Just four teams remain in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, including three teams led by coaches who will make their Final Four debuts Saturday on the sideline for a school that’s never won a national title.
Here’s what a national championship would mean for each school, its coach and its players.
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If the Cavaliers won the 2019 NCAA Tournament one year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, that would be a story that writers in Hollywood could only dream of penning.
There’s a reason the ‘Hoos were No. 1 in our pre-NCAA Tournament karma power rankings.
They finished as the second-most efficient team in the country last season, despite their first-round exit to UMBC, and they’re the most efficient team in the country this season.
Virginia is nationally elite on both ends of the floor and it has high-end talent, whether you look at recruiting rankings or NBA Draft boards. A national championship would emphatically dispel any notion that Virginia, Coach Tony Bennett, his system or his current group of players can’t win at the highest level in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers have been a punchline on Twitter for the last year and a title would transform that loss to more of a footnote than anything. Any future mention of Virginia’s loss to UMBC would have to be followed by the disclaimer of, “But then they won the national championship the next year with almost the exact same group of players.”
Bennett, 49, would officially join the exclusive club of active head coaches who have won a national title and it would be a fitting accomplishment for a coach whose program has earned four No. 1 seeds and won four ACC regular season championships in the last six seasons.
Given his age and the age of the national-title winning coaches in his own conference (Jim Boeheim is 74, Mike Krzyzewski is 72 and Roy Williams is 68), he could set himself up to enter the conversation of the best active coach in the sport over the course of the next five to 10 years.
The ACC as a college basketball entity would also receive significant validation in case anyone’s questioning which conference is the best in the sport. A national title for Virginia would mark the third ACC school that’s won a national championship in the last five seasons.
If Michigan State wins the national championship, it will become the first Big Ten team to win the national championship since … Michigan State in 2000. So there goes the Big Ten’s national title drought.
(And no, Maryland winning the national championship as an ACC school in 2002 doesn’t count.)
It would also cement the Spartans as the premier program in the conference. Michigan finished as the national runner-up in two of the last six seasons, Wisconsin made back-to-back Final Four appearances, Purdue has made the second weekend in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments, and Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois are entering Year 3 under coaches that their fan bases hope can revitalize once-proud programs.
But a national title would leave little doubt which program in the conference is operating at the highest level.
Michigan State’s 2019 season would be hailed as one of Tom Izzo’s best coaching seasons, which certainly has some merit after starting guard Joshua Langford was ruled out for the season in January because of an ankle injury. Then there was the ankle injury to Kyle Ahrens in the Big Ten Championship that has sidelined him since. Forward Nick Ward also missed time with a fracture in his hand.
A second national championship for Izzo would make him just the 15th college basketball coach (and just the 4th active) to win multiple titles. Michigan State would tie Kansas and Villanova for the seventh-most national championships with three apiece.
Junior point guard Cassius Winston would also be deserving of a significant share of credit that would hopefully transcend the geographical footprint of the Big Ten Network and he’d be remembered as an all-time great lead guard in the sport.
While not physically imposing at 6-1 and 185 pounds – nor a projected lottery pick in the NBA Draft – Winston is an absolute winner. His 45 percent assist rate ranks second in the country, he’s a 40 percent 3-point shooter and he has a bevy of tricks that are affectionately referred to as “YMCA,” “old-man” or “pickup” moves on Twitter. He also has an incredible basketball IQ, great footwork and he can beat defenders by changing speed or sinking mid-range floaters.
The presence of Winston, along with his veteran running mates – senior guard Matt McQuaid, fifth-year senior forward Kenny Goins, junior Nick Ward and sophomore Xavier Tillman – on a national championship-winning roster would be the latest example that one-and-done talent isn’t necessary to win a title. In fact, it may not even be recommended.
Texas Tech has one NCAA-sanctioned national championship to its name.
The Red Raiders’ 1993 women’s basketball team is responsible for that.
It would be pretty difficult to imagine Texas Tech winning a national championship in football, let alone men’s basketball. Before you fight the first half of that sentence, the Red Raiders have never finished in the top 10 of the AP Poll in college football and it’s been a decade since they finished in the top 25, so there may not be the proper words available in the English language to explain how incredible it would be if Coach Chris Beard led Texas Tech’s overhauled roster to a national championship in Year 3.
The Red Raiders have 15 NCAA Tournament wins in program history. Beard, who has taken them to the tournament twice since he was hired in 2016, is responsible for seven of those.
This is a school where the legendary Bob Knight coached for seven seasons earlier this century and managed just four NCAA Tournament appearances and three tournament wins.
Tubby Smith, Beard’s predecessor who won a national championship at Kentucky, spent three years in Lubbock and his best season was a 19-13 year that ended with the Red Raiders losing in the first round of the tournament as a No. 8 seed.
So if Texas Tech wins the national championship, Beard’s status in the sport skyrockets to the VIP section with the red velvet rope. If you can win in Lubbock, you can win anywhere.
With jobs open at UCLA, Arkansas and Texas A&M, Beard could cash in for a huge payday this offseason or he could force Texas Tech to back up the Brink’s truck in order for him to stay in Lubbock and try to build a basketball juggernaut – at least until the right job opens and his agent’s phone rings.
If Texas Tech wins a title, sophomore guard Jarrett Culver will assuredly be a major reason why and he’d become a folk hero in the state and in the sport overnight. Culver, who was ranked outside of the top 300 nationally as a high school recruit, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, would be an incredible case of scouting and player development, which he would parlay into a top-10 draft position in the 2019 NBA Draft.
There would be stories written about the value of transferring, which is often labeled as an “epidemic” in the media, because guard Matt Mooney and big man Tariq Owens both arrived in Lubbock as grad transfers, marking the second time each player transferred in his college career.
International recruiting could be credited for Italian guard Davide Moretti and fifth-year senior guard Brandone Francis, a transfer from Florida who’s from the Dominican Republic.
Texas Tech’s roster composition offers a different potential narrative than the other three schools in the Final Four because of its under-recruited prospects, grad transfers and international players, so the Red Raiders could shatter any preconception about the talent needed to win a national title.
There would be something fitting about Auburn winning the 2019 national championship as one of the schools involved in the college basketball corruption scandal. Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl has reached unchartered territory in the NCAA Tournament following a career revival after receiving a three-year show-cause penalty that pushed him out of the profession temporarily, then former Auburn assistant Chuck Person took a plea deal after being accused of accepting bribes to steer players to a financial advisor and the FBI investigation cost the Tigers two key players – Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy – last season.
Yet Pearl and the Tigers found their way to Minneapolis.
Pearl has been to the NCAA Tournament 10 times and advanced to the second weekend in half of those appearances. That stacks up favorably to other active coaches who have made at least one Final Four but haven’t won a national championship.
Auburn would be an all-time “got hot at the right time” team if it cuts down the nets in Minneapolis.
The Tigers have won 12 in a row, which means they’d finish the season on a 14-game winning streak if they win the title, which would be really impressive considering their resume was lacking as recently as mid-February. There was a home win over the Pac-12 regular season champion in the second game of the season, another home victory over future March sensation Ja Morant and Murray State in December.
In March, Auburn beat future No. 5 seed Mississippi State, future No. 2 seed Tennessee twice, future No. 10 seed Florida, No. 12 seed New Mexico State, No. 4 seed Kansas, No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 2 seed Kentucky. That’s pretty incredible and it’s a run that would draw comparisons to
2013’s Louisville, which won 16 games to win a since-vacated title, as well as 2011 UConn and 2018 Villanova, which both won 11 games in a row to end the season.
A national championship would mean the trust Auburn’s administration showed in hiring Pearl paid off and the SEC football school with two titles on the gridiron would now have an unlikely but impressive title in basketball.
It would be even more impressive after sophomore forward Chuma Okeke suffered a season-ending ACL injury against North Carolina. He was the highest-rated recruit of any player on Auburn’s roster, which is built on a rotation of juniors and seniors.
If this Auburn team wins the national title, it would carry the torch passed from Villanova as the Tigers have attempted 49.5 percent of their shots this season from 3-point range, where they’re shooting 38.3 percent. They rank in the top 15 nationally in both categories, just like the Wildcats last year.
There have already been a record number of 3-pointers made in the NCAA Tournament and a national title for Auburn could add further incentive for coaches to prioritize recruiting players who can shoot, which would lead to them creating offensive systems that are conducive to taking and making open threes.