Four lessons from a hideous title game


After a thorough statistical review I have determined that the 2017 NCAA tournament stood out most dramatically in terms of turned ankles. Speaking in an actuarial sense, we should be turned-ankle-free now through at least the 2023 brackets. We’re due.

Other conclusions to be drawn….

Hideous title games have to happen
An unsightly mess on the biggest evening of the college basketball year is unfortunate, but it will, unavoidably, occur. The 2011 game between Connecticut and Butler was even worse than what we saw last night. And, while this definitely falls under the heading of “How did you like the play otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln?” praise, North Carolina’s full six-game title run was if nothing else the fastest-paced such campaign by far that we’ve seen since this same program cruised to a much easier title in 2009. The Tar Heels averaged 74 possessions per 40 minutes in the tournament. (Villanova last year: 64.) UNC’s tournament run was a sprint that ended with fouls and missed shots exploding in every direction.

UNC’s season may spur people to celebrate offensive rebounds mistakenly
Gonzaga did excellent work on its defensive glass, limiting the Heels to rebounds on just 29 percent of their missed shots. Nevertheless, Roy Williams’ team recorded an outstanding number of shot attempts thanks to a turnover rate so low it approaches the sport’s performance horizon: 5.4 percent. In other words the best offensive rebounding team in the nation had one of its worst offensive rebounding games of the season and it didn’t hurt the offense one bit. “Keep North Carolina off the offensive glass,” was a mantra spoken almost universally in advance, but the limits of the mantra’s validity are a function of the sport itself. We might do better to speak in terms of shot volume, recognizing that offensive rebounds are merely a means to that end.

We need an “irate in real time” rule for ref abuse
This happened late in the game:

It occurred not long after Gonzaga was incorrectly awarded the ball out of bounds on its end of the floor after a shot attempt was incorrectly ruled to have been partially blocked. Actually the shot wasn’t touched, but the Bulldogs got the ball and drained a three. Both late-game calls were incorrect, but neither one was caught in real time by (to my knowledge) anyone. Conversely, there are innumerable examples where bad calls are obvious to everyone in the arena and at home instantly.

Perhaps we can agree to mark the distinction. If you glean new information from one of the hundreds of photos snapped per minute in a title game by the photographers on the baseline or if, like the dedicated viewers of the LPGA, you can spot errors in slow motion on a flat panel the size of an SUV hood, more power to you. Guess what, the ref that just missed the call could have done that too. We have to accept the intrinsic and irreducible error rate that comes from the ref being nothing more or less than a really well-trained guy standing on the court making calls in real time. You or I would, on the whole, do far worse in that position.

Facile labor-saving hacks to pick a title winner in advance really do work on occasion
For a 14th consecutive season the team with the superior per-possession scoring margin over the previous five tournament games won on Monday night. Also going strong after 14 years: AP poll omniscience. Every season since 2003-04, the eventual national champion has been ranked No. 13 or better in that season’s week four AP poll. Huzzah, Easy National Champion Solver(s).