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The Fabulous Four

That was some weekend of basketball, huh? I don’t know how any of the Final Four teams can top what happened in the Michigan State-Kentucky game for excitement, but then I wouldn’t have known how anyone could have topped the Illinois-Arizona and Louisville-West Virginia games, either. And despite my overall incompetence at bracketology this year, I came thisclose to calling the Final Four correctly – my only misfire was picking Kentucky. You can see my folly here, which leads to a vexing question – how come this thing was set up so that North Carolina would be the Illini’s foe in the semifinals? I’ve got Illinois over Louisville for the championship, and obviously that’s not gonna happen. Hey, Yoni Cohen, what’s up with that?

Ken Pomeroy makes an observation that usually gets overlooked in the wake of a classic battle like Mich State-KY:

There was no better illustration of how random chance can affect a game than on Patrick Sparks’ successful three-pointer to send the Kentucky/Michigan State game to overtime. There were three main variables that could have flipped the other way from what actually occurred.

1) What if Patrick Sparks’ foot is a micron closer to the basket, and so it’s only a two- point attempt?

2) What if Kelvin Torbert (or “Torbit” as Jim Nantz says) is called for a foul on Sparks?

3) What if Sparks’ shot falls off the rim instead of through?

Then consider each of the eight possible combinations to the yes/no answers of the above questions. Only one of those – Sparks makes a three, foul is called – potentially results in a UK win.

I actually think variable #1 should be stated differently. What if the ref’s on-court ruling had been that Sparks’ foot was on the line? We all saw the replays, including the blown-up ones. If there was insufficient evidence to change the call one way, wouldn’t there have been insufficient evidence to change it the other? I think the actual ruling was the correct one, but if it had gone the other way, I would find it difficult to criticize even after seeing all the evidence. Sometimes it is a game of microns.

(If you want to know the ref’s actual thinking on his decision, read this:

“On the court, I scored it as a 3 and scored it within the regulation of time,” [referee James] Burr said. “When you go to the replay and you first see it, the camera angles that you have are very difficult. I felt that the play was so important in deciding a college basketball game that was as great as that, I asked the guy in the (production) truck to blow it up for me.

“I don’t know how many angles he had. But he showed me every single angle he possibly could, and I still couldn’t find anything that would overrule my original decision. When he finally blew it up, in my humble opinion, it showed that the kid was behind the line when he took the shot, and that is how I made my decision.”

Nicely done by Burr and his colleagues.)

The point that needs to be stressed here is that it is the extremely rare champion that wins it all on superior skill alone. These teams are very evenly matched. If you could take each of the matchups in the regional finals and play them a hundred times apiece, do you think any of those teams would win as many as 60 games? Luck is a bigger factor than we want to admit – it’s much sexier to talk about “character” and “knowing how to win”. Michigan State won anyway, but had they not, Patrick Sparks’ rim-rattler should serve as a reminder of that.

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6 Comments

  1. Matt says:

    I had the fine fortune of seeing the Kentucky/MSU game in person. Wow.

  2. Linkmeister says:

    I’m still in shock. As I said at my place, how the devil could ‘Zona blow a 15-pt lead with 4 minutes to go? No alumni gift from me this year! 😉

  3. Patrick says:

    Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think there is one more possibility out there. It’s possible that the refs felt his toe may have been on the line but seeing the foul call that should have been made but wasn’t, they let the initial ruling stand because issues of timing and scoring are reviewable, but fouls are not.

    It’s not to disagree with the call or disparage the refs who I think did a fine job overall, but I have seen this sort of thing happen before. Earlier this year, Arkansas had a player that hit what appeared to be the game winning 3 point basket. Upon review most agree that you could see that the player had indeed moved his foot behind the line right before the shot. One small problem. The foot he slid behind the line was his pivot foot making it a clear traveling violation on the replay. But they couldn’t use the replay to determine traveling, so they unofficially split the difference, called it a 2 and sent the game into overtime, which Arkansas lost.

  4. Yoni Cohen says:

    Charles-

    Not really sure what you mean. If you’re suggesting the Bloggers Bracket itself was broken, I believe you may be mistaken. My bracket, for example, has Illinois playing North Carolina in the *finals*. The Bloggers Bracket was setup correctly as far as regional matchups in the Final Four go.

    If you’re suggesting the NCAA Selection Committee should have matchup regional winners differently, leading to an Illinois-UNC semifinal, that is another matter altogether…Though I’d argue UNC and UI were the two best teams in the country and deserved to be on opposite sides of the bracket.

    Enjoy the Final Four!

    Yoni Cohen

  5. Double B says:

    Lute Olson is the master at blowing games. 1993–Santa Clara is the classic. Arizona goes on a 25-0 run and STILL LOSES as a #2 seed. In this game, they give up the ball 3 consecutive trips down the floor via the steal. If they can get one foul out of any of those trips they probably win it. Truly astounding. Olson has no sense of game coaching.

  6. Red Dog says:

    He keeps the game in perspective, cares more about getting it right than getting it quick, and makes good decisions. James Burr for Governor.