People are saying the Virginia Cavaliers were very lucky to win the NCAA Tournament and prevail at the Final Four. They aren’t wrong… but if they intend to diminish or undercut the Hoos’ achievement, they’re living in dreamland.
What planet are you living on if you think Virginia is uniquely lucky to have won its first national title in men’s basketball?
This is how it normally goes. The title won without luck is rarer than the title won with a little help from the basketball gods.
Yeah, 2018 Villanova didn’t need luck. Neither did 2012 Kentucky or 2009 North Carolina. 2002 Maryland and 1996 Kentucky won their titles fairly authoritatively. Once every few years, a team soars above the field en route to a national championship.
Most of the time, though, at least some luck enters the picture.
1982 North Carolina needed Fred Brown to throw the ball to James Worthy.
1983 North Carolina State needed Houston to miss a bunch of free throws, and for Lorenzo Charles to catch an airball in the right pace at the right time.
1985 Villanova probably would not have beaten Georgetown if the shot clock — introduced in November of 1985 for the following season — had already been in place. It was seven months away.
1987 Indiana survived LSU by an eyelash and then benefited from Syracuse allowing three seconds to drip off the clock at the end of the national title game.
1989 Michigan beat Seton Hall in the national championship game on a horrible foul call against Seton Hall’s Gerald Greene. Rumeal Robinson hit the winning free throws with three seconds left.
1992 Duke needed Kentucky and Rick Pitino to fail to guard Grant Hill on his inbound pass to Christian Laettner.
1993 North Carolina needed Chris Webber to call a timeout he didn’t have.
1995 UCLA needed Tyus Edney’s improbable dash against Missouri in the second round.
1997 Arizona escaped the College of Charleston and needed overtime to beat both Providence and Kentucky. If any of several plays go the other way, Lute Olson never wins a national championship.
1998 for Kentucky was very similar to 1997 Arizona.
2000 Michigan State was in trouble, but Larry Eustachy’s technical foul swung a regional final for the Spartans and killed Iowa State.
2003 Syracuse got the remarkably great fortune of playing the East Regional in Albany.
2005 North Carolina wasn’t called for traveling late in a close Sweet 16 game against Villanova.
2008 Kansas needed John Calipari and Memphis to not foul in the final seconds of regulation.
2010 Duke needed a favorable block-charge call late in its Elite Eight game against Baylor. It needed Gordon Hayward’s heave to be off by a matter of inches in the national title game.
2011 UConn needed Arizona’s Jamelle Horne to miss a game-winning three in the Elite Eight.
2014 UConn needed to be given a Buffalo-Madison Square Garden path to the Final Four as a No. 7 seed.
2017 North Carolina needed the officials to miss Kennedy Meeks’ hand touching out of bounds in the title game against Gonzaga.
Virginia is lucky. Sure it is… and that merely makes the Hoos the latest national champion in modern college basketball to say so.
Can we get past the idea that the word “lucky” — when applied to another person or team — is a criticism? Luck is an organic and central part of sports. It is as normal and common as the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Really, folks — if you think Virginia is the first team to benefit from a missed call very late in an NCAA Tournament game, read up on your history.
This is how it often happens. This is not an aberration. These are the small margins March Madness has made famous.
If this Virginia run seemed improbable, it’s only because March has set the standard for improbable occurrences.
Virginia fits right in.
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