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Nostalgic scenes from the Final Four

By Alan Pergament

The first thing I did after returning from the Final Four in Atlanta Tuesday was turn on my TV to watch the final three minutes of Syracuse’s semifinal loss to Michigan a week ago on my DVR.

I wanted to know if what I thought I saw 1,000 feet from the basket in my Georgia Dome seat looked any different when I was parked five feet in front of my TV set.

Quite frankly, I thought my alma mater was on the wrong end of some calls at the end of the game that may have led to Michigan’s 61-56 win. I say “may have” because Syracuse couldn’t hit a shot in the ocean a week ago and might not have won anyway if the calls in question had gone its way.

The first call in question was a block that gave Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams his fourth foul. From 1,000 feet, it looked like Michigan guard Trey Burke pushed off and the foul should have gone against him.

Sure enough, CBS’ announcers agreed that it was a terrible call. It was even more damaging when Carter-Williams was called for a fifth and disqualifying foul a few seconds later after running into Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. after a hand-off. I didn’t see that play well from 1,000 feet. CBS’ announcers said it was the correct call, though they admitted that Hardaway did a good acting job.

The third questionable call was the charge by Syracuse’s other point guard, Brandon Triche, as he drove to the basket for what would have been the tying basket in the final minute. It also was his fifth and disqualifying foul. It looked questionable from 1,000 feet. CBS’ announcers immediately said it was a good call. But after seeing a second replay, they reversed themselves and said it could have gone either way since the Michigan defender was moving. Even a no-call would have helped Syracuse since Triche would have been able to stay in the game.

On Monday, I heard CBS studio analyst Seth Davis on Dan Patrick’s NBC Sports Network show essentially say those things happen and Syracuse lost because it couldn’t hit a shot.

That might be so. But the two questionable calls meant Syracuse played without its two point guards when it was behind by three points with 15 seconds left. That resulted in Syracuse having to rely on redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney to make a play rather that Carter-Williams or Triche. Cooney, who had a poor shooting season, couldn’t get it done and Michigan won.

I’m not saying Syracuse was the only team to suffer from some questionable calls. From 1,000 feet away, I thought Wichita State received some horrible calls – including a questionable jump ball in the final minute – that cost it the semifinal game against Louisville. And I thought Michigan’s Burke was
the victim of a horrible call when he blocked a shot by Louisville’s Peyton Siva late in the title game loss to Louisville. I also thought the officials allowed the Cards to manhandle the Wolverines.

The point is from 1,000 feet I thought one or two blown officiating calls in the final minutes of games were a major factor in every Final Four game. So I came up with a modest proposal that I bounced off my oldest son and a Wichita State fan who sat next to me on my flight home.

I thought it would be a good idea to propose that every college coach get two challenges in a game just like the NFL coaches have. If they lose the challenge, they lose a timeout.

My oldest son thought it was a dumb idea that would slow down the game. My defense was the final two minutes of close games are already slowed down by fouls and timeouts and the loss of a timeout if a coach was wrong wouldn’t make the game much longer.

The Wichita State fan next to me on the plane loved the idea. We both agreed that even if officials didn’t reverse their initial calls at least fans could fly back to their homes knowing what they thought they saw from 1,000 feet away had been given a second look and they wouldn’t go home mad. Or that mad.

I’m sure this proposal has no chance of being implemented. But if it ever happens, you read it here first.

You can see and hear some things at the Final Four that you won’t get in front of your TV set at home, which is why attending one is a special experience.

Before attending Louisville’s title win over Michigan on Monday night, my son and I went to a bar-restaurant that is well-known for objectifying women. I won’t give it free advertising by naming the restaurant in which patrons are served by scantily-clad waitresses in orange outfits. Hmm, orange. My son is a Syracuse fan so maybe that’s why he chose the place. It was his idea. Honest.

In any event, there were scores of Louisville and Michigan fans at opposite ends of the bar having some good-natured fun at each other’s expense. Louisville fans started the fun by shouting “Time Out, Time Out” over and over again to remind Michigan fans of the Chris Webber timeout gaffe the last time the Wolverines were in the Final Four. As if they needed to be reminded.

Michigan fans quickly and smartly responded with a chant of “Karen Sypher, Karen Sypher.”

Who is that, you ask? She is the woman convicted of extortion in the sex scandal involving Louisville Coach Rick Pitino that has made it difficult for some people to root for Pitino or his team.

Ouch. I score that a victory for Michigan. 

Another good thing about attending Final Fours is you run into some old friends and acquaintances. I hadn’t seen Tom McElroy probably in decades. He was St. Bonaventure’s sports information director when I covered local college basketball in the 1970s.  He’s had a varied and successful career since leaving Bona, including working for the Big East Conference, UConn and the University of Rhode Island. I ran into him in a hotel lobby and was surprised he even recognized me.

When our discussion turned to Michigan Coach John Beilein, McElroy revealed something that I either never heard or had forgotten. Beilein, a WNY native, was once interviewed for an assistant coaching job by former Bona Coach Jim Satalin. “He had a terrific interview,” said McElroy. But Beilein lost out to another candidate.

It made me wonder what might have happened if Satalin had hired Beilein. Maybe Beilein would have ended up as the head coach at Bona someday instead of Canisius College.

You couldn’t go anywhere in Atlanta without running into someone from Buffalo. I wore my prized possession – an old Buffalo Braves hat – so maybe that contributed to all the WNYers who went up to me during the weekend.

On semifinal night, a Syracuse fan approached me at halftime and asked if I was from Buffalo. Then he told me he played high school ball at Sweet Home when former University at Buffalo Coach Reggie Witherspoon was the coach. About two hours later, my son and I saw Witherspoon leaving the Georgia

A couple of college guys with Michigan jerseys saw me on Sunday at the Atlanta Braves game with the Chicago Cubs and surprised me in two ways. First, I was surprised they knew I was wearing a Buffalo Braves hat because they weren’t born when the Braves left town for San Diego. I immediately asked them if they attended Michigan. “No, we go to St. Bonaventure,” one guy said. “We just bought these shirts.”

Finally, as my son and I prepared to get on the train Tuesday to get to the Atlanta airport, an older gentleman came up to us and asked how we enjoyed our stay in Atlanta and where we were from.

When we told him we were from Buffalo, the gentleman said he graduated from the University of Buffalo before it became a state school.

As I looked down at Atlanta from 10,000 feet on my flight next to the Wichita State fan, I thought seeing the old UB grad was a nice way to end a memorable, nostalgic, bonding weekend full of laughs despite all the losses and blown calls.





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