Wiedmer: Kansas new favorite to win it all

Wiedmer: Kansas new favorite to win it all

March 20th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) celebrates in the second half of a second-round game against Michigan State in the men's NCAA college basketball tournament in Tulsa, Okla., Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Photo by Sue Ogrocki

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Bracket for the 2017 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship.

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Mark Wiedmer

Mark Wiedmer

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Just call it payback for Clemson knocking off Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game. How else to explain East Region No. 7 seed South Carolina stunning second-seeded Duke 88-81 late Sunday night in the NCAA tournament's round of 32?

Better yet, how to explain the Southeastern Conference having three teams left among the Sweet 16 while America's Cockiest Conference — the good ol' ACC — has but one of its ridiculous nine initial bids?

And just imagine what might have happened if a certain noncall in Atlantic Coast Conference member North Carolina's 72-65 victory over SEC representative Arkansas had gone differently.

You can't say the Tar Heels would have lost, because they already led 66-65 at that moment and a mere 47 seconds remained on the clock. Beyond that, given three possible reasons for a whistle — offensive foul, defensive foul or traveling — the officiating crew certainly could have called the Razorbacks' Adrio Bailey for a defensive foul against point guard Joel Berry II.

But whatever should have been called, there was a definite collision between Bailey and Berry. Yes, it appeared to be a charge. It might also have been a walk. But it absolutely, positively had to be something. Bailey went sailing across the court. Berry went stumbling (traveling, perhaps?), throwing up a wild shot in the process.

But the zebras apparently saw nothing. They let the play continue, which resulted in a Tar Heels putback, which handed the eventual winners a 68-65 lead and a margin Arkansas never dented.

And as an admirably restrained Razorbacks Nation seemed to accept afterward throughout social media, when you don't score for the game's final three minutes — as the Hogs didn't — no amount of favorable officiating can probably save you.

But that's not the point. You can't swallow your whistle at that point in a second-round game and continue to officiate in this tournament. The goaltending mistake that soiled Gonzaga's second-round victory over Cinderella Northwestern on Saturday is one thing. As a television talking head noted Sunday, "I saw it three times at real-time speed and didn't notice it."

Allowing for a video review of a goaltending call at any point in the game — given all the camera angles available — might be a solution to that problem, at least as long as a decision was made within two minutes.

But this was different. This was a significant collision. Even if you make the wrong call, you just can't make no call there. But that's what this crew did. And because it did, one fan base will always wonder what might have been if not for a pathetic officiating noncall.

This isn't to say that lone error in judgement significantly clouded an otherwise magnificent weekend. Off the court, there was the Baylor team mussing up the hair of a female television reporter as it had done to the late, great NBA reporter Craig Sager a year earlier before he lost his fight with cancer. Where's a hanky when you need it?

On the court, there was Michigan's amazing second half against Louisville, continuing the Wolverines' storybook March that began when the plane they planned to fly on to the Big Ten tourney slid off the runway, an accident that forced the Maize and Blue to wear practice uniforms in their first two conference tourney wins.

Somehow unshaken, they not only went on to win the title but survive a 92-91 win over Oklahoma State on Friday before Sunday's shocker over the Cardinals, who were seeded second in the Midwest.

Kansas also surely opened eyes with its 90-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday. The Jayhawks may have been the Houdini hoopsters during the regular season, escaping near-certain defeat at least a half-dozen times in Big 12 play.

But if this weekend was any indication, those days may be over. Blessed with a nearly unstoppable trio in guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham and wing Josh Jackson and just enough depth to handle foul trouble, if Kansas doesn't win it all, it's almost impossible to see anyone in the Midwest — now that Louisville's gone — denying the Jayhawks a spot in the Final Four.

What appears far less certain is whether or not the lone remaining ACC team in the field — South top seed North Carolina — can join the Jayhawks there.

And how about the SEC? Not only are Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina still alive, only Vanderbilt failed to win at least one game, and the Commodores took Northwestern to the final buzzer.

As for the notion that it's a guard's tournament, that big-time backcourts are required to advance, I won't strongly argue against that theory. But many of the remaining teams — most notably Arizona, Baylor, Gonzaga, Kentucky, North Carolina, Purdue and Wisconsin — advanced at least partly due to quality post players.

One final officiating criticism, though this is more on the rules committee than the zebras. When a team is trying to foul late in the game, make a two-hand touch on the back a foul, as long as it's not excessive. At least once a player trying to make sure the official made the foul call was called for a Flagrant 1 because the official thought it was excessive.

In such situations, as soon as a defensive player touches the offensive player, let the whistle blow and the foul shots begin.

Otherwise, let's move the favorite's cap from Duke to Kansas. Especially since the Jayhawks wouldn't see an SEC team until the Final Four.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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