I've heard every lame excuse out there.
It goes something like "The refs had to call that foul, 92 feet from the basket with less than a second left. You have to make the call whether it's the first second or the last second." If you think that, you're wrong. So wrong. So incredibly wrong that there the word "wrong" simply isn't enough to express how wrong you are. You're super-wrong. Ultra-wrong. Uber-wrong. Here's why.
Refs never "have" to call anything. They're not robots, they're human beings. They can use their judgment, and they do it all the time. How often do you see a star player, who has four fouls, get a pass on a borderline foul? How many times do you see a coach going nuts on the sideline late in a heated game but not get called for a technical? To call a foul in a tie game with less than a second left when you know Butler is in the bonus is terrible judgment. The worst judgment you can possibly ever use.
John Adams, the NCAA's coordinator of men's basketball officiating, keeps saying that the goal of refs is “We don’t want to become the story.” Well John, when you call a foul 92 feet from the basket with less than a second, you've made yourself the ONLY story of the game. And the fact that Adams was unwilling to take his officials to task afterwards just shows that NCAA refs think they're the biggest part of the show.
I wasn't crazy about the Shelvin Mack foul call on the previous possession. That was a combination of refs Terry Wymer and Antonio Petty on that call. But at least Pitt had a 5 or 10% chance of scoring there. What were Butler's chances of scoring on that rebound? One in a trillion? Does the punishment fit the crime there? Should a foul on a defensive rebound literally decide the outcome of a game? Of course not. Petty knew it, but apparently he just couldn't help making himself the story of the game.
And by the way Kenny Smith and everyone else who was trying to defend an indefensible call: If you make that call in the first second of the half Butler just gets it out of bounds, not two free throws. That's why you swallow your whistle there.
We should be talking about this game as one of the greatest ever played. It was THAT GOOD! Both teams were on fire on offense, hitting difficult shot after difficult shot against smothering defenses. (I still haven't decided who would have won how the game had been officiated properly, but both these teams certainly deserved to win.)
Of course, overshadowed by the late officiating mistakes were all the early officiating mistakes. Even before the final seconds, this was one of the most poorly officiated games of all-time. I like Matt Howard's hair just as much as the next guy, but just because he flops it around doesn't mean you have to call a foul. Some of those flops were such bad acting jobs that Howard couldn't have landed a roll in a Twilight film. But it was enough to convince these three dunce refs that fouls were being committed.
And it wasn't just Pitt getting a raw deal from the refs. With the score tied and two minutes to go, a perimeter touch foul was called on Butler big man Andrew Smith when Pitt was in the bonus. The meaningless foul, which really wasn't a foul, sent Brad Wanamaker to the line for two shots (he made both to put Pitt up two). Butler coach Brad Stevens' reaction was perfect. You could read his lips when he said to the officials: "Now!?! You're going to call that NOW!?!"
And then there were the clock delays. Those ridiculous, absurd clock delays. They have to stop. They're free time outs at critical points in the game. Pitt was up one when they committed a shot clock violation with nine seconds left, giving Butler the ball. The Bulldogs had no time outs and were going to have to come up with the game's biggest play on the fly. So what happens? Clock delay! While the three blind mice looking at the monitor for a minute, Butler got a free time out, a huge advantage, and Stevens drew up a perfect play, leading to a lay-up.
College basketball is a beautiful game, and Butler and Pitt played it as well as it can be played on Saturday night. There's nothing worse than seeing the players work their butts off and play magnificently, only to have three refs who think they're part of the game ruin it for the players, the coaches and the fans.
As Stevens said afterwards: "That's a hard way for the game to end." Unfortunately, until someone does something about guys like John Adams, the NCAA and the three officials from Saturday night, more games are going to end the wrong way.