NCAA tourney’s close finishes included too many odd calls

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It was a weekend of close calls. Perhaps some blown calls, too.

Four NCAA tournament games came down to the final moments, but all four had instances that included some head scratching moments. While it’s true that bad calls are part of the game, I can’t remember an NCAA tourney weekend where so many calls influenced the outcomes of crucial games. Let’s recap.

Butler 71, Pittsburgh 70

The details
A drive by Shawn Vanzant resulted in a short basket by Andrew Smith that gave  Butler a 70-69 lead with 2.2 seconds left. Then it got strange.

Butler’s Shelvin Mack inexplicably fouled Gilbert Brown near midcourt with 1.4 seconds left, Brown made the first try to tie it. Brown missed the second and Butler’s Matt Howard was fouled by Nasir Robinson while grabbing the rebound. So, with .8 seconds remaining, Howard made one free throw, missed the second on purpose and Butler won. (Watch the video sequence here.)

Robinson admitted he made a mistake.

“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and I know I shouldn’t have done that. It was a stupid play,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t the ref’s fault. It was my fault.”

Right call?
I watched it again and again Saturday and Sunday and though I hate that a foul 90 feet from the opposing basket gave Butler a chance to win, it was a foul. Robinson admitted it, it happened right in front of the ref and it was impossible to argue. It doesn’t feel right – overtime would’ve been more palatable – but it’s the way it is.

North Carolina 86, Washington 83

The Huskies trailed 86-83 after North Carolina’s Dexter Strickland hit two free throws with 5.4 seconds remaining. Venoy Overton took the in-bounds pass, dribbled to halfcourt and let a shot fly. It missed badly. (Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said Overton anticipated a foul that didn’t happen.) However, North Carolina’s John Henson touched the ball on the way down, giving the Huskies another chance to tie it up.

Only question was, how much time was left? From the AP:

Replays with the official game clock superimposed on the screen showed there should have been 1.1 or 1.2 seconds to go, giving Washington more time for a final shot. Romar said after the game that his staff asked the referees to review how much time should have been left, but the officials stuck with half a second.

“There’s always a lag time between the time the play occurs and the whistle is blown and the clock stops,” official Doug Shows told a pool reporter. “By rule, the clock stops when the whistle blows. We were asked to check the time and we verified that it was accurate with the standby official and the clock operator.”

It’s not close, either. (Video here) Washington should’ve had more time to get a shot off.

Right call?
If the technology’s there to review the play, they should adjust the rules accordingly. The clock should stop when the ball goes out of bounds, not when the whistle blows. After all, what’s the point of reviewing the play if they’re not going be accurate with the clock?

Arizona 70, Texas 69

The Longhorns had the ball under their own basket, 14.5 seconds remaining. I’ll let AP recap it.

Texas’ Cory Joseph struggled to inbound the ball against the swarming Wildcats defense and appeared to call a timeout. However, referee Richard Cartmell called Joseph for a five-second violation, though replays showed he appeared to make the call before reaching five.

“I had five seconds before the kid turned and signaled a timeout,” Cartmell said in a statement. “I had to make a decision whether it was five seconds or a timeout, and I made the decision it was five seconds because I had counted five seconds before he called timeout.”

So wait. He counted five, but didn’t signal five seconds? In other words, he made up his mind to call five seconds? That’s weak.

Right call?
Cartmell’s call didn’t cost Texas the game – Arizona’s Derrick Williams had to make a basket and the ‘Horns still had a chance to win – but he still blew it.

Marquette 66, Syracuse 62

Here’s another where the call didn’t give the game away, but it completely changed the game’s flow. Tied 59-59, Syracuse ball. From AP:

With 51 seconds left, Dion Waiters threw his sideline inbounds pass too high and close to the midcourt line. Scoop Jardine tiptoed over the line on his jump to snag the ball for a backcourt violation.

“I thought I had him and I was just trying to throw the pass where I thought he could catch it,” Waiters said. “I don’t know what happened.”

What happened was the backcourt violation wasn’t called properly. Rule (4.3.8) states:

After a jump ball or during a throw-in, the player in his/her front court, who makes the initial touch on the ball while both feet are off the playing court, may be the first to secure control of the ball and land with one or both feet in the back court. It makes no difference if the first foot down was in the front court or back court.

There’s video here.

Right call?
Marquette hit a 3-pointer on the next possession and eventually won. Again, it didn’t sink the Orange, but it deflated them to the point where they couldn’t do anything on offense the rest of the game. Wrong call.

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