College Hoops Recap: Butler Buzzer Beater

You can find my column for CBS Charlotte, in which I break down the five most important things that happened in college basketball this past weekend, by clicking the link below:

Five Things: Butler Prevails In Battle Of Bulldogs And The Number 1 Team Goes Down…Again

It was a fantastic Saturday in college hoops, which was fitting because it was the first Saturday without college or pro football this season. I got the sense that casual hoops fans were beginning to turn their attention to the sport, and the sport didn’t disappoint. The highlight of the weekend was Butler’s buzzer-beating victory over Gonzaga.

I included two non-basketball observations from the game in my CBS column: Brad Stevens’ reaction to the game-winning basket and Gonzaga’s uniforms. Watch Stevens in this video (he’s at the very edge of the scorer’s table on the left, right where the Ford logos end). He takes the saying “act like you’ve been there before” to a new level.

As for Gonzaga’s uniforms—I thought they looked like practice jerseys (this is coming from a guy who wore jean shorts as recently as last summer, so weigh my fashion opinions accordingly). I also don’t understand debuting uniforms that over-emphasize your mascot against a team that has the same mascot (and a cuter one, too).

It was refreshing to witness an actual buzzer beater, as they are becoming an endangered species in college basketball. Remember North Carolina State’s unintentional alley-oop to win the 1983 National Championship? No way that’s a buzzer beater in 2013. They’d look at the replay for 10 minutes and then put 1.8 seconds back on the clock. The replay reviews have gotten so annoying that at times I think they shouldn’t be used for potential buzzer beaters.

That may be too extreme, but I think it’s fair to get rid of reviews at any previous point in the game. The final minute of a college basketball game can often take 15 minutes because of all the clock-related reviews. Did the ball really pass through the hoops with 22.3 seconds left, as the clock states, or was it 22.9? Who cares? Throughout the game the clock often stops a fraction of a second after the whistle is blown. That’s part of the game.

Now that I’ve shared the most important policy for the NCAA to consider, here’s one for coaches: when leading by three in the final seconds, your team should foul. The situation came up yet again in the Michigan State-Ohio State game on Saturday, and even though it’s an example that doesn’t support my theory, it’s interesting nonetheless.

Ohio State was set to inbounds the ball with 7.9 seconds left, trailing by three. During the preceding timeout, Tom Izzo told his team to foul only if Deshaun Thomas, who finished with half of OSU’s points, got the ball. Otherwise they should simply defend, as is Izzo’s preference in such situations. Shannon Scott took the inbounds pass and dribbled across the court, heaving an off-balance three with four seconds left. You see, in the Ohio State huddle, Thad Matta had told his team to look for the foul. From The Columbus Dispatch:

Thomas said that in a timeout with 7.9 seconds left, coach Thad Matta said that if Michigan State tried to foul, just “throw it up.” “I think that’s what Shannon was trying to do,” Thomas said. “There was a play to kick it back (to Thomas), but I think he was listening to what Coach said…and just chuck it up there and see if he was going to get three (free throws).”

Michigan State did not foul and still won, but I believe teams greatly reduce their chances of losing if they do foul. There is research on this topic that supports my theory (here’s one article; here’s another), though I’ll admit it’s impossible to gauge the value of a team expecting a foul and therefore taking a horrible shot. Coaches often think about the negative consequences of a decision—if you foul you could potentially lose the game in regulation—instead of the fact that one option is more likely to lead to a better outcome than another. It also can’t hurt to practice this scenario so your team is prepared.

There was some discussion in the comments section of last week’s weekend recap about the winless teams. At the time there were two: Grambling and Maryland-Eastern Shore. I’m happy to report Maryland-Eastern Shore got its first win on Saturday, beating Delaware State at home 58-53. Grambling, however, lost by 11 at home to Jackson State, a team that had just one win before Saturday. Basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy says there is a 63 percent chance Grambling does not win a game this season.

2 thoughts on “College Hoops Recap: Butler Buzzer Beater”

  1. Since we’ve established that Grambling is the worst team in college basketball, do you think the SWAC will once again be the worst conference in college basketball (by winning percentage)? Grambling contributed 4 wins to the SWAC total last year and the SWAC was the worst conference by a fairly significant margin (although the 4 wins were all against conference opponents). Care to guess which conference will have the best winning percentage overall at the end of the year?

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