Saturday, March 22, 2003

Notre Dame 68, Illinois 60: Underachieving in the regular season, when the Fighting Irish dropped six of their last ten games to back into the tournament, Notre Dame showed their mettle this afternoon, racing out to a thirteen-point halftime lead behind some uncanny shots from behind the arc and coasted to an 8-point victory over perhaps the best team in the Big-10.

At the end of the game today, as well as the Indiana-Alabama game last night, the losing team did something in the final minute that just drives me up the wall: they began throwing up "panic threes". Down by three points last night, the Tide rebounded a Hoosier miss and drove down the court with about 38 seconds to play. There was an open lane to the basket, and if Bama had gone for the lay-up they would have been down by at least one (or had a chance to tie, if Indiana had fouled), and could have imposed a full-court press and/or fouled, sending Indiana to the line. In either case, they would have gotten the ball back, and could have played for the final shot. Instead, the Alabama ballhandler called time-out in the front court with 25 seconds to play. They inbounded, dribbled the clock down to eight seconds, by which time they had no option but to go for the three, and their leading scorer, Maurice Williams put up a well-defensed trey that bricked. Game over.

This afternoon, the Illini were down six with less than a minute to go when they got the ball off a missed shot. Again, going inside would have given them an easy basket, with at least four to five possessions left if they started fouling. But once again, they went for the three, and missed badly. The Irish rebounded, and Illinois did not score again.

Now, I happen to believe that Bill Self is a fine coach, and I have no reason to believe Mike Gottfried isn't one too. As a fan, though, I have seen more teams come from behind with a combination of traps, defense, and missed free throws by the opponent than I have seen games won by teams erasing big deficits in the final minute by shooting three-pointers. The percentages, all things being equal, don't make sense to begin with, and you have to figure at the end of games, when your top players are going to be tired and arm-weary, and the other team is setting up its defense solely with the intent of shutting down the trey, your chances of getting on a three-point roll will diminish. The "panic three" is a brain-dead strategy, so it's not surprising these schools lost.


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