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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.

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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)

WATCH: One Shining Moment caps memorable 2019 NCAA tournament

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A memorable 2019 NCAA tournament was finished off with Virginia taking the title with an overtime thriller over Texas Tech.

While this tournament featured a slow opening weekend with minimal upsets and a lot of chalk, things rapidly picked up in the final two weekends with memorable finishes and clutch individual performances.

Just like every season, One Shining Moment captures all of the tournament’s best moments in a few action-packed minutes.

Virginia wins OT thriller against Texas Tech to claim first national championship

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MINNEAPOLIS — Virginia has completed its historic comeback.

The Cavaliers, a year removed from suffering the worst loss in NCAA tournament history, are national champions after winning a thrilling title game, 85-77 in overtime, against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday night.

De’Andre Hunter’s 3-pointer with just over 2 minutes left in overtime put the Cavaliers up a pair, and Texas Tech went on nearly a 2-minute scoring drought as Virginia exorcised the ghost of UMBC with the first championship in school history.

The Cavaliers led by as many as 10 in the second half, but the Red Raiders knotted things up with just over 3 minutes to play in regulation.

With the game tied at 61, Hunter buried a 15-foot jumper with Jarrett Culver on him to put the Cavaliers up three. Culver clanked a 3 on the other end and Kyle Guy found a seam for a layup to put Virginia up 65-61. Texas Tech responded, however, when Davide Moretti made a 3 with 1:31 left on the clock to cut the deficit to a single point.

Hunter then looked to put the Cavs back up three, but Norense Odiase blocked his shot and the ball went out of bounds to Texas Tech. Culver then delivered on the other end with his signature spin, getting to the rim and finishing with his left hand to give Texas Tech a 66-65 lead with 35.1 seconds left. Ty Jerome’s floater missed the mark on the other end, and Odiase connected on two free throws to give Tech a three-point advantage but Hunter connected on a 3 to tie the game.

Culver’s potential game-winner was off the mark, and Hunter corralled the rebound but he attempted to outlet it to Guy, who was signaling for a timeout and missed the pass sailing out of bounds to give Texas Tech one final chance to win the game in regulation. Culver’s fadeaway, though, was blocked by Braxton Key to send the game into extra time.

The game’s start was as defensive-oriented as had been predicted with Texas Tech making just one of its first 11 shots as the Cavaliers walked out to a 10-point lead. The Red Raiders, though, finally got their offense jump-started with back-to-back 3s from Brandone Francis to make the stretch run of the first half compelling beyond just space-eating defense.

Virginia got a 3 from Ty Jerome right before the buzzer signaling the break to take a 32-29 lead into halftime as it held Texas Tech to 33.3 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes.

After the second half played to a stalemate, Virginia outscored the Red Raiders 19-11 in overtime.

Texas Tech proving Big 12 is more than Kansas’ dominance

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MINNEAPOLIS — Time and again this week, Tom Izzo was asked to account for the Big Ten. It’s been 20 years since the conference’s last national championship, if you hadn’t heard. That drought has come to define the conference in the postseason regardless of whatever success it has prior to that season’s final Monday night.

It’s a streak that continued to gain stream and a narrative that stayed alive when the Spartans fell Saturday night. The question becomes more frequent, with its asking louder every year.

What’s wrong with the Big Ten?

The Pac-12 doesn’t get that question because we all know why it hasn’t produced a title since Arizona’s in 1997 – it’s a league that produces a whole lot of bad basketball. On the cheap, too. Look no further than UCLA’s coaching search to see that league’s issues on full display.

That doesn’t explain, though, why the Big 12 has escaped much of the same scrutiny as the Big Ten. Yes, the Big 12 has a more recent title winner thanks to Derrick Rose’s missed free throws and Mario Chalmers’ answered prayer, but it’s been more than a decade since Bill Self cut down the nets at the Alamodome.

Deeper than that, the league’s national success outside the Jayhawks is nearly nonexistent. Long and loudly has it been discussed about Kansas’ 14-year domination of the Big 12, but Monday night’s game between Texas Tech and Virginia will be the league’s first non-Kansas title game appearance ever.

“Many, many good teams have never won a championship,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told NBCSports.com. “It’s very hard to do, and what Kansas has done in our league, as good as our conference has been from top to bottom for a very long time, for them to win consecutive championships like they have is astonishingly difficult.

“Being able to claim a national championship is an important marker for the conference and a great thing for Texas Tech. It’s enormously difficult to do.”

The Big 12’s reliance on Kansas for national relevancy extends just beyond the conference’s 23 years of existence. The forebears of the Big 12 – the Big 8 and Southwest Conference – don’t have a national champion among them, either. Oklahoma State won titles for the Missouri Valley Conference in 1945 and 1946, but the NIT was still the preeminent tournament and Oklahoma State wasn’t even Oklahoma State – it was known as Oklahoma A&M.

The last time the conference or its previous incarnations had a team other than Kansas in the title game was Oklahoma in 1988.

The Sooners, fittingly, lost to Larry Brown’s Kansas team in that title game.

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This season, though, looks as perhaps teams are ready to step up and finally provide a counterweight to the Jayhawks.

Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the regular season title to end the Jayhawks’ vaunted streak, Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament for the fourth time in six years and the Red Raiders, of course, can win a national championship at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“Our expectations were to try to compete for championships and to have the resources and the mindset and the vision to do so,” third-year Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said. “Our goal has never been to make a tournament. It’s been to win the tournament. It’s easy to talk about, and really, really hard to do. But that’s where we started this whole thing, was just trying to have the expectations and the vision where we could be relative.”

Perhaps most maddening for the Big 12 has been this title drought amid being nearly universally praised as the best conference in basketball. It’s been the top-rated league by KenPom for six years running, and it’s double round-robin is recognized as the most difficult conference schedule in the country.

“I think the Big 12 has been competitive for years. Kansas has just had that magic,” Texas Tech assistant Glynn Cyprien, who previously spent four years at Oklahoma State, told NBCSports.com. “You look at it, there have been numerous teams that could have gotten to this point. They’ve been talented enough. They’ve played at high levels, but just haven’t made it for whatever reason.

“From top to bottom, the coaching is unbelievable. The best in the country. I think the game preparation among the coaches and staffs in this league is at another level. Overall, there are no easy teams, there are no easy wins in this league, unlike some leagues where you can steal some games at home or on the road. It’s hard to do in this league.”

That strength hasn’t translated into pinnacle postseason success for 11 years, though, and never for teams outside Lawrence.

“Oklahoma was a Final Four team a few years ago and didn’t make it to the final, but they were a team that had been highly ranked all year,” Bowlsby said. “We’ve been the highest-ranked in the RPI for five or six years in a row. If you get through our league and earn the championship, you’re a team that is almost certainly competitive at the national level.”

The title dearth since the George W. Bush administration and the failure of any program other than Kansas to make it to the season’s final day for more than 30 years makes the Big 12’s regular-season accolades ring a little hollow.

“If you’re going to try to call yourself the best,” Bowlsby said, “you have to win championships.”

Texas Tech, for the first time in school history, has a chance to do just that.

“I’ve been telling people my whole life, I think we can win championships and play on the last night of the season,” Beard said.

Beard’s proven his point correct. Now he can help the Big 12 win the argument that it truly is as good as it and everyone says.

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)