Do you remember way back a couple of months ago to Super Bowl LIII? You’re definitely excused for forgetting it as it was definitely the most forgettable Super Bowl of recent memory. It was a boring, low scoring affair that brought about a decline in TV ratings, Nevada betting handle and viewer interest. I quickly dismissed it as a case of two highly rated offenses failing to execute on the sport’s biggest stage. The next day, however, the spin machine of the NFL and their supplicants at ESPN went to work trying to convince us that what we had witnessed was a titanic defensive battle. One ESPN scribe hysterically effused that it was the ‘most dominant defensive showing in Super Bowl history’ which is a downright laughable statement that ignores the 1985 Chicago Bears, Seattle’s ‘Legion of Boom’ and any number of other legit nasty defenses.
The 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game could see a similar postmortem with lower TV ratings and the like. In this case, however, it will likely be a ‘titanic defensive battle’. Virginia and Texas Tech are legitimately two of the nastiest defenses in college basketball and points will be at a premium. You’ve no doubt seen reports that the total on the game (currently 118 at most books with an outlier 117.5 here and there) is the lowest NCAA title game total in the past twenty years. The amazing thing is that the total is probably not low enough but more about that in a moment. The current pointspread on the game has Virginia as a -1.5 favorite at most books with a few down to -1. After digging through all of the statistical data it’s hard for me not to set the game as a ‘Pick’ but given the higher public profile of Virginia and the ACC not really a surprise that UVA is a small favorite.
No matter how you slice, dice or julienne the numbers it all comes out to this: two really nasty defensive teams. Virginia has the lowest PPG against average in college basketball (55.5 PPG against). Texas Tech has the #3 PPG against average giving up just 58.8 PPG. Texas Tech has the #2 defensive FG percentage (36.9%) while Virginia is #5 (38.4%). They are top 10 in three point defenses and scoring margin as well. Both teams take care of the basketball exceptionally well on offense–Virginia is the #1 team in nation in turnovers per game (8.9).
Texas Tech’s points per possession has been nasty all season (0.84 points per possession) and has maintained that level of nastiness during the NCAA tournament. They’ve defensively obliterated some very good teams with very potent offenses. They held Northern Kentucky to 22 points under their season average. Buffalo was held to 30 under their average, Michigan 26 under, Gonzaga 19.5 under. Michigan State had a very good offense putting up 78.3 PPG but Texas Tech manhandled them. The Red Raiders limited them to 51 points which for the mathematically challenged outthere is 27.3 points under their average. In most cases, Texas Tech’s ability to dictate how the game is played would be a decisive edge but not against Virginia who wants to play at the same deliberate pace.
From my perspective, I don’t see how you make a case that one team is superior to the other. There is a bit of line value on Texas Tech since Virginia gets a point or so due to the ‘ACC Factor’. It’s not much, however, but with all four of the Elite Eight games being decided on the final possession as well as UVA’s Final Four game against Auburn anything over a point is a ‘take’ with the Red Raiders. The total might still be the better play despite the historically low number. As I mentioned above, even 118 might not be low enough. My score projection on the game has Texas Tech winning 50-49 for a cool 99 point final total. Even if I’m off by a few points that’s still a nice overlay on the total. Don’t forget that this is the biggest public college basketball game of the year and the public loves to bet over. At least they do usually–I expect this total to go even lower by gametime so get while the getting is good.