Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Butler 59, Evil Empire 61

First, the irrational stuff. Thanks to the refs for making this happen.

Section 4. Intentional Personal Fouling
Guidelines for calling the intentional personal foul are:
a. Any personal foul that is not a legitimate attempt to directly play the ball
or a player is an intentional personal foul.

Yes, that's what the rule book says, and no, this is not an intentional foul. Why not? Because.

Zoubek is a fouling machine, clearly commits his fifth foul, no call is made, and on the next possession, he scores a basket that turns out to be the final margin.

Okay, I feel better. Now for the real analysis.

For the fourth straight game, Butler clearly outplayed a team that was considered to be better than them. Once again, they did not play their bast basketball, and yet they still had chances to win. Despite the poor officiating (which I will grant was not totally one-sided: there was one sequence early in the second half where Butler was determined to commit fouls and the refs were equally determined not to call any).

With the exception of Zoubek's usual moving elbow picks and the thugging by Thomas, there weren't too many egregious calls or non-calls. Butler let this one get away by missing a number of open shots in the first half and by failing to drive well in the second. They had the right idea (to drive inside and keep picking up fouls on Duke's bigs), but the Devils played it very well and simply let them drive, waiting to block low shots or simply giving up uncontested layups, most of which were shot by off-balance players expecting contact.

Butler took more shots from the field, had more free throws, got more offensive rebounds, forced more turnovers, and shot better from outside the arc. I doubt Coach K will say it, but they got lucky tonight. Butler showed that they absolutely belonged here, that regardless of how they got here, they deserved it. This is no Hoosiers remake; Butler is more like, well, Duke.

Younger people may not realize that Duke was in a similar position in the early '90s, when they first made the transition from underdog to champion. The difference is that Duke is in the ACC and thus has access to much better resources (TV contracts, for example). Butler has no such leverage. They will have to work hard to retain what they have.

And retain it they should. Butler may be going to Houston next year ... now, a lot of good teams don't make it to the Final Four, if for no other reason than, well, only four teams can go, but the Bulldogs should have the talent on the court and the sidelines to get there.

It was a great season that nearly finished with a storybook ending. Weeks earlier, Evan Turner hit a similar shot just a few blocks away to pull out a last-second win in the Big Ten tournament, a game that ultimately meant nothing to the Buckeyes (who were still a 2 seed despite being regular season co-champs and tournament champions). How different things would have been if that shot had been the one that missed.

Finally, CBS did probably the worst job of covering the tournament in history, considering the advances in technology that should have made more things possible. Completely oblivious to said history, one of the talking heads made the statement that this final was better than others, even some of the overtime ones. (That's about as stupid as you can get. CBS? It's Rumeal Robinson on line 1. He'd like to speak to you about that. Oh, and Wilt Chamberlain is holding on line 2. I think Frank McGuire is with him.)

The new camera angles were, without exception, hideous. I can't think of a worse angle than one that shows the court top to bottom. Hello, CBS: we're watching on wide screens now. Jim Nantz doing the Final Four is kind of like Pam Ward calling it for ESPN. Nantz is a golf announcer. He can't do basketball. That's not his style. He has no idea how to get excitement into the game. I mean, this is the network that employs Gus Johnson, for goodness sake. You know, the guy who can inject excitement into, well, a golf tournament? He even did the regional final with Butler and Kansas State. Where was he? Not doing play-by-play. When ESPN gets the tournament, they have to take Johnson.

The talking heads stuck to the script that was given them, even when Butler was clearly dominating play in the first half. Seth Davis was the only one, I think, who even noticed what Butler was doing to Duke. Of course, afterward they were falling all over themselves to point out how Butler was right there the whole time. This is why we don't listen nearly as much to mass media.

Split-screen action in the first four rounds? None. Random switches between games? Check. Blacking out games that aren't shown locally? Check. Complete incompetence? Check. CBS proved beyond a doubt why over-the-air networks can't handle sports any more. The three major leagues plus the NCAA should chip in and start providing better, cheaper broadband to people so they can watch games online and then cut out the over-the-air networks entirely. (The NHL doesn't have the money or the intelligence to do so.) We'd all be better off with a network that doesn't insert blocks of dead time so they can show you the local "news". (There was severe weather in the Indianapolis area. I think we were all concerned that they would "helpfully" break in with the report of a tornado sighted 100 miles away or something like that.)

In a just world, ESPN would cover a 65-team tournament and not screw it up, talking heads would actually go out on a limb from time to time ... and Butler is the 2010 national champion. But I guess that's not how it's going to go down.

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