa State be?: Steve Prohm’s team was one of the most difficult to figure out in all the country last year with the Cyclones sometimes looking like the class of the Big 12 and a Final Four contender and then at others looking like a mess. That team, which won the conference tournament but bowed out in the first round of the NCAAs, won’t much resemble this season’s squad with Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker all gone, the last two to early entry decisions.

Prohm isn’t without talent, though, as Tyrese Haliburton is back with NBA buzz while the frontcourt could be interesting with Michael Jacobson, Solomon Young and George Conditt all proven Big 12 players to varying degrees. Prentiss Nixon, a transfer from Colorado State, is expected to be a major contributor, as is Rasir Bolton, who hopes to get a waiver to play immediately after a standout freshman season at Penn State. The Cyclones have considerable upside, but plenty of questions, too.

Can Texas finally get going?: Shaka Smart arrived in Austin with huge expectations after his game-changing stint at VCU, but after four years, the Longhorns have yet to win an NCAA tournament game in just two appearances. Their best finish in the Big 12 is fourth while they finished dead last once. That’s despite a parade of first-round NBA Draft picks coming through the roster. Texas cares a lot more about what Tom Herman is doing over with the football program, but at what point do the Longhorns get impatient?

Texas’ roster is fine, but it doesn’t look strong enough to compete at the highest level in the Big 12. Given the resources the program has – with a new arena forthcoming – and Smart’s current salary, is that enough?

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WHO’S GONE

  • Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: The Lubbock native played his way into the lottery with a sensational sophomore season, and he’ll be hard to replace.
  • Dedric Lawson, Kansas: The Memphis transfer went pro after a productive individual season in Lawrence in which he was the most consistent Jayhawk in a difficult season.
  • Quentin Grimes, Kansas: There were serious expectations for Grimes in Lawrence, but he never lived up to them. He’s at Houston now after toying with going pro.
  • Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State: The Cyclones knew they were losing NWB and Shayok and presumed Wigginton would go pro, but Horton-Tucker’s decision was one they hadn’t anticipated until late in the winter. If either he or Wigginton had returned, the Cyclones would have been formidable. Instead, they’re a bit of a question mark.
  • Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade, Kansas State: It’s the end of an era in Manhattan with these three accomplished players moving on.
  • Jaxson Hayes, Texas: Hayes’ rise to first-round NBA Draft pick was a surprising one, but Texas has been churning out NBA big men under Smart
  • Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski, Texas: Two all-league caliber players who Texas will be hard-pressed to replace.
  • Christian James, Oklahoma: James gave the Sooners much of their scoring punch, and they’ll be in need of scoring on the perimeter.
  • Alex Robinson and Kouat Noi, TCU: Robinson was an assist machine and a steady hand on the offense while Noi was a major matchup problem. Robinson graduated while the Australia-native Noi is pursuing a pro career overseas after pulling out of the draft.

WHO’S BACK

  • Devon Dotson, Silvio De Sousa and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks have no shortage of talent, and their frontcourt is going to be a major problem for the rest of the leagu.
  • Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State: The former- three-star recruit blossomed into an pro prospect last year, and he’ll be given the reins of the Cyclone offense this year.
  • Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: The Italian guard was a huge part of Texas Tech’s national title-game run last year, and he’ll have the chance to step into a bigger role.
  • Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra, Kansas State: Sneed flirted with going pro while Diarra battled injury last year. Both could be primed for huge seasons.
  • Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler and Mark Vital: Baylor: Clark’s return from a knee injury is huge for the league while Kegler and Vital are major pieces.
  • Matt Coleman, Jericho Sims and Jason Febres, Texas: Coleman is solid at point while Sims, expected to be a breakout performer last year, played second-fiddle to Jaxson Hayes and Febres is consistent from outside. This doesn’t even take into account Andrew Jones, who continues to work his way back from a battle with leukemia.
  • Brady Manek, Oklahoma: Trae Young’s one-time sidekick is going to have to run the show for the Sooners.
  • Desmond Bane, TCU: The guard is one of the country’s best 3-point shooters, converting at 42.5 percent last year.
  • Lindy Waters and Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have mostly overachieved in Mike Boynton’s two years in charge, and if it’s going to be three, these two will be a huge part of it.
  • Derek Culver, West Virginia: The second-team all-Big 12 pick was one of the few bright spots last year for West Virginia.

WHO’S COMING

  • Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia: The top-30 recruit could help anchor the defense at the center position for Bob Huggins.
  • Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague, Baylor: Scott Drew will rely heavily on this transfer pair as the Bears look to return to the NCAA tournament – and maybe push toward the top of the league.
  • Chris Clarke, TJ Holyfield and Jahmius Ramsey, Texas Tech: Chris Beard restocks with high-level transfers and a top-rated recruit.
  • De’Vion Harmon and Austin Reaves, Oklahoma: Lon Kruger welcomes in a top recruit and a transfer from Wichita State who fires away from 3.
  • Will Baker, Kai Jones and Donovan Williams, Texas: Shaka Smart gets reinforcements with a trio of top-75 recruits.
  • Prentis Nixon, Iowa State: The 6-foot-1 guard filled it up at Colorado State, but will be Iowa State’ defensive stopper on the perimeter.
  • Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, Kansas: Moss brings experience and shooting while WIlson and Enaruna are highly-ranked recruits.
  • P.J. Fuller, TCU: The top-75 recruit will help Jamie Dixon on the perimeter.
  • Jonathan Laurent, Oklahoma State: Former Minuteman shot 46.7 percent from 3-point range last year.
(David Purdy/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG 12 TEAM

Udoka Azubuike, KANSAS (BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
Tyrese Haliburton, IOWA STATE
Devon Dotson, KANSAS
Chris Clarke, TEXAS TECH
Derek Culver, WEST VIRGINIA

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. KANSAS: The Jayhawks were knocked from their perch last year, but it took quite the sequence of events – along with one of the country’s best teams (Texas Tech) and one of it’s most experienced (Kansas State) – to finally make it happen after 14 years. If Bill Self and Co. can avoid the turmoil, this team should be good enough to reclaim the crown they were so hesitant to give up. Udoka Azubuike is a throwback big whom the league will have few answers for while the backcourt should improve from last season.

2. TEXAS TECH: This time last year, we were wondering how Chris Beard would try to replace Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith well enough to get back to the NCAA tournament. The task is similar this year, but the expectations are raised. What we know is that Beard is going to get this team to defend, and if they can squeeze some offense out, the Red Raiders can follow the same blueprint they’ve ridden to so much success the last two seasons.

3. BAYLOR: The Bears overachieved last year, and with Clark back in the fold plus strong transfer reinforcements, Baylor is going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. Scott Drew has gone from everyone’s favorite joke to make to being a coach you can count on to get the most out of his teams.

4. IOWA STATE: This is probably a best-case scenario for the Cyclones, who will be replacing a lot from last year’s team but have a solid core returning. Steve Prohm’s team could play big this season with two bigs, and that will put considerable pressure on the backcourt of Tyrese Haliburton and Prentiss Nixon to produce. The key could be whether or not Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton gets a transfer waiver. He’s got the scoring skills the Cyclones sorely need.

5. TEXAS: A little bit of shooting would go a long way for the Longhorns, but Texas’ season will likely hinge largely on just getting its returners to take a leap forward. If that doesn’t happen, the Longhorns are probably on the outside looking in on the NCAA tournament and questions about Smart’s job status will get louder – especially with all the success happening out in Lubbock.

6. KANSAS STATE: Bruce Weber has a lot of production to replace, but Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra are nice building blocks from which to start.

7. OKLAHOMA: Losing Christian James is going to put pressure on Brady Manek to step up offensively while Kristian Doolittle should take a step in his development as well. Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves’ ability to stretch defenses will be huge.

8. TCU: Jamie Dixon seemingly nearly left for his native Southern California and the UCLA job, but instead returns to his alma mater in Fort Worth with the roster not in as strong a position as it has been the last two years. Looks like rebuilding for the Horned Frogs.

9. OKLAHOMA STATE: Mike Boynton has done an admirable job with a tough situation in Stillwater. Isaac Likekele is drawing strong reviews with Team USA’s U19 squad and both Lindy Waters and Cam McGriff are proven Big 12 players, but there are too many question marks here to feel strongly about the Cowboys breaking through.

10. WEST VIRGINIA: It’s not particularly hard to see this ranking prove to be considerably off given what we’ve seen Bob Huggins transform some rosters into, but last year was such a debacle that it’s difficult to peg the Mountaineers making a major move up the standings.

Texas Tech suspends Deshawn Corprew

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Texas Tech suspended Deshawn Corprew from the basketball team after allegations of assault, the athletic department announced on Monday.

A redshirt sophomore who appeared in 37 games last season, the 6-foot-5 Corprew has Title IX allegations against him, which means the school will investigate.

“Once Coach Beard was made aware of Title IX allegations against Deshawn Corprew, the men’s basketball student-athlete was immediately suspended from all team activities, pending a full investigation. Further comment will be withheld until the appropriate time,” A Texas Tech athletics official said in a statement.

Corprew averaged 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds for the Red Raiders last season as he was a rotation player for the title-game losing team. Expected to receive more minutes with the loss of some key players, including top-ten pick Jarrett Culver, Corprew’s basketball future is unknown at the moment since nothing about these allegations has come out and the investigation is just beginning.

It’s difficult to judge the severity of the allegations and how it will keep Corprew away from the team but Texas Tech will have to figure out some other plans for his spot while he’s away from the team.

RJ Hampton signed with New Zealand team ‘probably like a month ago’

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RJ Hampton surprised many earlier this week when he decided to bypass college basketball by signing with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian pro league. Until then, Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech had held out hope that it would land a five-star prospect late in the recruiting cycle that would provide an instant and dramatic boost to any of the program’s 2019-20 fortunes.

Turns out, they all stopped having a chance quite awhile ago.

Hampton decided to play overseas and signed his contract with New Zealand “probably like a month ago,” he said in a Bleacher Report video.

“Some people would say it to my face, like, are thinking of going overseas?” Hampton said. “I’d be like, ‘I have my top three, Kansas, Memphis and (Texas) Tech.'”

It’s a decision that certainly impacts those three programs immediately, but it’ll remain to be seen how many other prep players pursue the same route as Hampton. It’s been a little-traveled path in the nearly 15 years since the NBA’s one-and-done rule was put in place.

“The response has been great from my friends and my family, like my teammates from my AAU team to high high school team, jsut everyone in my city. Everyone is just happy for me,” Hampton said. “My dream is to just go to New Zealand, play for five months and then go to the NBA and start my NBA career.”

The fans – and coaching staffs – of Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech probably would have liked to have that information a month ago, but when you’re a five-star prospect like Hampton with options galore, you get to make the rules and set the timetable.

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver declaring for draft

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Jarrett Culver made a reality Thursday what appeared inevitable. The Texas Tech sophomore is heading to the NBA.

The projected top-10 pick declared his intentions to enter the drat at a press conference in his native Lubbock just over a week after leading the Red Raiders to the national championship game.

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft,” Culver said to applause in a standing-room only crowd full of supporters.

It’s little surprise to see Culver become the second early-entry player under third-year coach Chris Beard after Zhaire Smith went one-and-done to the first-round last year. The 6-foot-5 Culver averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last year while being named the Big 12 player of the year as Texas Tech split the regular-season conference title with Kansas State to put a stop to Kansas’ 14-year reign atop the league.

He could be picked in the top-three of the draft while the top-10 seems assured. He’s a proven scorer and two-way player, though NBA teams will have questions about his athleticism and 3-point shot.

His departure also means a huge reload is in order for Beard and Co., but that was the case coming off an Elite Eight trip in 2017, which Texas Tech followed up with a near-national championship earlier this month.

Late reversal turns tide for Texas Tech

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MINNEAPOLIS — Davide Moretti won the 50-50 ball near mid-court and saw daylight as he pushed towards the rim.

With his Red Raiders trailing 75-73 in overtime of the national championship game, the Texas Tech guard gained possession off of a Ty Jerome missed jumper. Moretti’s goal was to immediately get to the basket to potentially tie the game with just over a minute left.

“I think we were down so I was trying to attack the rim and try to make it a one-possession game,” Moretti said.

In an instant, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter swallowed up Moretti’s driving lane.

College basketball’s national defensive player of the year swiped the ball away from the dribbling Moretti as Hunter’s deflection forced the ball out of bounds. To the naked eye, it appeared Texas Tech would retain possession with a chance to tie, or take the lead, with 1:06 left in overtime.

Slow-motion replay cameras showed a different story.

Officials reviewed the play and saw the ball graze off Moretti’s right pinky before it went out of play. The initial call of Texas Tech ball was overturned. Virginia was given possession after the official monitor review.

The momentum-shifting call gave the Cavaliers a chance to gain a two-possession lead. When play resumed, Jerome was fouled and made two free throws to give Virginia a 77-73 lead with 41 seconds left. The Red Raiders never had another possession with a chance to tie, or take the lead, as the Cavaliers closed out their first men’s basketball national championship with a memorable 85-77 overtime win.

Some viewers immediately criticized the merit of replay, and overturned calls, after the Moretti out-of-bounds decision was reversed. The referees’ new conclusion changed the momentum of a thrilling game — though the ruling was ultimately correct. Others also maintained the spirit of the replay rule was compromised by the switched decision in the midst of an intense back-and-forth contest.

Those critical of the decision also argued that Virginia’s Kyle Guy wasn’t called for a potential foul for hitting Moretti right before Hunter knocked the ball away from him. Fouls are not reviewable.

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

It also didn’t help that officials tagged Moretti with a foul call a few possessions earlier. Guy appeared to trip over teammate Mamadi Diakite’s foot instead of a Texas Tech defender as Moretti shouldered the blame. Another missed call, with the foul given to Moretti, gave Guy two free throws to cut the Texas Tech lead to 73-72 with 2:45 left. Official review also isn’t allowed to check on a play like that.

The animosity of multiple perceived blown calls down the stretch resonated with those who wanted a classic title game to stay tight until the very end.

“I think they called a foul on me when Kyle Guy tripped over his teammate. And they overturned a call that they made on the inbound. I think that was two big-time moments that helped decide the game,” Moretti said.

The replay not going Texas Tech’s way hurt enough. The overturned out-of-bounds call also made it difficult for the Red Raiders’ coaching staff to properly prepare for what was next in the team’s huddle. In the midst of a tense one-possession game, with the season on the line, head coach Chris Beard tried his best to get the Red Raiders ready for an either/or scenario during the official review. Being behind is tough enough. Trailing during an uncertain situation is that much more difficult. It was impossible to predict what was coming in the midst of the chaos and confusion.

“We prepared both ways. If we get the ball, do this. If we don’t get the ball, do that,” Beard said. “One of the differences between winning and losing [comes that close].”

Even though the national championship game was a thriller — the first overtime title game since 2008 — some fans believed the replay situation, and missed calls, marred the outcome. It’s also tough to take those claims seriously when some of those same viewers would complain if a ruling occurred if slow-motion replay wasn’t allowed.

The human element of officiating — with referees who are some of the finest in a sport filled with rapid decisions — has always been a part of basketball — and most sports in general. Replay, and overturned calls, have also been demanded by many fans during a modern era where we demand accountability for every single call in a game’s final minutes.

We can’t have it both ways. Although Moretti is correct in his assessment that those plays shifted the momentum of the outcome, he also dribbled straight into one of the sport’s best defensive players when teammate Jarrett Culver was trailing for a potential layup. Texas Tech could have just as easily called a timeout when Moretti dribbled into the double team. Moretti’s mishap is being glossed over by some even though the slow-motion replay, and changed decision, ended up being correct.

“It was a 50-50 ball, and after I grabbed it, [Hunter] touched it so I couldn’t make a move,” Moretti said. “I was thinking about making a move but he was quicker than I thought he was going to be.”

Replay isn’t going away. Referees sometimes miss calls in key spots. Adjustments to the rule book might even prevent some of the aforementioned scenarios. But to claim that Texas Tech lost because of an overturned call is silly. Although the Red Raiders were undoubtedly hurt by some officials’ decisions, they still held themselves accountable for a difficult loss that will sting for a long time.

“We’re a no-excuse program so I think we lost the game in other respects,” Moretti said.

Virginia and Texas Tech deliver a classic title game

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MINNEAPOLIS — Jarrett Culver and Chris Beard stood in the corner of the raised floor, embracing, commiserating and consoling as their opponents celebrated the national championship they so desperately wanted just a few feet away. Beard wrapped his arms around Culver, and told the sophomore star he loved him.

Then, Tony Bennett, moments after a game that will redefine his career and legacy, made his way to that corner, around his team and toward the two Red Raiders.

“He told me to keep my head up, keep pushing,” Culver recalled, “and, ‘great game.’”

One of the greatest, even.

Virginia completed one of the best comeback stories in the history of sports when the confetti fell on its 85-77 overtime victory against Texas Tech in a game that featured all-time performances and historic moments in a classic 45 minutes of basketball.

Anyone fretting that pitting two of the country’s best defenses against each other on the biggest stage might lead to a monumental flop need not have worried.

Texas Tech and Virginia gave us one of the best final nights of the season in the game’s history. It was absolutely that good.

It featured two of the sports unquestioned best teams, a pair of elite coaches, a couple lottery picks and more drama than we deserved. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fantastic.

“It was, Bennett said, “a terrific game.”

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It was a game of stories and a game of moments, with the latter informing the former.

The final 6 minutes of regulation was what made this game go from great to all-timer. Virginia led by eight, a monster lead given its soul-snatching defense and time-sucking offense. But when Kyler Edwards’ bucket trimmed it to six and Matt Mooney’s triple halved it to three, the prospect of a Red Raider comeback – and Virginia collapse – seemed possible.

Then Ty Jerome clanked a 3, and Norense Odiase, who has spent the last five years in a Texas Tech jersey, banged home a layup and was fouled. His and-one tied the game, and set U.S. Bank Stadium ablaze.

“We started making plays,” Culver said, “and that opened up the door.”

Virginia did not wilt, however, getting buckets from De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy to go back up four. The game, unsatisfied to follow a clean trajectory, whipsawed back to Texas Tech, which got a triple from Davide Moretti and a layup from Culver to take the lead for the first time since the last minutes of the first half. When Odiase made two free throws seconds later, Texas Tech had a three-point cushion and 22 seconds to kill to claim its first national title.

Instead, Hunter reached legend status.

Jerome penetrated into the paint and looked like he might try the same floater he missed just a possession earlier, but instead floated a pass out to the corner to Hunter, who caught the ball near his head, reloaded it into his shooting pocket and fired away, splashing a triple with 14 seconds left to tie the game.

“I just took my time and shot it,” Hunter said. “I just was standing there. I just stood there. I didn’t move, really.”

Some guys run into history, Hunter stood and shot his way there. It’s that make he’ll be remembered for, but his night of 27 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 44 minutes make for one of the best title-game performances ever.

We could have scrambled at him and ran at him a little bit more, and that might be a coaching mistake, but we were dialed in,” Beard said. “We knew who he was. He just hit a lot of tough shots.”

Still, Texas Tech had a chance to tie it after what nearly became the most infamous attempted timeout since Chris Webber in 1993.

Culver’s potential go-ahead 3 missed its mark with 5 seconds remaining and Hunter corralled the rebound. He looked to pass the ball up ahead to Guy, but the hero of Saturday’s semifinal win wasn’t using his hands to catch a pass. Instead, he was signalling for timeout when Hunter’s pass sailed out of bounds with 1 second remaining, giving Texas Tech one last chance to head home to Lubbock with snipped nets and a trophy in tow.

Instead, Braxton Key blocked Culver’s fadeaway attempt and the country was gifted with an additional 5 minutes of a beautiful basketball game.

I had the mindset to get downhill, create,” Culver said, “and I saw a switch. I felt like I had an open shot so I shot it.”

Overtime provided only a fraction of those final 6 minutes of regulation, with Texas Tech taking a three-point lead that would be overtaken by the Cavaliers and never returned. It ended with Hunter launching the ball into the Minneapolis air as a champion.

“I see guys do it all the time, and it looked cool to me,” he said, “so I wanted the ball and I wanted to throw it up.”

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

In the end, the game lived up to the two teams’ reputations as defensive juggernauts, but delivered the drama that some thought would be impossible to create with two teams who care more for stops than buckets.

That, though, missed the truth of this matchup. Yes, Virginia and Texas Tech are two of the best defenses in the country – and maybe that the sport has seen in recent years – but their offenses were far from disasters. Quite the opposite. Both had bucket-getters. Both had lottery picks. It had overtime for the first time since 2008.

It made for a cocktail that was both sweet and intoxicating.

It’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in basketball,” Guy said.

On a stage that can crush or elevate, and both teams rose to the moment to create a crowning game that will forever rank among the best.

“It was everything and more. You dream as a kid to play in something like this,” Culver said.

Virginia’s rise to the pinnacle of the sport comes just a year after reaching its nadir against UMBC. Much the same team, a wholly different result. From historic loss to storybook redemption.

You have a scar, and it reminds you of that, but it’s a memory,” Bennett said. “Does it go away completely? No, I wish it wouldn’t have happened in some ways. Now I say, well, it bought us a ticket here. So be it.”

Virginia walked through the blue and orange confetti that littered the championship floor with Jerome carrying the national championship trophy back to the locker room. Mamadi Diakite sat there with a piece of net tied around his finger, a placeholder for the ring that will eventually adorn his hand. Guy smiled and cameras with a hat that read “CHAMPIONS” across the brim.

Virginia was the laughingstock of the sport last year, and came through to the other side as champions. The Cavaliers survived Carsen Edwards in the Elite 8. Guy’s free throws in the final second beat Auburn in the Final Four. Hunter’s late 3 and a steely resilience beat Texas Tech.

No laughingstock now. No doubts about system or style. No peers now.

Virginia is the national champion.

“It’s a great story,” Bennett said. “That’s probably the best way I can end this. It’s a great story.”

One of the greatest, even.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)