HOUSTON — Villanova’s 95-51 mollywhopping of Oklahoma on Saturday was as thorough of a beating as you’ll ever see. Shy of convincing James Harden to make the eight mile drive from the Toyota Center to NRG Stadium and throw on a Sooners jersey, there was very little that Lon Kruger could have done to change the course of that game after the first 20 minutes.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the game was significantly impacted by shamelessly long television timeouts during the NCAA tournament and the inability of the NCAA to find a way to avoid stacking those TV timeouts on top of each other.
Here’s the situation as it played out on Saturday: For the first time all game, Oklahoma looked like they were alive at the start of the second half. The lid was still on their basket, but that team was fighting and scrapping and clawing and doing everything they physically could do to try and cut into Villanova’s 42-28 halftime lead. Case in point: In the first 3:40 of the second half, Oklahoma had nine offensive rebounds.
Nine. In less than four minutes.
And it was paying dividends.
The Sooners had trimmed the lead to 46-37 with 16:17 left thanks to Jordan Woodard tipping home his own missed free throw, a free throw he was shooting because he was fouled shooting a three. The Sooner faithful were in full voice. The Oklahoma bench was on its feet and jumping around for the first time since early in the first half. The Sooners finally, thankfully, had managed to find a way to grab some momentum.
That was the beginning of the end.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright quickly called timeout, partly to stem the flow of Oklahoma’s run and partly to rip into his guys for letting a 6-foot-1 point guard tip home his own miss off of a free throw.
But since it was the first timeout called during the second half, it was extended into a TV timeout, sending the teams to their benches for 2:30 that would turn into close to a three-minute delay from whistle to whistle. When play resumed, it took Villanova’s Josh Hart 25 seconds to collect his own miss and score while getting fouled.
That meant that the clock had now ticked below the 16 minute mark, meaning that we were about to sit through another TV timeout. In the end, the amount of time that lapsed from the moment Woodard scored to the moment that Oklahoma was back in possession of the ball was nearly half of a normal halftime.
That’s one way eliminate momentum.
“That broke us,” Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler said.
“Never recovered from that,” head coach Lon Kruger said. “Kind of snowballed downhill the rest of the way.”
Now if we’re being honest, it wasn’t just the television timeouts that did this. Hart — for about the fourth time — beat Oklahoma to a rebound that they should have gotten and got a bucket out of it. Having that run clipped by that play is demoralizing. And it’s also worth noting: Hart’s layup sparked a 33-4 run. That cannot be pinned on a pair of timeouts.
But the fact that the Sooners had to sit and cool down for three minutes on either side of that possession certainly didn’t help matters.
The NCAA changed their television timeout rules during the offseason. In an effort to avoid TV timeouts on back-to-back whistles, they implemented a rule that any called timeout that occurred within 30 seconds of a scheduled TV timeout will turn into the TV timeout … unless it’s the first timeout of the second half.
And that rule absolutely impacted the outcome of a game in the Final Four. I’m not saying that Oklahoma would have won had they not had to deal with those two TV timeouts, but I find it hard to believe they would have wilted the way that they did.
Those five or six minutes of manufactured, revenue-generating ad space torpedoed Oklahoma’s comeback attempt.
Maybe we should take another look at that rule.