“Whoever said, ‘It’s not whether you win or lose that counts,’ probably lost.” – Martina Navratilova
I had a strange experience tonight. I was watching a free throw shooting contest, and a basketball game nearly broke out. While I thought the first half of this game was well-played, fairly officiated (for the most part), and exciting to watch, the second half was a teeth-gnashing nightmare. I have watched some national championship games that were excruciatingly unentertaining (UConn vs Butler, anyone?), but typically it was because of a blowout, poor shooting by one or both teams, or generally poor play by one or both teams. But what was it that made this game nearly unwatchable after the break? Oh, let us count the ways…
- The Body Count Is Rising – There were fouls aplenty in this game, 44 to be exact, 22 whistled on each team. I guess at least it was even. The teams collectively shot an unbelievable 52 free throws (weirdly, again even at exactly 26 apiece), even more unbelievably missing 20 of them. Neither team could take over the game in the second half because these whistle-happy referees decided to take it over instead, to the detriment of both teams, the fans in the building, and the viewers at home. Even the Nance-Hill-Raftery trio was noticeably exasperated by the utter lack of game flow in the second half. Both teams were constantly sending guys in and out to play the foul trouble dance, which prevented many of the star players from truly make a difference in the game. Meeks, Jackson, Karnowski, Collins, Williams, and Hicks were all handcuffed by often ridiculous foul calls. What the officials did for us tonight is make it impossible to know who the truly better team was. However, I’m the one who said complaining about the officials is a loser’s excuse, and I’ll own that. North Carolina won the game, and they are the champions. It could have been MUCH more entertaining, and a much better contest, had the refs not decided to take center stage and make it about them. This has to be one of the poorest jobs of officiating I’ve seen in a decade, and I’m not saying it cost Gonzaga the game. It didn’t. It cost ALL OF US a game, though, because we didn’t get a game. We got a parade to the free throw line, stupid reviews, and blatantly missed calls. More on all of that in a moment.
- By The Numbers – If you look at the box score, you might truly wonder how in the world UNC won this game. They were out-rebounded 49-46. They were staggeringly awful from three point range, shooting 4-27 for just 14.8%. Compare that to Gonzaga who went 8-19 for a respectable 42.1%. Gonzaga also made two more free throws (a stat which surprised me, as it felt like all Gonzaga did was MISS free throws all night). About the only stat where UNC was superior was the one that mattered most, total points on 35.6% shooting compared to Gonzaga’s barely-worse 20-59 for 33.9%. The Tarheels did take 14 more shots that Gonzaga, and that no doubt was a factor.
- Karnowski Was A No-Show – Gonzaga’s mountain of a man, Przemek Karnowski had his worst game of the tournament at the worst possible time. He made only one basket all night and missed seven shots from about 4 feet or less. Collins typically picks up he slack when the Big Pole is off, but that was impossible tonight with Collins getting whistled for a foul pretty much every time he exhaled. Before fouling out, Zach Collins was 4-6 from the field, 1-1 from the line, with 7 rebounds, 1 steel, and 3 blocks. Imagine what a game he might have had had he been allowed to actually play more than two consecutive minutes.
- Upon Further Review, The Review Process Should Be Terminated – I am flabbergasted to the point of struggling to find words for how stupidly administered the review process has become in college basketball. In the space of three days I have witnessed two high-profile games in which a foul which was NOT CALLED become a foul after the fact because a review deemed the not-called foul to be flagrant. I was under the impression that the flagrant foul rules were instituted to cut down on player injuries, ergo, to punish intentionally rough play. I was also under the impression that called fouls could be upgraded to flagrants upon further review, but apparently that’s only in the NBA. In college, it seems, you don’t have to have a foul called first in order to upgrade to a flagrant. You can just go for the flagrant in one swell foop. No foul required. In the UConn vs Mississippi State women’s semi final and again in tonight’s men’s final we witnessed completely accidental contact that was not called as a foul in live action being retroactively called not just a foul, but a flagrant foul, which carries free throws and possession of the ball as a penalty. In the women’s game, this review took place AFTER THE ENSUING POSSESSION BY THE OTHER TEAM! How does that fit the spirit of reducing intentionally rough play? What possible benefit do these preposterous deliberations by the striped tribunal bring to the game? Now, as I’ve already said, Karnowski was not playing well in tonight’s game, but after that flagrant incident, if you were watching, you noticed he just completely quit playing altogether. He was done. This hurt the Zags even more after Williams-Goss, the only Gonzaga player who could score down the stretch, suffered a freakish ankle injury with 90 seconds left that basically made it impossible for him to be effective. Instead of hunkering down and trying to make one play when it counted, Karnowski just stood around and watched. Don’t get me wrong. I think PK is a terrific player, but I think his rough start coupled with the way the game was called in the second half just shut him down completely. Anyway, back to the topic of reviews. So at ANY POINT in the game, you can stop play, stand at the monitor for five minutes, and assess a foul that was not called in live action because it was “flagrant”. BUT, you can’t review easily fixable, non-subjective and blatantly wrong calls, such as the not-tipped shot that erroneously went to Gonzaga, because it didn’t happen in the final two minutes of the game. Stupid. Unspeakably stupid. And then, why in the world was the held ball where replay shows Meeks clearly out of bounds while touching the ball NOT reviewed when that took place under the two minute mark? The whole thing is a circus, capriciously and unevenly applied, unfair to both teams, exerting undo influence on game outcomes for reasons that defy any measure of logic, and barring major reforms, should be done away with entirely. And speaking of video reviews and changing calls after the fact…
- How About We Just Let The Fans Tweet The Officials To Prompt Video Reviews? – I mean, it works great in golf, right? Why not basketball? Let’s just let the fans in the arena or at home send a tweet or a text or an email to the officials whenever they want to point out an infraction they saw on TV. Better yet, let’s let ’em do it any time before the game is over, even if the supposed infraction happened in the previous half. And let’s assess free throws and possession of the ball and such retroactively based on a video review prompted by these concerned citizens. ICYMI, the golfing world is enduring another rules-violation scandal involving an anonymous spectator emailing tournament officials about a rules violation committed by Lexi Thompson in the LPGA’s first major of the season. Here’s the kicker. This virtuous whistleblower waited until the next day to send the email, thereby increasing Lexi’s penalty, because she signed an incorrect scorecard. Of course, she had no opportunity to sign a correct scorecard, because she wasn’t notified of the infraction until a day later. Now, we can argue all day about whether or not she broke the rules, if the rule she broke is idiotic or not, and whether the penalty was appropriate or not. The first question I want to ask is, how in the world do these spectators get their hands on an email address for the rules officials? I mean, do the PGA and LPGA publish a “report an infraction” link on their websites? Here’s the point I really want to make. You don’t let fans have any input, ever, into the rules officiating process in any sport, because fans are not impartial by definition. I simply cannot fathom why officials in professional golfing events allow this to happen. There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but what if this particular “armchair weasel” as one frustrated fan Tweeted, noticed the infraction when it happened, but waited purposefully until the next day to report it in order to magnify the severity of the penalty? Had she been notified prior to the end of that round, she could have taken her two-stroke penalty, signed a correct score card, and avoided the additional two-stroke penalty. This whole fiasco cost her the championship, folks. Again, one can argue she broke the rules, and so it’s her own fault. Granted. But in a sport so obsessed with the integrity of the game, allowing fans with agendas to participate in the adjudication of rules violations is putting the inmates in charge of the asylum. Such a policy also unfairly targets popular players and tournament front runners, because they are the ones getting most of the TV time, whereas players further back in the standings or less popular are not being scrutinized nearly as closely. If you’re leading a golf tournament, every shot you take is on camera. If you’re in 69th, not so much. So again, until you can get a camera on every shot by every player all the time, and you can set up an official team to be in charge of reviews, and input from spectators is both forbidden and ignored, no decisions in golf should be made based on video review. None. Ok, back to basketball…
- Championship Surprises – Aside from being horrifically not-fun to watch, regardless of which team you were rooting for, there were a couple of surprises in this game. UNC’s Joel Berry, whom I expected to be a non-factor due to his injuries, was the hero of the game for the Tarheels, scoring a game high 22 points and generally making the key plays when it counted. On the other hand, Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss, whom I expected to not be hampered by injury at all, suffered a freak injury at the worst possible moment in the game. You have to feel for the Zags, as they faced a perfect storm of circumstances and yet still were within a point with less than 90 seconds to play. But the Zags didn’t lose this game because of officiating, awful as it was, or because of that injury to Williams-Goss. Karnowski could not buy a bucket. Williams-Goss missed half his free throws. And they had that awful second half drought that I have seen way too many times this year as a Zags fan, and they could not afford that in this game.
- They Aren’t Underdogs Anymore – It is my hope that the general public now recognizes Gonzaga basketball for the terrific program it is, and grows to love and appreciate it as much as I have over the past 18+ years. Mark Few and his men had a genuine breakthrough season, and while I wish it had ended with a championship, I am still very proud of this team. They went further than many thought they ever could.
- Credit Where It Is Due – In some ways, North Carolina winning another championship is like the New England Patriots winning another Super Bowl. It lacks a certain novelty that leads to a “ho-hum, so what” response. That was certainly my response, but they really deserve better. Coach Roy Williams won his 100th NCAA tournament game, and that’s no small accomplishment. This is UNC’s sixth national championship, and to be fair, these particular guys were on a mission to avenge their own heartbreaking loss at the hands of Villanova last year. Mission accomplished. Congratulations, Tarheels. You are national champions.
And now without further ado, I present the 22nd Annual Jeff’s March Madness Contest final awards.
- The Rookie Of The Year award goes to first-time contestant Raleigh “BadgerBuster” Wade who finished 5th overall with 168 points. Raleigh will receive a commemorative poster of every one-and-done Kentucky player of the Calipari era.
- The Little Einstein award goes to the winner of the 12-and-under age bracket, Jordyn Glassley, who placed 13th overall. Based on her alias, it looks like Jordyn will ACTUALLY be receiving her favorite Blizzard from DQ, courtesy of dear old dad.
- The Teen Wolf award goes to the top finisher in the 13-19 age bracket, William “McPick2” Harper, who finished 9th overall. William will receive an autographed photo of Michael J. Fox. Ask your parents who that is.
- The Magnificent Millennial award goes to the 2nd place finisher in the twenty-something age bracket, Evan “Make March Great Again!” Whiteaker, because the 1st place finisher was our rookie of the year. Evan finished 19th overall and will receive a commemorative Make March Great Again hat signed by Donald Trump.
- The Guessing Game award goes to Trevor “No Logic. No Strategy. All coinflips” Norcross, winner of the thirty-something age bracket and 3rd place overall. Trevor will receive a set of 63 quarters to flip next year, one for each game.
- The 45 Is The New 44 award goes to forty-something age bracket winner and overall contest runner-up, Chad “My Picks Are Awful” Wright. Chad finished just six points behind our contest winner.
- Since our contest champion this year came from the fifty-something age bracket, our March Madness 5-0 award goes to the second place finisher in that age bracket, David “ChumpChange” Boyd, who finished 17th overall.
- The Geriatric award goes to our top senior prognosticator, Patty Carson, who finished 6th overall. Patty will receive a lifetime membership to life alert, just in case in all the excitement of the tournament she has fallen and can’t get up.
- The annual Top Prognosticator award is typically given to the contestant who picks the most games correctly without regard to upset or scategories bonuses. Ironically, this would also be our contest champion, which I guess demonstrates how little upsets factored in to the ultimate outcome this year. So, we will give the award instead this year to the second best picker, Ethan Grunden, who went 50-13 and finished in 10th place overall. (Coincidentally, last year’s top prognosticator also picked 51 games correctly, as did our contest champion this year, but finished in 32nd place. Upsets, or lack thereof, really make a difference.)
- The I Hate This Stupid Scoring System award goes to the lowest finishing contestant with a win/loss percentage of at least .700. This year’s winner is Sven Schoenherr, winner of 45 games but finishing in 414th place. By way of comparison, our 4th place finisher overall had the same number of wins as Sven.
- The I Love This Awesome Scoring System award goes to the highest finishing contestant with a win/loss percentage below .500. This year’s winner is 25th place finisher Paul Smith, whose apparent definition of insanity involves picking only 27 out of 63 games correctly while still finishing in the top 25.
- The Yellow Lines And Dead Skunks award goes to middle-of-the-road finisher and personal golfing buddy, Ryan Helton, who ended up smack dab in the middle at 421st. This is an appropriate award for Ryan, since the middle of the road is typically where his golf ball ends up.
- The Final Four award goes to 4th place finisher Alyssa Regan who climbed from 703rd all the way up to a top 4 finish.
- The Seventh Heaven award goes to 7th place finisher Jessi “J. Mar” Marshall. Jessi will receive all ten seasons of Seventh Heaven on Blu Ray.
- The Oscar Meyer award goes 8th place contestant Tony “Toney Baloney” Isch, who must have spent the majority of his childhood having the other kids sing to him, “My baloney has a first name…” Tony will receive a year’s supply of Oscar Meyer wieners.
- The Close Only Counts In Hand Grenades And Horseshoes award goes to 41st place finisher Alicia “Gonzaga sounds close to Godzilla” Davis, who would have won the contest had Gonzaga pulled off the victory. Since I have neither hand grenades (too dangerous) nor horseshoes (my HOA doesn’t allow farm animals), Alicia will receive a vintage Godzilla costume along with a 1/30th scale model of Tokyo to destroy in her next fit of rage.
- The I Pretty Much Don’t Care, But I Didn’t Come In Last award goes to the contestant who picked the fewest number of games correctly (20), Makenna “Makuna Manada” Moen. Makenna made no re-picks whatsoever, won only 20 games, but still finished in 769th, which is not last.
- The Blame Shifting award goes to last place finisher Chares “Shut Up Kara It Wasn’t My Fault” Marr.
- The Family Feud award goes to the Brantner clan who finished at the top of the surname standings with an average score of 143.50. It’s weird because Family Feud host, Steve Harvey, had originally told me that my family, the Littles had won, but apparently there was some sort of mix up.
- This award actually comes from alert minion Chris Deaver. The 800 Club Award For Contest Futility goes to three contestants who never made it out of the 800s in the standings: Andrew McGuire, Javen Wynn, and Wesley Brauen. These three will receive a prayer card signed by Pat Robertson, which may help them perform better in the contest next year.
- Another good friend and alert minion, Dave Barndt, pointed out that two of his sons sandwiched The Wizard in the standings. We all three scored 119 points, but due to tie breakers, Matthew Barndt finished 140th, The Wizard Of Whiteland finished 141st, and Jonathon Barndt finished 142nd. I guess I’ll give them the BB&J Sandwich award, which at this time of night sounds delicious. I haven’t eaten anything in several hours.
- The I Don’t Need No Stinking Re-picks award goes to my lovely wife, Heather Little, who despite not getting her re-picks submitted for reasons unknown (she claims programmer error, I claim operator error), finished first amongst the Little tribe and 21st overall.
- The Zach Attack award goes to Zach McConnell and Zach Booher who, ironically, finished with the same point total (152) and right next to each other in the standings at 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
- The Top Nerd award goes to 14th place finisher Jared “No Place Like 127.0.0.1” Adams. Jared will receive an autographed picture of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory.
- And finally, the Ageless Wonder, the Big Kahuna, the Sharpest Shooter, Pun Absolutely Intended, Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, Grand Poobah of Prognostication award goes to this year’s contest champion, Shawna the Sharpeshooter Sharpe. Shawna correctly picked 51 games, more than any other contestant, but more importantly, she had both Gonzaga and UNC with original picks, and the national champion, UNC, with an original pick. Weirdly, the only games Shawna got wrong after the re-pick round were three games she re-picked. (She had Baylor going to the Final Four, which accounted for two losses, and then Kansas in the Final Four, which was the third loss.) Well done, Shawna. Listen closely and you will hear the minions singing, “We Are The Champions” in your honor.
With that, I am utterly exhausted and dreading four hours of meetings I have at work starting less than six hours from now.
And so we close the books on another year of Jeff’s March Madness Contest. Thanks to all of you for entering, for inviting others to join, for coming up with those clever aliases that make me laugh, for engaging me on Twitter, Facebook, and via email, and for generally making March my favorite time of the year. Thanks to my daughter, Amber Little, whose room is above my office, for putting up with late nights of Dad screaming at the television. There was a lot more of that this year with Gonzaga advancing as far as they did.
Thanks to everyone who responded to the survey regarding updating the contest website. I’m still pondering whether to move forward with that effort or not. If I do, I will send out a notification to this list later in the year for those who would like to contribute.
And now the time has come for the Wizard to step back behind the curtain. May the Lord bless you and keep you, and all those that you hold dear, and may the madness of March be more kind to your bracket next year.
The Wizard of Whiteland