News From Terre Haute, Indiana

From the Press Box

March 23, 2010

TODD GOLDEN: Free the players! NCAA timeouts define overkill

TERRE HAUTE —  



If you’re like me, Saturday’s Northerrn Iowa-Kansas NCAA Tournament game was the perfect example of why so many of us are addicted to March Madness.

A decided underdog, UNI controlled most of the second half with the deliberate pace, consistent shot-making and solid defense Missouri Valley Conference observers have grown accustomed to seeing … but wait! Kansas had the better athletes, and once the Jayhawks came to grips with the fact that they were backed into a corner, their press began to severely affect the Panthers. UNI wilted and KU cashed in repeated UNI turnovers to knock its deficit from seven to a point in double-quick time.

With just over 30 seconds left, the Panthers finally beat the pressure and the ball eventually found its way to wide open UNI guard Ali Farokhmanesh in the corner. Rather than go with Option A (work the shot clock and expect KU to foul) or Option B (drive to the basket for a higher-percentage shot or dish to a teammate on the wing), Farohkmanesh made the wonderful choice to embrace audacity.

He launched a 3-pointer that had half the nation screaming, "No!", until it found nothing but the bottom of net to give the Panthers a four-point lead. One drawn charge later, UNI were national darlings after a monumental upset.

The last three minutes of that game were taut and suspenseful with end-to-end excitement that will live long in the memories of those who watched it.

And guess what? It’s very likely none of it would have happened if UNI had any of its timeouts left.

If they had, it’s conceivable a timeout would have been called once Farokhmanesh caught the ball on UNI’s side of the floor. Or, during the nanosecond of hesitation Farokhmanesh had before he took the shot. A seminal NCAA moment might have never happened.

The lack of timeouts in the UNI-KU classic is a rarity to be cherished, so was the tit-for-tat final seconds of the Michigan State-Maryland game on Sunday which was decided by a Sparty buzzer-beater.

Most of the time, though, close games are determined by timeouts piled upon timeouts that turn a game supposedly predicated on flow and morph it into a stop-start parade of control-freakishness.

Have you ever actually counted how many timeouts there are in a college basketball game? There are four media timeouts per half. In addition, each team has four full timeouts and two 30-second timeouts. If every timeout is used — and woe be to the coach who doesn’t follow the unwritten rules of the game, as you leave timeouts on the floor on penalty of death by the basketball gods — there are 20 per game.

In other words, there is one timeout per two minutes of NCAA game time. It doesn’t define overkill … overkill defines itself by college basketball’s timeout rules.

There’s all kinds of things that have changed basketball in the last 30 years, but the proliferation of timeouts are rarely mentioned as one of them … and they should be.

Media timeouts form a vital part of the structure of the way the game is coached. To wit, many coaches, including Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna, take the approach that a game isn’t really about two 20-minute halves, but rather, its split into 10 four-minute segments based on when the media timeouts fall.

Win the majority of those four-minute segments and you will likely win the game. It affects substitution patterns, when you use your own bevy of timeouts, etc. I’m not criticizing coaches who approach the game this way, it’s the smart play. I’d do the same with the current rules.

But there’s something seriously wrong with those rules because its anathema to what basketball is supposedly all about. Every one who has ever waxed poetic about the sport hails the free flow, the athleticism, the speed, and the end-to-end excitement the game provides at its best. Some, especially in this part of the world, also appreciate a team that can defend for 40 minutes. No one is moved to words when they watch a game defined by endless timeouts … other than four-letter words.

Timeouts need to be chopped.

Unfortunately, media timeouts are here to stay. Like it or not, TV dictates that. But given that there’s eight media stoppages per game, the game doesn’t need six more timeouts per team. Instead, give coaches one timeout per half to use at their discretion. Give them one more 30-second timeout in the final two minutes. That’s it. How many more stoppages does a team need?

There are coaches all over the country that would puke in their mouths at the very suggestion that precious timeouts should be limited, but the game isn’t about them.

No one buys a ticket to watch a coach timeout his way out of a jam. Fans like teams that can play their way out of a jam. Basketball is about players making, or not making, as the case may be, plays. Free the players. Lose the timeouts.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.

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