Loren Tate: These finishes are driving me mad
March Madness has spilled into April and, even if you’re not a committed fan, the NCAA tournament is riveting.
But there’s something bothersome about these endings. Every time the late-game margin is less than 10 points, it becomes boringly similar.
Exasperating. As annoying as a three-hour movie (couldn’t “The Wolf of Wall Street” been shortened?).
Foul, delay, free throw, check the monitor, timeout, insert sub, foul, check the replay, timeout, move the clock back a tenth of a second, sub, timeout, stall, foul ... again and again.
How many compelling 37-minute games have we seen spoiled by free throw contests in the last three minutes? And when will an intentional foul be called intentional?
One Scout.com contributor, perhaps exaggerating, claimed the refs spent so much time at the monitor Tuesday that the last minute and overtime of the Minnesota-Florida State NIT semifinal “seemed like 30 to 40 minutes” and drew boos from the Madison Square Garden audience.
A 2-year-old critique by the Arizona Star’s Greg Hansen expresses my views better than I can. Here’s what he wrote after Kansas edged Purdue 63-60 in 2012.
“They weren’t ‘playing’ at all. They were adjourned. The clock said 3:41. Drawn by the chance of a buzzer-beater, absorbed by the drama, I did not move. This is what I saw in the next 27 minutes:
“A media timeout. A Purdue timeout. A Purdue timeout. A KU timeout. A KU timeout. A Purdue timeout (and 14 points, which amounts to one every two minutes).
“There were two stoppages for free throws and six more for substitutions. It was the longest 3:41 of my life. Afterward, Boilermaker fans wept. Me too. I will never get those 27 minutes back.”
Later, Hansen added: “I worry about college hoops because it has gone off the tracks and is in danger of becoming a Big Fat Bore. The games take too long, the pace is too slow, and so few points are scored that it’s starting to make a Royals-Twins (baseball) game seem exciting.”
What Hansen witnessed that day has been exacerbated by our new love affair with replay. Thanks to the “Illinois rule,” out-of-bounds calls in the final two minutes must be reviewed, sometimes endlessly (Did you see Wisconsin vs. Arizona?).
End it, already!
My most recent adventure was in Indianapolis last weekend, where I risked a 2 a.m. return to see Kentucky bump Louisville. What a game! Louisville led all the way, appeared to have control ... and lost.
No complaints there. But the closing minutes, with so much on the line, were endless. More than 40,000 fans, having cheered their lungs out and with the midnight chimes approaching, had to be resuscitated after the officials fell asleep over the replay tube.
There are, of course, solutions. But forget the most workable ones. You can’t eliminate any of the 18 possible timeouts, particularly the late ones when fans are sitting on pins and needles, because we need commercials to pay for the games. And you can’t cut three-minute stoppages to 30 seconds (a great idea) for the same reason.
There must be some way to keep the game moving like, for example, the NBA does. You don’t see these farces with the pros. But we mustn’t be copycats, must we? A 24-second clock is out of the question, but couldn’t the 35-second rule at least be reduced to 28 or 30? That would do wonders.
And for heaven’s sake, is a tenth-of-a- second change really critical before the last 10 seconds?
What a memory!
In backgrounding this column, I learned Arizona has lost four NCAA Elite Eight games by an average of 1.8 points. The latest found Wisconsin winning 64-63, that result riding on ref Tony Greene’s stunning pushoff call against a driving Nick Johnson with three seconds remaining.
Had it been whistled the other way, which would be the customary call, Johnson’s free throws might have given Arizona the win.
One of those four Arizona disasters — Hansen calls them the Grand Slam of Grief — was perhaps the greatest, or at least the most significant, comeback in NCAA history by the Illini in 2005.
Illinois trailed 75-60 with 3:35 showing when Deron Williams and Luther Head hit threes, Dee Brown a jumper and Head a dunk.
It was 78-70 at the one-minute mark when Illinois, in a wild spree, scored eight points in seven seconds via Head’s trey, Brown’s layup and Williams’ game-tying trey. Imagine: Eight points in seven seconds.
The game was 80-80 with 50 seconds to go (ending regulation at those numbers), meaning Illinois scored 20 points in 2 minutes, 45 seconds. And coach Lute Olson’s hair took on another shade of gray as Illinois reached the Final four, 90-89, in overtime.
Coincidentally, the 10-9 OT margin was the same as in Wisconsin’s win last weekend.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.