2019 NCAA Tournament Recap: Impressed or Protest?

Monday evening’s natty between Virginia and Texas Tech marked the end of the NCAA basketball season.

This tournament was filled with fantastic play and exciting finishes while also being littered with controversial calls. Saturday’s semifinal matchups featured several questionable calls/no calls. Kyle Guy showed his balls of steel by calmly hitting three free throws with under a second left to give Virginia the W over Auburn. Guy walking up to the line smiling and drilling the last three throw with under a second left is an all-time tournament moment. 

Monday’s final was no stranger to controversy as a clear double dribble that was not called ultimately hurt Texas Tech, as Virginia closed the door and won the game in overtime. Everyone had different expectations coming into March. This debate simply asks if this tournament lived up to YOUR expectations.

This tournament exceed expectations

The main trademarks of a great tournament include three basic element to me: a champion no one saw coming, great games with close finishes, and storylines that live up to the hype. With that in mind, this tournament seemed to check two out of three of those boxes. No one can ever say that a 1 seed winning it all is a shock so Virginia coming out on top is not too surprising. While Virginia wasn’t a traditional underdog, it WAS the school’s first ever championship. Additionally, the fact that it came just a year after Virginia was the first ever 1 seed to lose in the first round makes it even sweeter for the school and a juicier storyline for everyone else. It certainly had close finishes in the final four and championship game. The champion Cavaliers were featured in three of the best games of the NCAA season so far: an overtime shootout with Purdue, a heart stopping contest with Auburn and an overtime title game affair with Texas Tech. Virginia trailed in ALL THREE of those games with under 17 seconds left, yet remarkably found a way to win each one. If that isn’t an entertaining and dramatic march to a championship, I don’t know what is. The tournament also featured elite performances from the best college players, including dominant showings from the projected top two picks, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. We all know the gravitational draw that Zion has commanded from the beginning of the season. Impressively, he delivered in the tournament and lived up to the hype with some stellar performances before Duke was bounced. 

The nature of Virginia’s first ever school title (including dramatic wins and redemption from last year’s tournament), as well as elite performances from top players and plenty of upsets to go around allows you to make a case that this tournament lived up to the strong hype surrounding it.  

This tournament was a disappointment

Just like every year, this tournament came in with high expectations by most fans due to the storylines and matchups that we had to look forward to. But did it live up to the hype? In my opinion, the first two rounds were fairly quiet. Sure, there were upsets, but two of those upsets (a pair of 12 seeds winning: Murray State and Oregon) seemed fairly predictable. One of the top story lines coming out of the first weekend was “angry midget” Tom Izzo teeing off on his freshman Henry in a first round matchup against a Bradley team that gave MSU all they could handle. Besides that? Not much else to write home about in the first weekend. It’s impossible to argue a point either way without talking about Duke, the most hyped team in college basketball in many years. Very few people had Duke losing before the final four and quite honestly, the tournament lost a lot of sparkle and appeal after Zion, RJ and Duke lost. It was thrilling to see them battle Michigan State and come up just short. I think a lot of fans thought, “what now?” after Zion and Duke lost. The final four was loaded with talent and a couple potential lottery picks but it seemed to lack star power to really pull people in. A lot of people had Duke and UNC in their final and I don’t think anyone would say they wouldn’t have loved to see that matchup. When neither team made the final four, I think a lot of overall excitement and appeal was lost.

The missed calls in this tournament also had a significant impact. These were not easy calls but they also were not insignificant calls. Furthermore, it wasn’t just one or two calls that were missed. There were many important calls that the officials simply missed. While it is tough to knock the tournament for that reason, it does open up a world of what-ifs surrounding the way this tournament would have gone differently if the calls were made correctly. I understand that no official is perfect and there will always be missed calls, but the impact of these calls were immense. We want to walk away from the tournament with a confident and undisputed champion, instead of discussing controversy. 

Another hit against this tournament was the lack of a true Cinderella. Last year, it was Loyola-Chicago that stunned opponents and captivated the nation’s attention. The tournament is better when there is a Cinderella like that. Auburn impressed as a 5 seed by beating UNC and Kentucky on the way to the final four, and 12 seed Oregon reeled off a couple nice wins before almost upsetting the eventual champions. However, neither had the appeal of a classic Cinderella team. Also, while the tournament was certainly unpredictable, a 1 seed champion doesn’t make for a shocking upset storyline.

The lack of a Cinderella team and trademark upsets, as well as a 1 seed champion, and Duke’s inability to make the final four, allows you to certainly argue that this tournament didn’t live up to the hype and potential that it had.

My Take

Everyone is going to have a different take on this because everyone had different expectations going into the tournament. For me personally, I was excited to see Zion and Duke in the final four on one of the biggest stages in sports. How would their freshman handle the attention and competition of a final four? While Zion played well, we ultimately did not get to see this which was at least a slight disappointment. Personally, I felt like the tournament lost some luster and appeal after Duke and UNC went down. There were definitely entertaining games the rest of the way. The national championship game was thrilling but even as I sat there watching, it didn’t feel like it had the electricity of national championship games in the past. Also, the questionable calls and controversy put a stain on this tournament because there were missed calls/no calls that would have altered this tournament significantly. Virginia is the undisputed champion. However, if some of these calls were made correctly, would they still have come out on top? We will never know. 2019 produced a great NCAA tournament but I feel like it ultimately didn’t live up to what I expected. 

What do YOU think? Did this tournament live up to your expectations? Why or why not? Sound off below:

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Twitter: @realdmill