Lame Games: College Hoops Ends on a Slow Note

By Norman Chad
Monday, March 16, 2009

College basketball is a lie. It's a lie because it has nothing to do with college, but it's also a lie because, at game's end, it has nothing to do with basketball.

When it comes to March Madness, many think of Christian Laettner's 1992 buzzer beater for Duke against Kentucky. But most of the time, the only thing beating the buzzer is a series of stoppages, with intermittent play.

No other sport changes its nature in the waning minutes more drastically. For 36 minutes of clock time, each team tries to score; for the final four minutes, the team that's behind just tries to foul. It's not basketball anymore, it's a game of tag.

The final 1 minute 54 seconds of the Southeastern Conference tournament title game between Mississippi State and Tennessee took 21 minutes. The final 12.4 seconds took 12 minutes.

The final 1:01 of the MAAC tournament title game between Siena and Niagara took 12 minutes.

The final 28.2 seconds of the Big East semifinal between Syracuse and West Virginia took nine minutes.

(To soccer's credit, the final 3 1/2 minutes of a soccer match takes exactly 3 1/2 minutes, well, plus injury time. Of course, nothing happens, but that is consistent with the rest of the game.)

Here is how many college basketball games play out:

Foul, foul, timeout, commercial, foul, timeout, commercial, foul, foul, timeout, commercial, timeout, commercial, foul.

If it's an ACC or Big East game, rinse and repeat.

They'll run out of boosters before they'll run out of timeouts.

At a Leisure World somewhere, Lou Carnesecca has two timeouts left and is still trying to win a 1984 game against Georgetown.

(Alas, with all the dead time at game's end, this creates more grating announcer talk, usually from the jock analyst. As a rule, they say obvious things, stupid things and unspeakable things. Speaking of which, do you know what I did on Selection Sunday? I chose not to watch and, rather, chose to boost my favorite dying industry by buying a newspaper today to get the NCAA brackets.)

In this foul-and-timeout landslide, you can even foul someone when the ball is not in play, without additional penalty. This happens all the time on inbounds plays, so the clock doesn't even move. Only in college basketball does time stand still.

"Free throws win ballgames," ESPN's Len Elmore observed the other night.

Yes they do. They also lose the dramatic momentum that's been building. You can't get to one shining moment if you have too many standing-around moments. In college basketball, the texture of the sport changes down the stretch -- a two-hour game of fluid motion turns into a quarter-hour dunk-tank concession.

(Take an opera like "La Boheme." Mimi and Rodolpho spend three acts loving each other, distrusting each other and singing soulful ballads to each other. Then, in Act 4's closing scene, instead of Mimi and Rodolpho reuniting movingly before she lapses into unconsciousness, imagine if they just go to the mall, spend the evening making fondue and watch infomercials till dawn before she dies. The whole creative and spiritual thrust would be ruined, no? How do I make Bill Raftery understand this?)

Of course, everyone is still reveling in the epic, six-overtime Big East tournament game last week between Syracuse and Connecticut. A classic!

Featuring 66 fouls and 93 free throw attempts. I believe everyone fouled out, and both schools had to use actual students to finish the game.

Ask The Slouch

Q. What will happen first -- the Cleveland Browns making the Super Bowl or your reappearance for "Five Good Minutes" on "Pardon the Interruption"? (Radu Marinescu; Fairfax)

A. If I ever were to reappear on "PTI," the segment would have to be renamed, "Three Not-So-Good Minutes."

Q. How did the NFL allocate players before Mel Kiper came along? (Don Cawley; Shaker Heights, Ohio)

A. Actually, I seem to recall Jim Cramer touting Ryan Leaf to the Chargers back in 1998.

Q. Charles Barkley says he read his entire time in jail. What did he read? (Jon Kemp; West Allis, Wis.)

A. Probably his autobiography.

Q. When making the decision to propose to your latest wife, which carried more weight -- her RPI or her performance over the last 10 dates? (Brad Porter; Kansas City, Mo.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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