MINNEAPOLIS — Redemptive arcs are overdone yet the writers behind this college basketball season have embraced one. Virginia has a chance to rise from the ashes of one of the worst defeats in the sport’s history to win its first national championship Monday night against Texas Tech.
Despite winning five tournament games and exorcising the demons, last year and the devastating loss to UMBC still hangs in the air. The Cavaliers don’t want it to but it will as the prevailing storyline of the Final Four. All they can do is win and wait.
In the days and weeks after last year’s stunning upset loss, there was little Virginia could do until the calendar turned. One proactive coping mechanism, it turns out, was to tune out. Until the national championship game, the biggest stage, and place they’ll be in Minneapolis 24 hours from now. A place far removed from first rounds and 16-seeds.
Like many teams bounced from the NCAA Tournament, watching subsequent action wasn’t an activity Cavs players sought out. For obvious reasons.
“Usually I have a little bit of time where I don’t want to see it, kind of sulk in it a little bit before I get back into it,” center Jack Salt said. “I just wanted some time to get away. I tried to stay away after we got knocked out so I didn’t watch any of the of the first two rounds but I fell back to back to watching it again. I was at a restaurant and I saw games going on and I was glued right back to it.”
“After we lost, we didn’t watch,” guard Marco Anthony said. “Of course we watched the national championship but the other rounds we stayed away from it.”
Everyone seems to have made that decision on their own. There was no collaborating. Not watching was not some show of solidarity. It was just a natural reaction to unprecedented pain.
“After the [UMBC] game, I was hanging out with my family and the game was on the TV and that’s about all I watched,” Jay Huff said.
Not watching was a departure from the norm for him, who said regularly he enjoyed a lot of tournament action.
While Virginia may have been an extreme example, forgoing subsequent play can be the natural course of things.
Braxton Key, a transfer from Alabama, was in no rush to see how the bracket progressed after his Crimson Tide were knocked out by eventual champion Villanova.
“I didn’t watch much of it,” he said. “Once we got knocked out to Villanova, I stopped watching it. The guys here were probably the same way. You just want to be there. You see how the other teams are celebrating and enjoying the Sweet 16, Final Four, and you want to be a part of it.”
Virginia has been a part of it this time around. The Cavaliers are 40 minutes from the ultimate prize. Sixty-two vanquished teams will have the option to watch or not as they go for the title against Texas Tech.
All eyes will be on the team that once couldn’t bear to watch.