RICHMOND- Last season they were the height of jokes and memes across the internet.
This year, the joke’s on those who played the role of internet bully as the Cavaliers of Virginia completed the ultimate turnaround story of sports.
UVA’s 85-77 win over Texas Tech in Monday’s national championship game gave the Wahoo faithful a chance to celebrate the reversal of fortune.
As the basketball world knows too well, Virginia was the #1 overall seed last year and fell to 16 seed UMBC making it the first time that it happened in tournament history.
This time, the only tears that emerged were tears of joy as confetti and streamers rained down In Minneapolis.
What made this title game intriguing was the fact that this title game was the first in 40 years between teams that had never been there before.
The last one? Two NBA greats and two completely different schools. Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans taking down Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores in Salt Lake City.
All tournament long, fans got to watch dazzling styles of play that far resembled the old throwback days of the Bad Boy Pistons and Christian Laettner of Duke.
This game however, warmed the hearts of old schools folks as both teams went old school with their approach.
Instead of glitz and shots from beyond the arc and even crazier looks, viewers saw both teams rely on the throwback style of play — methodical offense, lunch-pail defense and experienced seniors.
As the game reached overtime however, game quickly morphed into a shootout, as the teams traded shot after shot down the stretch and into overtime until the Red Raiders simply ran out of gas.
Fittingly, it was DeAndre Hunter who showed why he was the star of both the team and the tournament. A 3-pointer from the corner, with 2 minutes and 10 seconds left in overtime, put the Cavaliers ahead for good and ultimately gave the crown to Charlottesville.
Hunter, who missed last year’s with a broken wrist, came up big during the game and even held NBA prospect Jarrett Culver in check.
Virginia was used to clutch performances as they had arrived to the national title game thanks to senior Kyle Guy’s FT’s against Auburn in the semi-finals. Texas Tech has dominated Michigan State in the other semifinal game.
For Virginia, it all came back to last year. Last season’s disappointment stung and multiple members in the national media outwardly questioned head coach Tony Bennett’s style of play.
Going into the tournament however, the idea of Virginia winning was unthinkable for people such as Stephen A Smith of ESPN.
Smith went on a classic rant about how he didn’t want to see Virginia OR Texas Tech in the finals. He wanted Zion Williamson of Duke University. He wanted North Carolina. The stars, the glitz. All enticing but typical.
In the end, the man with the hairline was forced to be quiet. Ty Jerome made sure of it when he was interviewed by Sports Illustrated following the game.
Jerome even called out Mike Francesca for his going against Virginia. Yup, the same Mike Francesca who is a popular radio show figure and who was a hit alongside Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on their legendary show “Mike and the Mad Dog” on WFAN.
For the Cavaliers, they surely will graduate a vast majority of their players either the NBA or beyond. Mamadi Diakite will return as will a new class of players. But where does it go for Virginia now?
They were able to soften the blow of last year and claim the greatest prize in college basketball. But how will they plan on repeating next season?
Only time will tell. For now, the Orange and Blue can wear the gold and celebrate a historic turnaround that culminated with a national championship.
Congratulations to the University of Virginia. The 2019 NCAA Division I Basketball National Champions.