Random thoughts now that the Final Four has been whittled to the Final Two:
In fairness to the refs, when viewing the Louisville-Wichita State game from some angles at full speed, the jump ball they called with 8.8 seconds left at least looked like it might have been a jump ball. But even at full speed I thought the whistle blew too fast for Louisville's Luke Hancock to have tied up the ball long enough to warrant a whistle. When replays confirmed not only that, but also showed that Hancock barely tied it up in the first place - and might even have fouled Wichita State's Ron Baker in the process - my blood boiled.
I do not think the refs blew the call on purpose, but they did blow it. And that blown call gave the ball back to the Cardinals, depriving the Shockers of a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. That fact is a black eye on the tournament and serves as an injustice to both teams.
In order to tie the game Wichita State would have needed to hit a three-pointer, and while nobody knows if they would have succeeded in that, many millions of stranger things have happened. 8.8 seconds is more than sufficient time to set up a play, and the Shockers had been shooting good from three-point range throughout the tourney. On the "injustice scale," the fact that they were wrongly denied a chance to hit one more three-pointer to keep their dreams alive speaks for itself.
From Louisville's standpoint, being the beneficiary of a bad call unfairly tarnishes the win because people are sure to remember the call more than the many positive things the Cardinals did to earn the victory. Louisville's bench contributed mightily to the win, which is a testament to those back-up players and also a testament to Rick Pitino's coaching - and this morning people are focusing less on them than they should. Even more significant on the "injustice scale" is this: The Cardinals are a strong defensive team and may well have prevented the Shockers from getting off a good shot, but because the blown call gave them the ball rather than the Shockers, people this morning are talking only about what Wichita State's offense might have done - rather than what Louisville's defense might have done - to decide the outcome.
An Odd Twist
For most of my life Louisville has been the big bad favorite, not the underdog, almost every time it takes the court. It is the tournament's top seed and is playing in its second consecutive Final Four. And its coach was just named to the Basketball Hall of Fame. In our love-the-little-guy culture, they are the kind of team most people root against.
But a funny thing happened on the way to this year's forum: Louisville has captured millions of hearts in the manner that underdogs and Cinderellas usually do. Thanks to Kevin Ware's gruesome injury last weekend - and the role played by walk-on Tim Henderson last night - and the fact that they needed to rally from a double-digit deficit in the second half to get past Wichita State - the Cardinals are suddenly the team whose experiences read like a heart-tugging Hollywood script. Who'd'a thunk?
This is not basketball-related, but my skin crawled when the PA announcer in the Georgia Dome introduced Michigan guard Nik Stauskas by saying he is "from Ontario, Canada." We know Ontario is in Canada. We don't need to have an announcer clarify that as if he is speaking to a roomful of six-year-olds. He should have introduced Stauskas as being "from Mississauga, Ontario" just like he introduced Trey Burke as being "from Columbus, Ohio." In addition to insulting our intelligence, it felt like he was slighting Mississauga by not even mentioning it the way he did the home towns of the U.S.-born players.
We have seen this kind of thing for several years now. When giving place names of locales north of the border, our newspapers and television news programs have developed a habit of neglecting to mention either the town or province while remaining certain to say Canada, even when saying Canada is not necessary. I grit my teeth every time I see an article that says "Toronto, Canada" instead of "Toronto, Ontario." People who are too ignorant to know the names of Canada's provinces and territories are unlikely to be reading a newspaper in the first place, so I am hopelessly imploring the MSM to stop catering to them. I don't want to hear "Medicine Hat, Canada" instead of "Medicine Hat, Alberta" unless we start saying "Dallas, United States" instead of "Dallas, Texas."
And yes, I know the Georgia Dome's PA announcer was addressing a sports audience which might not be precisely the same as a newpaper audience. But even where those audiences don't overlap, sports fans should be almost as likely as news fans to know the name of a Canadian province when they hear it.