I love just about everything about the first week of March Madness. I love the wall-to-wall games. I love the upsets. I love the blowouts. I love the great individual performances. I love the close final minutes. I love the enthusiasm of the players, the fans, Kevin Harlan. The regular college basketball season doesn’t do much for me, but March makes it all worthwhile.
Except for one thing … I am SO sick of the studio hosts talking again and again and again about the officiating.
This hit home today after the North Carolina-Washington game when they spent a good 20 minutes arguing whether or not Washington (after heaving a half-court shot that a North Carolina player lost out of bounds) deserved to have a few tenths of a second more than then 0.5 seconds they actually got to take a last three-point shot. Yikes. I mean they brought in the head of officials, they they replayed it 20 times, they showed an angry Washington coach several times, they talked about it like this was one of the most important questions of our time. And even after showing it all those times:
1. I’m pretty convinced the officials got it right.
2. If they had added two- or three-tenths of a second, that almost certainly wouldn’t have meant ANYTHING.
But that was NOTHING compared to the endless and pointless talk about officiating at the end of the Texas-Arizona game. Here’s what happened. Arizona led most of the game, but Texas took the lead 69-67 with about a minute left. Arizona then had several chances to tie the game, but kept missing. With 14 seconds left, Arizona had a shot blocked, and Texas’ Jordan Hamilton got the ball. And then, inexplicably, he called timeout.
No, really, it was inexplicable. It was as bad a timeout as I can ever remember in a college basketball game. You are up two points with 14 seconds left and and the clock is running — you are breaking about 500 rules by calling timeout there. You don’t want to stop the clock. You don’t want to have to inbound the ball against a set defense (especially because you cannot move after a timeout). You don’t want to give the other team any chance at all to regroup. YOU DO NOT WANT TO STOP THE CLOCK!
I sat there with my jaw dropped open.
And neither Marv Albert — my favorite ever basketball announcer — or Steve Kerr said one word about it. I don’t think I know a lot about basketball, so I figured maybe I was somehow wrong. I didn’t really see how I could be wrong, i could not see how that timeout could possibly do ANYTHING but hurt Texas. But hey …
Of course, what followed is that Texas could not get the ball inbounds. The Longhorns did try to call timeout before the five-second call, but the official didn’t give it to them. So that was a turnover, a terrible turnover, a turnover directly caused by Texas calling a timeout they absolutely should not have called. And STILL the announcers did not talk about it. Then, Arizona did not just score but got fouled for a three-point play to take the lead — so apparently that scenario was not covered by Rick Barnes in the timeout. And then Texas went down the court, missed a shot, got a rebound and time ran out.
There are not too many cases, in my mind, where a dreadful strategic move actually costs a team a game. But I think this one was pretty close. If Texas does not call timeout, Arizona HAS to foul him. If he makes both free throws, Texas wins. If he makes one, Texas can’t lose in regulation. There were only a couple of ways Texas could lose the game in regulation with the ball in its hand, up two with 14 seconds left. Calling timeout there made one of those insane scenarios come true.
Anyway, after the game, there was not one word about the terrible timeout. Not one word. Instead, there was just minutes of tedious talk about the officials and whether they should have called a foul at the very end (it looked like time had run out). Look, basketball is a hard game to call. I have no doubt there are some bad calls being made, some mistakes being made, but frankly I’m really sick of hearing about it. If the officiating plays a major role — as it did at the end of that crazy Pittsburgh-Butler game — then, sure, talk about it.
But arguing (and I mean ARGUING) about whether the officials should have bailed out Texas with 0.1 seconds left like THAT was what the game was about?
It’s crazy. As much as college basketball coaches are lionized this time of year, as much as studio hosts talk about the coaches’ genius non-stop — so much so that in the studio the players often seem to be like extras — it would have been nice to point out that the officials didn’t cost Texas the game. The Longhorns cost themselves.