With 75 percent of the NCAA Tournament in the rearview mirror, there are a few talking points. The ACC’s lackluster showing, Michigan looking like a team of destiny, and Duke’s elimination are all major stories.
Casual fans, however, watch and judge by two metrics: the upsets and buzzer-beaters. The tournament has been light on the former and completely void of the latter. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been ample opportunities for late-game magic.
It’s just that teams haven’t been able to capitalize. There have been six times when a team had a chance to tie or take the lead with a shot in final 10 seconds. All six have failed.
Wisconsin 64, Villanova 62: Nigel Hayes sinks a layup along the baseline to give the Badgers a two-point edge with 11.4 seconds to play. Josh Hart’s drive to the hoop is thwarted by Vitto Brown, who knocks the ball free and is fouled with 3.4 seconds on the clock.
Oregon 75, Rhode Island 72: Tyler Dorsey knocks down a deep three with 38.4 seconds remaining to put the Ducks on top. Rhode Island’s chance to even things up — a contested, fallback heave by E.C. Matthews — sails wide with 4.7 seconds remaining.
USC 66, SMU 65: Elijah Stewart knocked down a triple to give the Trojans’ the lead with 36.6 seconds to play. SMU’s Shake Milton left a would-be floater short as the buzzer sounded.
Northwestern 68, Vanderbilt 66: Bryant McIntosh knocks down two free-throws to give Wildcats a one-point lead. Riley LaChance misses would-be go-ahead three-point try with seven seconds remaining.
Notre Dame 60, Princeton 58: The Tigers’ late rally falls just short as Devin Cannady’s potential go-ahead three hits the back rim with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Kentucky 65, Wichita State 62: Edrice Adebayo stuffs Landry Shamet’s triple try at the buzzer to eliminate any chance of overtime.
What stands out about these six failed opportunities is the lack of quality looks that were earned. Princeton’s Cannady is the only one who got the ball in a good rhythm as a result of ball movement. SMU’s Milton and Villanova’s Hart went to the basket aggressively but either had their shots altered or completely eliminated. Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance, Rhode Island’s Matthews and Wichita State’s Shamet were forced into low-percentage looks from well beyond the arc.
Late-game situations are always chaotic. To broadly blame the lack of execution on an over-reliance on “hero ball” would be unfair. But the lack of ball movement — and even the semblance of an organized offense — is glaring.
It’s also striking to think about how a few different bounces can drastically change the way a tournament is viewed. Last year, there were a record four buzzer-beaters. While only the attempts by SMU and Wichita State would have qualified for that by definition, let’s consider if half of the six attempts had been successful. The narrative would be that this was one of the most exciting Marchs in recent memory.
In truth, things have been exciting, even without game-winning and game-tying shots falling. In addition to the above examples, Baylor-USC, North Carolina-Arkansas, Arkansas-Seton Hall, Michigan-Oklahoma State, Michigan-Louisville and Purdue-Iowa State have been in doubt in the final minute.
Selfishly, the neutral observer is rooting for the next last-second try to find the net. Perhaps whomever is in that situation will work for a higher-percentage look.