Sixteen Teams, Sixteen Thoughts

March 22, 2011

Unfortunately I didn’t get a bracket prediction up in time last week, as I was way busier than I wanted to be. You’ll just have to trust me that my bracket is perfect so far.

I’ll do my best to make up for the lack of a post with a rambling post loosely based on the sixteen remaining teams in the NCAA Tournament:

1. Ohio State was the only high seed that looked like a national champion last weekend. They were flat-out unstoppable in a fairly impressive 75-46 victory over Texas San Antonio and an incredibly impressive 98-66 victory over George Mason. The 98 points shattered the record for most points by a Big Ten team in NCAA history, previously held by Michigan, which scored 81 points in a triple overtime game against Coastal Carolina back in 1983 [citation needed].

The bad news for the remaining 15 NCAA teams is that if the Buckeyes play like they did against George Mason they will beat every team by double digits en route to the most dominant run in March Madness history. The good news is that they can’t possibly play that good for the rest of the tournament. The Buckeyes fell behind 11-2 early in the game before they proceeded to outscore the Patriots by forty-seven points over the next thirty minutes. That would be unsustainable against Division II competition, let alone the remaining Sweet Sixteen teams. But still, they were the most impressive team over the first weekend – that has to make them feel confident heading into next weekend’s games.

2. I picked Kentucky to win the National Championship in my bracket…and that wasn’t even close to my most questionable decision. Things got carried away pretty fast. In possibly related news, I am currently sitting in 419th place out of 494 teams in my pool.

Anyway, Kentucky showed the toughness that was missing from last year’s more talented team with a gutty last-second win over Princeton in the first round and a win over West Virginia in the second round after trailing by eight at the half. I actually like the Wildcats’ chances if they can somehow get past the Buckeye buzzsaw because the rest of that half of the bracket looks so unimpressive. Unfortunately, I don’t like the Wildcats’ chances against the Buckeye buzzsaw.

3. Raise your hand if you had Marquette as one of the last two Big East teams standing. Not that the Golden Eagles were all that impressive – it just turns out that the Big East kinda sucks. I am actually a bit annoyed by this. Going into the tournament, I assumed along with everyone else that the Big East was good because they got eleven teams into the dance. They were not. Looking back, most of their quality wins came against each other. Ironically, the Big East’s only two teams into the Sweet Sixteen got there by beating other Big East teams.

St. John’s couldn’t slow down Gonzaga. Notre Dame couldn’t score on Notre Dame. Pittsburgh and Louisville were baffled by the likes of Butler and Morehead State. Just an embarrassing, embarrassing weekend.

4. North Carolina might beat Marquette but they will lose to the winner of Ohio State and Kentucky. I know this because I watched the last three seconds of the Tar Heels’ win over Washington. In those three seconds, North Carolina forward John Henson managed to make two of the stupidest plays I have ever seen. After the Huskies’ Venoy Overton decided to shoot the ball from half court down three with four seconds still on the clock, Henson touched the ball as it went out of bounds for reasons that remain unclear.* Then, Henson came oh-so-close to goaltending on Isaiah Thomas’s desperation shot as time expired. Turns out that it didn’t matter, since Thomas actually took the shot with a foot over the three-point line, but still…why would he even jump at the ball? Maybe it’s unfair to generalize based on two plays, but I’ve seen enough: UNC is bound for disappointment.

* Overton’s shot was so far off line that Henson was actually credited with a steal and a turnover when he touched the ball before it hit out of bounds.

5. Speaking of highly ranked ACC teams that won’t win the tournament, we come to Duke. The Blue Devils will not repeat as champions. Unlike last year’s team, this year’s squad is prone to lapses in judgment. For proof of this, look no further than Sunday’s narrow victory over eighth-seeded Michigan in a game that the Wolverines had no business being in. The Wolverines were one inch away from sending the game to overtime despite trailing for double digits for much of the second half.

Which brings me to my next point: if you are Michigan, don’t you have to go for the three-pointer and the win on that last possession? I feel like that is the equivalent of a major underdog going for a two-point conversion in the closing seconds of a football game rather than going to overtime. If you have the chance to knock off Goliath, you take it, right? You don’t keep trading blows with a better team. Maybe I’m just bitter because a last second three-pointer is far more exciting than a short shot to send the game to overtime.

6. Prior to the tournament I wrote that Rick Barnes was not a good tournament coach and Texas will go down early. I couldn’t even follow my own advice on this one and picked the Longhorns to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. I do not know why. I do know that in typical Rick Barnes fashion, a poor decision by a player cost the Longhorns a win on Sunday.

I also know that the Big 12 did not help the case of Colorado, which was widely viewed as the selection committee’s biggest snub. The committee clearly was not impressed by Colorado’s three wins over Kansas State, one win over Missouri, and one win over Texas, which were pretty much the entire basis of the Buffaloes’ case. Turns out they were right – the Big 12 had the most embarrassing performance of any conference this side of the Big East. Five teams made it in and only #1 seed Kansas made it to the Sweet Sixteen. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the tournament didn’t really miss the sixth best team in the Big 12.

This paragraph was supposed to be about Arizona. I remember a time not so long ago when Pac-10 basketball mattered. This season, I don’t know a thing about the Wildcats even after watching both of their tournament games. Seriously, I have no opinion on this team and I’m not even entirely sure how they won two games by three total points. And that’s the BEST team in the Pac-10. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

7. Connecticut was the only other Big East team to make the Sweet Sixteen. The Huskies are one of the easiest teams to figure out in the tournament. As Kemba Walker goes, so goes Connecticut. End of story. They could cruise to the National Championship or lose by twenty points to San Diego State in their next game and I would not be surprised.

Probably not a good sign for the Big East that I wouldn’t be surprised if the conference’s sole remaining title threat lost by twenty in the Sweet Sixteen. Not exactly a banner year.

8. I like San Diego State. I don’t know why, but something about the Aztecs impresses me. Sure it took double overtime to knock off Temple, but let me make a semi-plausible argument that differentiates between Duke and San Diego State. Duke dominated the Michigan game and still found a way to let the Wolverines come an inch away from sending the game into overtime. The Aztecs, on the other hand, did not come close to playing their best game against Temple. But they got the job done.

Did I just jinx San Diego State? Absolutely. I have no doubt that they will get hammered by UConn in their next game. Just wanted to get it on the record that I picked the Aztecs to reach the Final Four in case I manage to get lucky,

9. Kansas is the runaway favorite to win the tournament. This is partly because they have the easiest road out of a regional of any #1 seed since UNLV in 1990.* Should they make it to the Final Four, they will become the only team to ever make it there without beating a single team higher a #9 seed. Coincidentally, their regional is shaping up uncannily like the Jayhawks’ 2008 title run, when they beat the #16, #8, #12, and #10 seeds to survive the Midwest Regional.

* The Runnin’ Rebels beat #16 seed Arkansas Little Rock, #8 seed Ohio State, #12 seed Ball State, and #11 seed Loyola Marymount en route to the Final Four and eventual championship.

That’s a decent reason to like the Jayhawks, but by far the biggest reason Kansas will win the title is because I didn’t pick them. Last season, I picked them to win it all. They responded by losing to Northern Iowa in the second round. It was my first time back on the Jayhawk train since they burned me in 2005 by losing to Bucknell in the first round. In that season, I was something like 26 of 28 heading into the last games on Friday before my champion pick Kansas ruined that by losing.

When Kansas won the title in 2008, I had them going out in the Elite Eight. Clearly, I have some sort of mystical power over the Jayhawks; there is really no other plausible explanation. This season I drew up my brackets and originally had Kansas winning it all. I was mildly terrified at hitching my bracket to the Jayhawks again, so I quickly changed took Louisville over them in the Sweet Sixteen (that worked out well). Naturally, Kansas will now win the tournament.

10. In 1991, I was only six but I distinctly recall watching Dick Vitale break down Richmond‘s NCAA Tournament chances in a selection show special that year. Richmond, a #15 seed out of the Colonial Athletic Association, squared off against #2 seed Syracuse in the first round. Vitale squealed in his trademark voice, “watch out for them Spiders, baby!” Sure enough, the Spiders became the first #15 seed to win a game in the tournament, knocking off Syracuse 73-69.

Here’s a ridiculous stat. Richmond has made nine tournaments since 1984. Their results based on their seed:

#7 seed: 0–1
#11 seed: 0–1
#12 seed: 4–1
#13 seed: 2–1
#14 seed: 1–2
#15 seed: 1–1

Crazy stuff. In other words, watch out for them Spiders, baby!

11. How predictable was VCU‘s tournament run? Put it this way: I may or may not have made a decent amount of money betting the Rams straight up in their three games (depending on how legal gambling is, of course). VCU is a really good team. They can play any style of basketball. They can slow it down, as they did when they beat USC 59-46 in the first round. They can dominate the inside, as they did when they beat Georgetown 74-56 in the second round. And they have the shooters to win from the outside, as they did when they beat Purdue 94-76 in the third round. None of those games were particularly close. Only USC even hung around for part of the second half against the Rams.

Approximately 14,679 writers that couldn’t come up with a better angle turned in columns on Monday that talked about how VCU vindicated the selection committee. I argued last week that in the big scheme of things, no one really should care that VCU got selected over weak teams like Virginia Tech and Colorado. I stand by that, but I admit that those teams had better resumes than VCU. Yet I saw both of those teams play a couple games each this season. I also saw VCU’s first three games. VCU is a way better team than either of those two teams, plain and simple.

So what are we seeing here? The BCS meets March Madness, that’s what! Virginia Tech and Colorado only have better resumes because they play in tougher conferences. The Hokies’ best non-conference win was over Penn State. The Buffaloes’ only non-conference win over a team with a winning record was in overtime at home against 19-13 Colorado State. These teams simply got more cracks at better teams than VCU. In my mind, the Rams are clearly better than both and I love that the selection committee saw this, rather than just looking at statistical resumes.

12. The Rams’ matchup with Florida State might be the most fascinating of the Sweet Sixteen. VCU looked like the most unstoppable offensive force in the tournament last weekend. Florida State was the best defensive team by far, allowing only 107 points in two games.

I picked the Seminoles to reach the Sweet Sixteen in my only underdog pick that actually came through for the very reason I picked them. In the past several seasons, Florida State has been a great defensive squad but made too many mistakes on offense to advance. I wasn’t sure that they were any better on offense this year (I still have no idea), but I did know that they had favorable matchups in the first two rounds. Texas A&M simply wasn’t good enough to exploit Florida State’s mistake-prone offense in the first round. In the second round, the Seminoles went up against Notre Dame’s burn offense. Coach Mike Brey keeps his guys in motion constantly and shuns the pick and roll. That just wasn’t going to cut it against the athletic Seminole defense.

So what will happen when VCU’s offense meets the Seminoles’ athleticism on defense? No idea, but it should be exciting.

13. If you’ve stuck with my column this long, you know that Butler is next. You surely expect me to talk about the refs in the Butler/Pittsburgh Round of 32 game. But that would be boring since NO ONE has shut up about it. Why does everyone insist on blaming refs for everything without even being consistent about it? On one hand, analysts ripped refs for falling asleep at the end of recent games like UNC/Washington and St. John’s/Rutgers. On the other, analysts rip refs for calling the game tight at the end of the Butler/Pitt game. Which is it?

Of course I already know the answer: we like blaming other people for our own problems. Sometimes our problem is as simple as wanting a great finish to a game that we watched. Refs are the faceless bogeymen that we can blame.

As for the Bulldogs, there isn’t much I can say about them that hasn’t already been said. A Horizon League team puts together a ridiculously magical run to the title game. They lose their best player and still reach the Sweet Sixteen the next season.* Just a ridiculous accomplishment.

* FYI: It took Indiana State twenty-one years to even make it back to the NCAA Tournament after Larry Bird led the Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA title gameThey have won one total tournament game since their title run.

14. Speaking of blaming other people for my own problems, I picked Belmont to beat Wisconsin and Utah State to beat Kansas State in the first round because I drank the Kool-Aid that was ESPN’s Giant Killer blog. Both of these picks failed miserably and I place full blame on the blog. Lucky for them, they already deferred blame to the teams themselves for blowing their chances. Fantastic.

The real reason I missed Wisconsin is because they are impossible to pick. Just complete guesswork. Here are their results in the NCAA Tournament since 2000:

2000: #8 seed – lost in Final Four
2001: #6 seed – lost in First Round
2002: #8 seed – lost in Second Round
2003: #5 seed – lost in Sweet Sixteen
2004: #6 seed – lost in Second Round
2005: #6 seed – lost in Elite Eight
2006: #9 seed – lost in First Round
2007: #2 seed – lost in Second Round
2008: #3 seed – lost in Sweet Sixteen
2009: #12 seed – lost in Second Round
2010: #4 seed – lost in Second Round

Eleven chances and they have only done what they were supposed to do four times. Three times they over- or under-achieved by two whole rounds. Apparently they either outperform expectations or do not perform to expectations. On the plus side for them, that bodes well for their chances against Butler this weekend.

15. A few weeks ago I ripped on Doug Gottlieb for how quickly he dismissed BYU as a legitimate contender while lauding Texas as a potential favorite to win the national title. A big swing and a miss for Doug on that one. The funny part is that I get several hits a day with some combination of the words “doug gottlieb hates byu.” I don’t think I was alone in laughing at Doug this weekend when BYU dominated and yet another Rick Barnes-coached team came up short in the tournament.

Rooting for the Cougars is the right move here because we need to stretch out Jimmer-mania as long as possible. In ten years, when Jimmer is dominating the Turkish League, we will look back fondly on the 2011 March Madness and the dazzling array of finger rolls that would get knocked into the fifteenth row in the NBA. Long live the Jimmer!

16. Last but maybe not least is Florida. Like Duke, the Gators slipped by into the Sweet Sixteen after they hung on to beat a team (UCLA) that had no business being in the game at all. I tried to come up with a reason why they weren’t a less talented Duke. I failed.

The one thing the Gators have going for them is the bracket. As unimpressive as the Gators are, BYU and the Wisconsin/Butler winner aren’t exactly the best remaining competition. They are one upset of Kansas away from one of the easier roads to the final in recent memory. So there’s that. But looking at Florida’s schedule, I can’t fathom how they are even a #2 seed, let alone a true contender.

Note to bettors: it’s probably a good idea to put some money on the Gators.


BYU and the Honor Code

March 7, 2011

I’m a little late to the party, but I couldn’t resist writing about the dismissal of forward Brandon Davies from the BYU basketball team. At first, I was a little annoyed by the dismissal, mostly because I just took Doug Gottlieb to task for not respecting BYU the day prior. But mostly I didn’t really care. BYU is a private, religious university and they can do whatever they want.

Then the media started talking.

Literally every single sports writer took the same stance. I’m sure every single one of them thought they were being profound. I can some up analysts’ reaction with one long sentence (picture me talking like Jim Rome, if that helps):

“BYU has a strict moral code that I could never follow, but the university leaders deserve to be applauded because they stuck to their principles even though they essentially destroyed their Final Four chances; although it seems unfair to young Davies, he knew what he was getting into because he signed the honor code.”

Why can’t we just be neutral on anything? Why do writers insist on writing lazy articles like that? That is such an easy angle to take. It’s ironic that sports writers of all people continuously pump out opinions where they downplay the importance of the very thing they are paid to cover. Not that I don’t agree with that sentiment, it’s just that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. You can simultaneously say religious principles are more important and say that BYU was wrong. I’m about to do that very thing.

Again I don’t really care about BYU’s decision. They are a private, religious university and can do whatever they want. I have no opinions on moral codes. In fact, I’m kinda knocking on the door of the BYU moral code myself. I’m now married, I’m honest, I shave daily and dress nicely, and I have been away from warehouse labor long enough to not curse. If I could give up beer and coffee, I’m there. So no, I don’t think it’s an issue of the honor code itself. Yes, the code is strict, especially for college students, but it’s not that strict.

BYU officials obviously thought the same way. They found a violation of the honor code and acted in the manner they deemed correct. End of story, right? Of course not – that would be way too short of a blog post. Instead the talking heads have to force an opinion where one doesn’t belong, I get annoyed, and you get to read the result. I have problems with two of the media’s statements:

1. That Brandon Davies knew what he was signing up for, so the punishment is okay; and
2. That BYU deserves to be applauded for giving up athletic success to stand by their principles.

Let’s start with Davies. Since when is signing a code/contract a black or white issue? If that’s the case, these writers have just put an awful lot of attorneys out of business. I couldn’t find how old Davies was when he signed with the Cougars, but I would guess that he was younger than 18. If the honor code was a contract, it wouldn’t even be valid because it was signed by a minor. Common law protects minors from business contracts because they are assumed not to have the mind to make difficult financial decisions…and yet somehow Davies “knew what he signed up for” when he agreed to a life of no sex or alcohol as a high school senior? Please.

Yet even if we assume that Davies was a fully informed adult who made a rational decision to sign the moral code, we still can’t say he knew what he signed up for. Check out these comments from an anonymous BYU basketball player. The player makes the point that BYU students certainly make a better effort than other college students to live a virtuous life, but they still occasionally have sex, drink, and smoke marijuana. I obviously have no personal experience with BYU’s campus, so I don’t know if that is true. As a former college student, I assume there is some grain of truth to it. On top of that, Jim McMahon went to the university. I don’t think any of us non-BYU athletes are in any position to claim that a young kid can fully appreciate the code with those statements floating out there.

I looked up the BYU honor code. It says everything that it is supposed to say, but potential punishments are unclear, to say the least. The only statement in the honor code is that punishment can go up to expulsion from the university. That fits in with the anonymous player’s statement that the honor code hangs over every BYU student’s head, no one knows where the honor code office is, and punishments are all over the place depending on the violation. The player also writes that the investigation process takes upwards of a month. Again, that fits in with the lengthy appeal process described on the BYU website.

All this also fits in with the fact that Davies self-reported the incident. Are we really to believe that Davies would have self-reported his premarital sex if it would a) get him kicked off his team the very next day; and b) turn him from a decent college basketball center into a nationally known name for reasons that he wants nothing to do with? I doubt it. Really, his actions show that he didn’t know what he signed up for, rather than the opposite. He knew he wasn’t supposed to have premarital sex and felt bad about it…but there is no way he understood the ramifications from the university.

Then there’s the second refrain – that BYU deserves to be applauded for forsaking athletic accomplishments for their own values. This drives me crazy. We aren’t talking Nebraska football, Duke basketball, or even Notre Dame anything. This is BYU. It is a national university in which religion comes first and athletics second.

This is a university that walked away from the Mountain West Conference because it wanted to show more of its sports on BYUtv, the university’s own nationally televised network. Here’s a quote directly from the network’s website: “Through acquiring, creating and producing new values-based content, BYUtv has become a powerful tool for sharing enriching and educational entertainment rooted in values and faith.” The university uses athletics on BYUtv to push its faith-based message. It isn’t the other way around. Perhaps more than any Division I university other than perhaps the military academies, athletics takes a back seat.

Still, that didn’t stop journalists from piping up. Jim Rome went so far as to say, “[c]redit to (BYU) for not compromising its integrity and selling out for the millions they could’ve made for a deep run in the NCAA tournament….” Come on Jim. BYU is no Butler. I couldn’t find a legitimate source that has BYU’s endowment; the closest I found was this post that put the number at $589 million. It came from a Cougar message board and wasn’t rebutted, so I’ll assume that’s something close to the truth. That is a pretty good chunk of money for a potential “Cinderella” like BYU. For comparison, Butler, last year’s NCAA runner-up, has a $113 million endowment. Sure, the supposed extra millions would be nice, but I think BYU is going to pull through this one, at least financially.

Money aside, here’s my real problem with that statement: BYU stands to gain far more from this episode than they would with a Final Four run. They are receiving coverage that they would never receive if they made a deep NCAA Tournament run for doing the so-called noble thing. And lest we forget that BYU is still a pretty good basketball team. Although they are now Final Four longshots, they are a safe bet to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. That means a solid week of coverage or Jimmer-mania and more of the proverbial “doing things the right way” talk.

BYU has no parallels in Division I athletics. The closest would be Notre Dame, but even that really isn’t a good comparison. 98% of BYU’s 32,955 students are Mormons. At least 95% of BYU’s faculty are Mormons. The university has earned the nickname “America’s Favorite School” because its graduates rank it higher than the graduates of any other university. 78% of accepted students attend the university – even more than Harvard. By contrast, only 80% of the 11,700 Notre Dame students and 52% of faculty are Catholics. So it’s not like BYU is really hurting their reputation here. Very, very few potential BYU students will not attend the university after this situation. Fans of their basketball team will be upset, but they won’t go anywhere. If anything, the university is pandering to their own base and are getting even more press about their values and faith than they ever would with a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Maybe I am being too cynical. That wouldn’t be the first time that happened. On one hand, in a vacuum, it certainly is laudable that an administration put their mission above athletics. But I have a hard time applauding a university who actually benefited from doing the laudable thing. They are the only Division I team that makes no secret of the fact that athletics aren’t anywhere close to the top of their priority list. Their mission received all kinds of news coverage at almost no cost, financial or otherwise. So how can we really applaud their actions? If the administration did the right thing and it hurt them, go ahead and give them a round of applause. But in this case, they did the right thing and stand to benefit in the long run. I’m just not all that impressed by that.

It seems to me if they really cared about the kid, they would have worked with him through this issue instead of publicly embarrassing him in front of a national audience just one day after he came to the administrators to self-report his violation. I keep hearing all this stuff about this helping him learn his lesson. I call BS. He isn’t good enough to be an NBA player, so for the rest of his life he will be that kid who got kicked off the BYU team for having sex. What lesson are they trying to teach him? Maybe I’m way off base, but with all that I just wrote, it certainly seems like the BYU administration is not all that concerned with the honor code per se. It seems much more like a bunch of opportunists at the expense of one basketball player who messed up and tried work with the administrators to right his wrongs.

See sports writers? You can make an argument against the BYU administration without getting into religious beliefs. Not that I necessarily disagree with BYU’s decision, all things considered…but what a concept!


12 (or so) Random Fantastic Finishes

January 14, 2011

I went to the Minnesota/Purdue college basketball game last night where the Gophers’ Blake Hoffarber went off for 26 points in the upset victory. I’m not a big Gopher basketball fan, so naturally, what I remember most about Hoffarber comes from his high school days (see #1 below).

He did serve as the inspiration for this list though. Everyone loves a wild finish. There have been billions of lists on the Internets about the best finishes of all-time. Without even seeing the lists, you can likely name most of the top ten. Flutie’s Hail Mary, the Music City Miracle, NC State’s buzzer beater over Houston, Christian Laettner’s shot over Kentucky, the Stanford/Cal play will all be there in some order.

I decided to take a different route. I picked 12 random, obscure, outrageous finishes that don’t show up on these lists. I immediately threw out all professional and most Division I college games. Some of these got fringe coverage as a SportsCenter Top Play, but you probably haven’t seen most of these before. Which means you’ll enjoy these plays. In no particular order:

#1. Blake Hoffarber sends the game into double overtime from his butt

The inspiration behind this list gets the #1 spot. Blake Hoffarber’s Hopkins team met Eastview in the 2005 Minnesota Class 4A State High School Basketball Championship. The teams were tied at 56 late in overtime when Eastview’s Darren Kent tipped in B.J. Viau’s missed layup to give the Lightning a 58-56 lead with 2.5 seconds left.

Hopkins threw the ball the length of the court towards several players near the baseline. Hoffarber fell to the ground in the scrum, but somehow found himself with the ball after it was tipped down. He fired a desperation shot towards the basket from his butt. It went in to send the game into double overtime. Hopkins went on to win 71-60 over the deflated Eastview squad.

#2. The greatest game in high school football history

This one is cheating a bit since it got national attention and even won a 1995 ESPY for Showstopper of the Year. It is still a high school semifinal game from 1994 though, so I’ll still count it as obscure.

12-0 state #2 Plano East met 12-0 state #3 Tyler John Tyler in the Class 5A Division II Region II semifinal. That doesn’t sound like a very important game, but these were two of the three best teams in Texas and the game was held at Texas Stadium, so I’m guessing it was a big deal at the time.

Plano East led 27-17 with 5:23 left but John Tyler had the ball at Plano’s 8-yard line. Plano stripped the ball from John Tyler quarterback Jeff Whitley and Marc Broyles scooped the ball up and returned it 90 yards to give John Tyler a seemingly insurmountable 34-17 lead. When John Tyler returned another fumble for a touchdown with 3:03 left to go up 41-17, it seemed safe to celebrate.

Then chaos ensued. Plano East suddenly was unstoppable. They quickly scored and recovered an onside kick.

And then they did it again.

And again.

Amazingly, Whitley hit Robert Woods for a 22-yard touchdown pass to put Plano East up 44-41 with 24 seconds left to give Plano East the improbable victory.

Or so they thought. John Tyler’s Roderick Dunn returned the ensuing kick 97 yards for a touchdown to give John Tyler a 48-44 win. Seventeen years later, I hope that the Plano kids are down to less than one nightmare a week.

#3. Eight points in seven tenths of a second

I refereed freshmen girls high school basketball for a season. You see some ridiculous things refereeing young women. This isn’t really a knock on girls’ basketball – it just is what it is. At that age, many of the girls have not played long enough to learn the game. I imagine small town girls’ basketball is a bit like that. There’s just not enough fundamental skills and athletic talent to go around. But it does lead to some fascinating outcomes. Here’s an example:

This came from the 2008 2A Oklahoma State High School Championship game between Pocola and Walters. Pocola hit a layup to take a 54-52 lead in the closing seconds and got the ball back, but could not run the clock out. Walters’ Vanessa Karpe nailed a three-pointer and was fouled with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. And then things got weird.

Walters’ bench players ran onto the court, thinking the game was over. The referee called a technical foul*, giving Pocola two free throws and the ball back. Karpe hit her free throw to give Walters a 56-54 lead. Pocola’s Lasea Been could only manage one of two free throws. That’s not so surprising, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so scared to shoot a free throw.

* For my thoughts on this, you should probably find my post “Oh, those power-hungry refs.”

Pocola had one last chance on the inbounds pass from half court and made it count – Callie Slate hit a long desperation three-pointer to give them a dramatic 58-56 victory.

#4. March Madness should be more like this

If an obscure college game is televised on CBS, but no one watches it, does it still count for this list? I vote yes, and since it’s my list, my vote counts. In 2007, Barton College and defending champion Winona State met for the Division II National Championship. Winona State found themselves up 74-67 in the closing seconds before Barton went on a frantic 10-1 over the last 38 seconds to steal a 77-75 victory on Anthony Atkinson’s layup at the buzzer.

Just two years later, Findlay and Cal Poly Pomona met in another thrilling Division II Championship. The two teams were tied at 53 in overtime when Findlay’s Tyler Evans took the inbounds pass with 2.4 seconds left, took two dribbles, and nailed a fadeaway three-pointer to give the Oilers the championship.

Don’t feel too bad for each losing team. Winona State and Cal Poly Ponoma both avenged their losses by winning the D-II title the following seasons.

#5. Play until the whistle

Westland John Glenn met Canton Plymouth in a late season Michigan high school football game in 2009. Trailing 28-27 with a few seconds remaining, John Glenn’s Ryan Perez lined up for a potential game-winning 33-yard field goal. It was blocked and Plymouth’s team ran off the field in celebration.

Only one problem for Plymouth. The whistle never blew. If the ball does not cross the line of scrimmage on a blocked kick, the kicking team can advance it. Neither team realized this, but only John Glenn stayed on the field. After an excruciatingly long three or four seconds of coaches screaming, John Glenn holder Tony Wilton picked up the ball and ran in for a touchdown to give John Glenn the improbable 33-28 victory.

One quick note: the referees could absolutely have blown it dead. The rules state that if neither team is attempting to advance or recover a live ball, the referees can blow the play dead. But they did not, so the play was still live and upholding the touchdown was the correct call.

#6. Stanford-Cal Part II

I’m not going to include the Stanford-Cal kick return on my list – everyone’s already seen that. Instead, you get this highlight from a Kentucky high school football game from last season.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJeCf4kJOCE&feature=related]

Pleasure Ridge Park took a 41-34 lead over Butler on a touchdown with 1.8 seconds left on the clock. All they had to do was tackle the kick returner. They could not quite manage that, and several laterals and one “The Band is on the Field” moment later, Butler scored to pull within one.

Naturally, they went for the two-point conversion and the win. The video calls it gutsy, but come on: if you pull off some crazy magic and win a 10,000 to 1 shot, you absolutely have to let that ride. That’s just gambling 101.

#7. Six points in two seconds

In a 2005 regular season game, Chicago State found themselves down to conference rival Missouri-Kansas City 69-66 in the closing seconds. The Cougars’ leading scorer Tyler Weeden missed a wide open three but the rebound fell to teammate David Inabnit. The tightly covered Inabnit took six quick steps. The referees, mistaking Inabnit for Kobe Bryant, did not call travelling. He made the Kangaroos pay and drilled an off-balance three-pointer to tie the game at 69 with 1.9 seconds left.

The Kangaroos’ length of the court pass was tipped to Chicago State player and the coach’s son Kevin Jones Jr. Jones Jr. fired the ball from seventy feet and nailed it, giving the Cougars the 72-69 victory.

Two hilarious notes about this game. First, what Eastern European country did Chicago State get those jerseys from? They look like the Mighty Ducks’ uniforms before Mr. Ducksworth stepped in to fund new gear.

Second, Kevin Jones Jr. was at the heart of some insane turmoil with the Chicago State basketball team. Apparently Cougar player Cam-Ron Clay challenged Coach Jones Sr. to a fight in the locker room at halftime of a game. Jones Sr. immediately expelled him from the team. Sounds reasonable, but there was one minor problem for Jones Sr: they were playing in Milwaukee at the time. The team just left Clay there. Clay was frustrated, so he did what any sane person would do – he came back to campus and beat the living crap out of Jones Jr. Twice. All three eventually were forced to leave the Chicago State campus. Presumably, their pictures are on the walls of the CSU security office like the people who spit off the rides at Walt Disney World.

#8. A viral lesson on why you shouldn’t miss a free throw on purpose

This game actually took place back in 2005, but became a viral sensation just a couple years ago. Division III Gulliford and Randolph-Macon found themselves tied at 88 when a Randolph-Macon player was fouled with just 0.6 remaining on the clock. He nailed the first free throw and missed the second on purpose. Gulliford’s Jordan Snipes grabbed the rebound and did this:

The shot enough is amazing, but I think what really propelled this video to viral stardom is the reaction of Gulliford’s #42 in the play. First, he managed to duck just before the desperation shot would have hit him in the face. Then his “holy crap” reaction when the shot goes in is just plain awesome.

#9. High school Hail Marys

In the 2009 South Dakota Class 11B High School Football Championship, Winner and Tri-Valley were tied at 6 in the closing minutes. Tri-Valley had the ball around midfield and were driving with two minutes left until Winner’s Ted Wonnenberg intercepted the ball to set Winner up with one last chance in regulation. Winner coach Dan Aaker employed the rarely used “don’t really try to score and run the clock down to four seconds before trying a Hail Mary” strategy. It worked as Jayd Knodell caught Wonnenberg’s tipped pass and walked into the end zone to win the state championship 12-6.

A week later, Utah’s Juan Diego Catholic pulled off the same feat to win the Utah Class 3A High School Football Championship. Juan Diego trailed 10-6 with the ball at their own 20 with 45 seconds left. Quarterback Cody Stevenson drove the Soaring Eagle right down the field and won the game on a stunning 33-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Nix as time expired.

But you know how furious South Dakota gets when Utah tries to one-up them. In the Class 11B championship the very next year, Flandreau had the ball on the Mobridge-Pollock four-yard line with 18 seconds remaining down 27-21. The announcer – clearly skilled in the fine art of foreshadowing – proclaimed that “we may have another Youtube sensation on our hands.” On the next play, Flandreau’s Luke Gassman catches a tipped touchdown pass and Nic Behrens kicked the ensuing extra point to give Flandreau the dramatic 28-27 victory. Touché, South Dakota. Touché.

#10. Not one, but two Hail Marys

In this obscure 1985 game, Division III Illinois College led Principia College late in the game until Principia scored a touchdown to take a 20-15 lead with just 28 seconds to play. Illinois College used a solid kick return to set up an improbable tipped Hail Mary touchdown catch to give them a 22-20 lead with two seconds left. Principia fell on the ball after a short squib kick, leaving one second left on the clock. Unbelievably, Principia completed their own Hail Mary and prevailed 26-22 over the stunned Illinois College players.

I apologize for the long video, but it’s pretty funny in its own right. Although the game didn’t take place until 1985, I’m fairly certain the video was filmed in 1977.

#11. This is the game that never ends

On March 12, 2010, Quinnipiac and Union met in Game 1 of a best-of-3 ECAC Hockey first round series. Puck drop was at 7:07 pm. Three periods and five overtimes later, the game finally ended at 1:03 am on March 13.

Quinnipiac’s Jeremy Langlois tied the game at 2-2 just 1:12 into the second period. Neither team would score for the next 129 minutes of game time – longer than two full normal-length games. Quinnipiac mercifully won the game on Dan Holt’s goal 10:22 into the fifth overtime, breaking the previous record for longest NCAA game by over nine minutes.

The previous record? Yale’s 3-2 victory over Union in five overtimes in 2006. Apparently the Flying Dutchmen need to work on their conditioning.

Don’t feel too bad for Union though – they went on to win the next two games in the series to advance to the next round.

#12. These kids and their celebrations

William Paterson met Albertus Magnus in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Division III Basketball Tournament. William Paterson’s Gabriel Paul hit a short jumper with 1.6 seconds left and the Pioneer players began to celebrate.

Too soon. Albertus Magnus inbounded the ball to long distance shot specialist Byron Reeves, who promptly drained the three-quarters length shot to send Albertus Magnus to the second round (where they lost by 34 to DeSales).

How come we can’t get shots like that during March Madness? All I can figure is that it has to be some sort of conspiracy because of the work hours that would be lost to Youtube.

Bonus: Amazing hurdles comeback

In the 2008 Indiana District 4AA girls’ 110 meter hurdles, Deborah Jones needed to finish in the top four to qualify for the state tournament. After a late stumble on the third-to-last hurdle, her dreams looked to be shattered when Central Catholic’s Alexis Courage passed her for fourth place.

Jones refused to give in and picked up a head of steam as if from nowhere. Courage clipped the last two hurdles and Jones flew past her for a dramatic fourth place finish.

The finish proved huge. Jones went on to upset the field and win the first of three consecutive 110-meter hurdle state championships.