Instead of talking about the incredible moments from the NCAA Tournament over the weekend, it's the controversial, game-ending calls that are water cooler fodder this Monday. During the round of 32, officials played a role in the endings of multiple games, either with foul calls or mistakes. From the five-second call in the Texas-Arizona game to the over-and-back call in the Syracuse-Marquette game, NCAA Tournament officials drew the ire of many for their performance over the weekend.
But just how bad were the officials over the weekend. After the jump, a look at a few of the controversial plays, including those listed above.
Pittsburgh loses to Butler on late foul call. In the final two seconds of the Panthers loss to Butler, two fouls were called. Refs should swallow the whistle in an end-game situation, many say. But in this case, both fouls -- on Shelvin Mack to put Pitt at the line and on Nasir Robinson to put Matt Howard at the line for what turned out to be the game-winning free throw -- were so blatantly obvious, they had to be called. Robinson's foul, under Pitt's own hoop with under a second to go, will go down as one of the dumber fouls in March Madness history. But it had to be called.
Washington "loses" one second, then loses the game. The final 30 seconds of Washington's loss to North Carolina can only be characterized as absolute mayhem intersecting with bone-headed plays. After Venoy Overton's 45-foot "runner" drew nothing but air, an extra second ran off the clock, giving the Huskies just under a second to attempt a game-tying three. But an extra second was missing, accounted for by the lag between the ball hitting the ground and the referee on the baseline blowing his whistle. The call, and review, was correct, but the rule is at fault. It's counterintuitive, but the rule states the clock will stop when the whistle blows not when the ball lands out of bounds. And, of course, there was the goaltending that wasn't on Isaiah Thomas' desperation three.
Besides, the runner from Overton and the failed inbound attempt from Justin Holiday were far worse gaffes.
Texas called for a five-second violation, leading to Derrick William's game-winning and-one. It's not often we see a five-second call, but that's exactly what happened at the end of the Longhorns' loss to the Wildcats. Texas fans are upset with the five-second count, saying it was fractions of a second too quick and they may be right. Depending on who's doing the timing, the call comes between 4.5 and 5 seconds after the play goes live. It's so close, it's tough to know, from a human judgment point, how glaring of an error it was.
Again, in this instance, there's a bigger error that's overlooked. Calling the timeout in the first place forced the Longhorns to get the ball in when the Longhorns would've been at the line on the other end of the floor without a timeout.
Syracuse gets called for a backcourt violation, loses to Marquette. With the game tied, the Orange had the ball on the sideline at just about midcourt. Scoop Jardine receives the pass, tries to tightrope and ends up in the backcourt. In this instance, the call was wrong: There is no backcourt violation on an inbounds pass as possession hasn't been established in the front court. But watching it live, I always figured Jardine was called for travelling. Watch the video and note he takes three steps. The end result is the same, but the process was wrong.
The bigger error, to me, is the position Jardine was placed in with the pass. Why put him in the coffin where the midcourt line and sideline trap him should Marquette turn and press? It set him up for failure from the start.
Four games and four controversial endings in which the officials played a role in the result in one way or another. But taking the emotion out of the equation, were these calls as terrible as they seemed on the surface? In all of these cases, the calls were almost secondary to mistakes made by players and coaches leading up to the call itself.
I sympathize with fans upset about last-second losses. It's not fun to lose in the final seconds and an official jumping into the fray makes it worse. But were these calls the worst in the history of the NCAA Tournament? Probably not.