Just in Time! Cardiac Cavs Champs!

Late Monday night, the University of Virginia Cavaliers delivered one more late game rally and finally tossed away the bad memories of how its 2018 season ended.

With yet another clutch come-from-behind rally in the final seconds of regulation, Cavs fans can proudly yell a passionate  “Wa-Hoo!” as the team won its first NCAA men’s basketball championship with a 85-77 overtime thriller over a valiant bunch of Red Raiders from Texas Tech.

UVa’s fans are just fine with either the nickname “Cavaliers” or “Wahoos”.  According to one source, rival Washington and Lee baseball fans (circa 1890’s) called University of Virginia players “a bunch of rowdy Wahoos,” and used the “Wahoowa” yell as a form of derision. 

With the win, Virginia erased the horrible taste of becoming the first and only #1 seeded team to lose to a 16th seed in last year’s first round of the NCAA tournament.  The loss to a Baltimore commuter school (UMBC) was a shock to the team and its always steady coach, Tony Bennett.

After last year’s early loss, he said, “I got a poster of Rocky on the steps and I told them: I just want a chance at the title fight one day.”

Last year’s embarrassing first round loss served as motivation for the entire 2018-2019 season and was a game-by-game reminder for the team to prepare hard and never underestimate any opponent this year.   

Mission accomplished! 

Virginia’s overtime win over Texas Tech in Monday night’s finale was the Cavaliers’ third consecutive game in which the team trailed with 15 seconds or less remaining in regulation.   

On Saturday against Auburn, it was guard Kyle Guy (the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player) who scored the team’s final six points during the final ten seconds of play.

On Monday night, forward De’Andre Hunter nailed a clutch three pointer from the corner to tie the game at 68 points apiece and send it to overtime.  He scored a career high 27 points (with 22 of them coming in the second half and overtime) in leading Virginia’s rally to victory. 

Harry Houdini would have been proud of the way this bunch escaped with victories!

After living with the humiliation of becoming the first and only #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed last season, this year’s team worked hard and received more than a fair share of fortunate bounces, officials’ calls, and clutch baskets. 

After last year’s loss, it seemed like much of the college basketball universe was saying that Coach Bennett’s style of basketball wouldn’t be able to win a national championship in this generation of high-flying “one-and-done-to-the-NBA” athletes. 

Who said defense can’t win basketball championships?  Virginia finished as the #1 team in the country in scoring defense (by the way, runner-up Texas Tech was #3).   

Offensively, Virginia’s game plan is (putting it nicely) quite deliberate.  To win with a slower pace of play, UVa’s ability to take care of the basketball was proven by their #5 national ranking in the vital assists-to-turnover ratio statistic. 

At halftime of the championship game Monday night, Virginia’s coach, Tony Bennett (no relation to the singer), stressed to the CBS sideline reporter that the game would be decided by who wins the most second half possessions. 

He was quite prophetic.  Each trip down the court between Virginia and Texas Tech was an epic 25-to-30 second battle of offense versus defense.    

If you had tuned-in to the game hoping to see a few fast breaks and thunderous slam dunks, you were sadly disappointed.

Though both Virginia and Texas Tech have quite talented college basketball players, you probably won’t see too many of these young men in the NBA.

Even though the CBS commentators said that Virginia’s 6’ 7” sophomore De’Andre Hunter and Texas Tech’s 6’ 6” sophomore Jarrett Culver might be heading into the NBA draft after this season ended, none of this year’s Final Four teams (which also included Auburn and Michigan State) were teams which had been built to feature so-called “one-and-done” freshmen star players (such as Duke and Kentucky, for example). 

After the game, Coach Bennett made a comment which I felt was quite appropriate in today’s “Win NOW!” college sports environment. 

He said, “The players did this!  The coaches get too much of the credit when we win and far too much of the blame when we lose!”

Tony Bennett’s players stayed in step with their coach all season on their way to hoisting the championship trophy after the overtime slugfest with Texas Tech ended Monday night.

Making one clutch play after another, this resilient bunch of Virginia Cavaliers kept their poise no matter how bleak it may have looked on the scoreboard and will now take home the school’s first men’s basketball championship. 

As singer Tony Bennett might have crooned while Coach Tony Bennett watched along the sidelines, they did it “Just in Time”!    

Your Final Four Investment Portfolio

Busted?  I meant “Bracket Busted”, of course!

If you’re like me, you may have only one team (Michigan State, in my case) remaining in your NCAA Men’s Final Four bracket for this coming weekend.  If you have two or more teams left in this group of four teams, then you should be looking forward to your new nickname at the office next week, Champ!

Though the four “Elite Eight” games from last weekend were probably the best collection of weekend college basketball I have seen in a long time, the majority of us are now left with a perplexing thought for the official “Final Four” games on Saturday. 

Who are these four teams, and which one(s) should I now pull for?

A great question, and, as you figured, your SwampSwami has a unique way to help you through the process.

I think you should choose your favorite of the Final Four squads (Texas Tech, Virginia, Michigan State, and Auburn) in the same manner as you prefer to build your personal investment choices! 

Are you an ultra-conservative investor?  Is your style more of a defensive investor who likes cash, short-term securities, and bonds and generally stays away from risky stocks and long shots?  You may be the type of person whose gut thinks that the next market crash is just around the corner, right?

Virginia should be your choice!    

Yes, Virginia, you are the lonely #1 seeded team remaining.  Virginia’s stockholders remain (understandably) a wee bit skeptical after being a #1 seed last year and losing in the first round (a dubious distinction) to #16-seeded commuter school from Baltimore (UMBC). 

With a head coach (Tony Bennett) who shares a name with one of America’s favorite singers, the Cavaliers are trying to go from “Rags to Riches” and redeem their fans’ high expectations this season with a national championship trophy.

Virginia is your “defensive” choice (#1 in the country, in fact).  It took an overtime game with Gonzaga (80-75) for Virginia to give up 70 or more points in the year 2019 to a team not named Duke!

Offensively, the Cavs aren’t exactly the team to pick if you want to get rich quick.  They rank a paltry #215 in the NCAA in team offense.  The Cavs philosophy is to play smart, play defense, and play to win. 

Is your investing style a little less conservative but still patient?   Do you prefer a little higher mix of stocks and bonds and find yourself attracted to “Balanced” mutual funds and a few blue chip stocks with good dividends?

Texas Tech is the team for you! 

Defense, you ask?  The Red Raiders are button-downed type of basketball team who will defend your “cash” for the full forty minute game and, if needed, into overtime.  They’ll keep the game close with a slowdown pace and have not given up more than 69 points to an opponent in four NCAA tournament games.   They are a solid #4 in the nation in defense this season. 

Alas, like Virginia, your team’s offensive returns will probably be a little below average, too.  The Red Raiders’ offense can be, at times, a little boring and don’t offer the highest yields.  Texas Tech’s offense is rated #159 in the land in points scored.

However, T-Tech’s offense features a solid international “investment” that has provided great dividends for the team the entire season.  Italy’s Davide Moretti is the team’s second leading scorer at about 12 points per game.  Shooting guard Jarrett Culver (19 points per game) is from the city of Lubbock and has scored in double digits all but one game this season.  Culver’s stock is rising (as in NBA) in the Texas Tech portfolio.

Maybe you prefer a little more risk and return in your portfolio, but you want a seasoned manager

I present to you – Michigan State!

The Spartans are your blue-chip dividend team with an experienced manager in Coach Tom Izzo. 

Want balance in your team?  Michigan State ranks 48th in team offense and 35th in team defense.  On most days, the Spartans will give you a great effort on the defensive end and just enough offense to win consistently. 

Did I say “win”?

Michigan State won the Big Ten regular season and then the Big Ten tournament.  This squad figured it deserved a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Surprisingly, Michigan State received a #2 seed instead.  They were also placed in the same bracket as #1 overall seed, Duke, which equated the team being the WORST #2 seed and eighth best team in the field entering the tournament. 

Sparty has been playing with a huge blue-chip on their shoulder in this tournament.  Ask the Duke Blue Devils.  The #1 overall seed was just sent home by Michigan State on Sunday afternoon.

This is the team to pick if you like seeing a team whose players are not focused on playing in the NBA and plays with the toughness of their Hall-of-Fame coach. 

Finally, do you feel LUCKY?  Well, do ya???

Then, your team is the Auburn Tigers!   

Auburn has been on a bull run (12 wins in a row) like no other team remaining in the Final Four.  In addition to having the greatest on-set cheerleader for national telecasts in former Tiger, Charles Barkley, this Auburn team has been your high yielding portfolio that just keeps on returning dividends for its long-suffering supporters. 

The investment portfolio includes pearls, too.   Shooting three-point shots to win games can be risky, but Auburn’s coach, Bruce Pearl, provides an inspirational lift every game for his merry band of long-distance scorers.

Auburn’s defense hasn’t been pretty (107th in the nation) as their primary objective is to simply outscore and wear down the other team.  However, Aubie surprised many as they dispatched an SEC blue-blood rival, Kentucky, with a gritty win on Sunday.  They won without the team’s third-leading scorer (Chuma Okeke) who is out for the season with a knee injury.

In sum, any of these four teams has a reasonable chance to win it all.  Of the remaining teams, only Michigan State (Magic Johnson’s 1979 team and Izzo’s first winner in 2000) has won a national championship in men’s basketball. 

There is no clear-cut favorite remaining in this weekend’s Final Four. 

So, pick a team which suits your personal investing style, and have fun with this year’s Final Four!

Who let the dogs out? These UMBC Retrievers are definitely golden!

The University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) is a commuter school located just a bone’s throw from Baltimore-Washington Airport.  With an enrollment of just over 13,000 students, the university’s athletics programs and budget are microscopic compared to their big brother, the University of Maryland.

While the U of M Terps play in an 18,000 seat arena in the big budget big league called the BIG 10, the UMBC Retrievers’ basketball team plays in a 4,000 seat multi-purpose student recreation center building while toiling in the America East Conference.  That is the same conference which features teams like Albany, Hartford, and Stony Brook.  Oh, yeah – THAT conference!

But the UMBC Retrievers made a statement on Friday night which will forever link the school’s basketball program to one brightly shining moment in NCAA basketball history.

In the first upset of a #1 seeded team by a #16 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament history, the UMBC Retrievers ran wild in the second half and dog-piled the University of Virginia by a lopsided score of 74-54.  After 135 straight wins by a #1 seed in the tournament’s first round over the #16 seed, UMBC’s stunning win was anything but a fluke.

The first half of the game was downright boring and set another NCAA record.  With the game tied at halftime at 21-21, the first half total of 42 points was the lowest number of points ever scored in an NCAA tournament game.

For the University of Virginia, the low scoring first half was perhaps slightly perplexing but was right up their wheelhouse.  UVa’s Cavaliers (the overall #1 seed in the tournament’s field of 64 teams) was also America’s #1 stingiest defensive squad by allowing a measly 53.4 points per game this season.

You can just hear the halftime talks in each locker room.

For Virginia, coach Tony “I lost my heart in Charlotte, North Carolina” Bennett likely told his troops in the locker room that the pace of the game was in their favor.  In the second half, just keep playing tough defense, hit a few more shots along the way, and let’s move on to round 2.

At halftime in the UMBC locker room, Coach Ryan Odom had a different speech ready.  After slow-dancing with UVa in the first half, the Retrievers’ opponent would have no reason to believe that their dance partner in the second half would morph into basketball’s equivalent of James Brown!

It was classic Rocky II as Balboa challenged the champ, Apollo Creed.  Just when you thought Rocky couldn’t absorb another punch, his trainer, ol’ Mick, finally gave the challenger the OK to unleash his famous left hand in the final frame to salvage the match.

As the second half tipped-off, the UMBC Retrievers immediately blitzed Virginia.  This pack of dogs came out running, gunning, and dropping three point shots in a wild flurry.  While Virginia kept trying to dictate the slow waltz pace of the first half, the Retrievers never took their paws off the accelerator and dropped an incredible 53 second half points on the Cavs en route to this historic 20-point victory.

Just like Apollo Creed in the 15th round of Rocky II, Virginia, which had not yielded 53 points in a half since 2013, never saw it coming.  Down he goes!

It was terrific fun watching UMBC’s well-deserved victory.  Though these Retrievers lifted their leg on millions of NCAA March Madness brackets (mine included) by knocking out the overall #1 seed, there was no doubt that UMBC earned every minute of their post-game celebration in Charlotte Friday night.

The UMBC Athletics Department website features a picture of the school’s canine mascot named “GRIT”.  This school claims that GRIT is also an acronym for “Growth, Respect, Integrity, and Teamwork”.

After Friday night’s win for the ages, “GRIT” now means one more thing to NCAA college basketball fans.

That dog’ll hunt! 

What’s up with Coach K? Something looks wrong at Duke

Saturday, for the first time in 23 years, the Virginia Cavaliers won a college basketball game in Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.  Both teams were highly ranked coming into the game.  Virginia came into the game sporting an astounding 19-1 record, a #2 national ranking, and an unblemished 9-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Duke defended its home court sporting a #4 AP ranking with an 18-2 mark with both losses coming in ACC play.

This was a dandy game.  For Virginia.

The Wahoos whooped Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils by a final score of 65-63.  Not even Duke’s legendary Cameron Crazies could put the mojo on this Virginia team.  The game truly wasn’t as close as the final score as Duke had to rally late in the second half just to make it close.

Virginia, coached by Tony Bennett (not the singer!), plays a brand of basketball which is the antithesis of the way most of today’s young basketball players are learning to play the game (right, LaVar Ball?).  Virginia plays exceptional defense, milks the clock on offense while setting screens and sending players cutting to the hoop for easy shots, rarely turns the ball over, and just wins.  Some call it ugly.  I call it effective.  Just win, baby!

If you think it is the blue-chip players that Virginia is recruiting, think again.  Duke’s 2017 recruiting class was rated #1.  Virginia?  Drum roll please…#99!   Duke is getting the McDonald’s All-Americans, while Tony Bennett’s team is doing all the hard dirty work back in the kitchen.

Kudos to Coach Bennett and his band of merry Wahoos.  The No-Names of UVa remind me of the San Antonio Spurs of college basketball.  Their willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team is quite impressive.

But that’s where this story turns.  It is what DIDN’T happen yesterday that had me thinking after the game.

Duke’s legendary head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, is one of the all-time best in college basketball.  Duke’s leader for five NCAA championships, Coach K knows what buttons to push with his team and when to do it.  He has been masterful as a coach since coming to Duke in 1980.

On Saturday, though, Duke was uncharacteristically turning the ball over (16 times) to only 4 for Virginia.   Duke shot only 11 free throws in the game and only connected on five of them.  With the game decided by only two points, Duke can only blame themselves for this rare home loss.

Saturday’s game just wasn’t “Duke basketball” anymore.

This year’s Duke squad is filled with NBA-wannabe freshmen.  Their freshman big man, Marvin Bagley III, was dominating on Saturday with 30 points.  However, while Bagley’s stock soared the more he scored, Duke’s other players were literally standing around.  Coach K’s former teams were known as skilled passers who found a way to get the ball to the open man for the easy basket (like Virginia did to Duke on Saturday).

Coach K’s Duke basketball teams are famous for playing an intense “in-your-face” man-to-man defense.  On Saturday against Virginia, Duke’s players were being burned time and time again by back-cuts to the basket for easy buckets.  Coach K switched to a zone defense (gasp!) for much of the second half to stop the bleeding.  What’s up with that?

And finally this.  As Duke sank into a deep first half hole and struggled coming down the stretch, Duke’s fiery head coach hardly jumped out of his chair or came enticingly close to getting a technical foul to fire-up his players and the crowd.  He was nearly invisible along the sidelines on Saturday.  That’s not the Coach K we all know and (many of us) love.

I have a theory on what’s wrong.  Mike Krzyzewski achieved a big career goal early this season by winning his 1000th game at Duke.  By a large margin, he now has the most wins in Division I college basketball history.

In order to compete for talent with the Kentucky’s of the college basketball world, Coach K has begrudgingly elected to dip into the “One-and-done” pool of high school so-called elite players who simply want to build their resume and join the NBA at the first opportunity.  Like Kentucky, Duke is now increasingly signing players who have little desire to play as a team.  Many are unwilling to buy into the traditional blue-collar, hard-working team concept like Coach K’s teams have been known for.  It appears that Virginia has cornered that market in the ACC.  Duke’s new talent pool is merely passing through.

Though he may be fooling the ol’ Swampswami, Saturday’s subdued Coach K looked to me like someone who is turned-off by the lack of passion and work ethic that his “Hey, look at me!” one-and-done players are displaying.  I see a Coach K who may be lamenting that his days as a master teacher are nearing an end.  Yes, retirement.

Watch this clip from 2016 where Duke’s head coach for the past 38 years talks about when/how he plans to retire.

While observing Saturday’s game and the noticeable lack of passion along the Duke sidelines, I could have sworn Blue Devils’ head coach was daydreaming about the days when his players would come to Duke seeking an education and would play with the heart and effort that Virginia showed on Saturday.