OK, you’re asking: Have I ever seen anything like the end of Pitt-Butler? And the answer is:
No, because nobody has ever seen anything like it.
The silliest foul in the history of the Big Dance followed by an even sillier one. An absolutely great game that had an ending to make even the winning coach feel sheepish. And here’s the weirdest part: The refs weren’t wrong either time. Both the goofball fouls — first Shelvin Mack’s, committed 45 feet from the goal, and then Nasir Robinson’s, committed 90 feet from the other goal — were fouls.
If it was unfortunate that such a game was decided by back-and-forth lapses of sense, it nonetheless proves yet again that the NCAA tournament cannot be handicapped or scripted. You can’t write stuff like this. Butler is the most resourceful team in the land and possibly the best-coached, and it messed up. Then Pitt messed up worse. Amazing. But not really.
Because that’s the thing about the Big Dance: These guys aren’t pros, and many of them will never be. They’re amateurs trying really hard with millions of us watching. The wonder isn’t that these guys sometimes have brain blips; the wonder is that they manage to function as well under pressure as they do.
That said: Is Butler amazing? Is Brad Stevens the best? (Actually, no. Krzyzewski is. But Stevens might be second-best.) And did I not warn you against picking Pitt because this proud team invents ways to lose in March?
Great tournament. Great game. Wildest ending ever. Wilder even than Michigan beating Western Kentucky in 1966 on a foul on a jump ball. (Ref Steve Honzo said Western’s Greg Smith jumped into the All-American Cazzie Russell on a toss with 11 seconds left, and Russell made the tying and winning free throws.) I never thought that ending could be topped for sheer lunacy. Wrong again.
(Speaking of which: Here, courtesy of YouTube, are the final few minutes of that game from 45 years ago. The jump ball comes at the 8:51 mark. Judge for yourself.
(As for the principals: Russell would become a famous sixth man with the championship-winning New York Knicks, Smith a starting forward for the championship-winning Milwaukee Bucks. And the Hilltopper who misses the free throw ahead of the jump ball is Wayne Chapman, who would have a son named Rex.)
By Mark Bradley