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HOUSTON ALLOWS MICHIGAN TO STEAL AN NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME

Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas – So, there it was.  Houston up by two points, 3.6 seconds left in the game, ball out of bounds to Michigan, the length of the court away from tying or winning the second- round NCAA tournament game on Saturday.  The first thing you noticed was that Houston coach Kelvin Sampson failed to put anybody on the ball as Michigan was taking it out of bounds.

Certainly, one would think, Sampson was very familiar with one of the greatest plays in NCAA history, the historic Christian Laettner shot after a three-quarter court pass from Grant Hill, to allow Duke to beat Kentucky, 104-103, in the East Regional Final in the 1992 NCAA tournament.

Kentucky coach Rick Pitino was rightly skewered for failing to put someone on the ball as Duke took it out of bounds with only 2.1 seconds left in the game.  So, Grant Hill got a clean look for a long pass, nobody bothered to front Laettner and he caught the ball at the opposite foul line or so, dribbled once, turned, shot and scored to win the game.

Did Kelvin Sampson forget about that play?

SO, WHAT HAPPENED NEXT IN THE HOUSTON-MICHIGAN GAME?

Well, what happened next was also damaging.  The ball was easily inbounded by Isaiah Livers just before half court to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who proceeded to dribble twice (across the half-court line) and then, when double-teamed, was able to get the ball to an, at the time, uncovered Jordan Poole.  Poole proceeded to bury a long (and, yes, contested) three to give Michigan an improbable, almost impossible, win.

But, wait, what happened defensively to Houston on this play?  Well, for some reason, Corey Davis, who did contest Poole’s winning shot, began the play standing about three feet INSIDE the three-point line.  This would prove to be a fatal mistake as there was nobody behind Davis and nobody next to Davis when the ball was inbounded.  That means that, with Houston up two, once the ball is thrown in and Abdur-Rahkman starts to dribble, there is no chance, with nobody from Michigan within twenty (or more) feet from the basket, that Michigan can score a game-tying two.

So Davis could have (and it says here, should have) been closer to (or even on) the three-point line before Poole even got the ball to make an incredible shot to win the game.  If Davis is three feet closer to the play, he may have stolen the pass, broken up the pass or put even more pressure on Poole than he actually did (again, Davis did contest it well, but too late to save the day).

One other point on the play.  There was another Michigan player standing a few feet away from Davis (Ibi Watson, #23).  But he had his back to the basket (as opposed to Poole who was smart enough to be squaring up to the basket).  So Watson, who was well beyond the three-point line, would have been unable to get off a shot.  If one believes he could have received a pass and shot the ball, it would have been a turnaround-in-the-air-and-fling-it shot with virtually no chance of making it and virtually no chance to even shoot it before the buzzer.

SO, WAS THIS GOOD DEFENSE BY HOUSTON?

Well, the short answer is no.  Not putting pressure on the ball out of bounds is a big mistake.  Why didn’t Kelvin Sampson, an excellent college coach, do this?

After the game, Sampson was asked by a reporter, can you “share what your defensive maneuvering and intent was” when Michigan inbounded the ball with 3.6 seconds left?  Sampson, perhaps on purpose (is “defensive maneuvering” reporter code for why didn’t you put somebody on the ball?), simply said that with 3.6 seconds left “they’re going to get a shot” and “you just hope that you can contest it.”

Well, not exactly.  If you put someone on the ball and if your defense pinches up towards the potential shooters (since nobody was behind you), you have plenty of opportunities NOT to allow a shot.

But that’s not what happened.

On the telecast, former coach Steve Lavin said that the final shot was “defended well by Corey Davis.”  Well, again, yes and no.  It was defended and contested as well as Davis could from where he was playing.  But if he had moved up to the three-point line BEFORE the pass was made (again, nobody behind him or next to him to possibly score a game-tying two – which would be better than a game-winning three), he could have stolen the pass or stopped the shot from getting off cleanly.

Is that too much to ask on such a bang-bang play?

Maybe.

SO, WHY DIDN’T KELVIN SAMPSON PUT SOMEBODY ON THE BALL OUT OF BOUNDS?

This might be the reason.  In Houston’s first tournament win, a 67-65 barn-burner win over San Diego State, San Diego State had the ball with 1.1 second left, down 2 and they had to go the length of the court.  In that game, Kelvin Sampson DID put somebody on the ball out of bounds.

Despite that, San Diego State was able to throw the ball (almost like the Grant Hill to Laettner play) to the top of the three-point line where they got a fairly good look at a three (by Trey Kell) to win the game – but missed.

Maybe that convinced Sampson to not try it again two days later.

But that cost him big-time.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT ON THAT FINAL PLAY IN HOUSTON’S LOSS TO MICHIGAN

There’s a big difference between taking the ball out from under your own basket after a made basket and a time-out as opposed to after a play on the court and a time-out.  As you are probably aware, you can run the baseline from side to side if you are taking the ball out after a made basket.  This was the case both in Duke-Kentucky and Houston-San Diego State.

But in the Houston-Michigan game, Devin Davis missed the second of two foul shots (and don’t blame Davis – he played really well and is a 68% foul shooter who made 9 of 12 (75%) foul shots in the game against Michigan).  Michigan got the rebound and immediately called time-out with 3.6 seconds left.

So that means when Isaiah Livers takes the ball out of bounds, he CAN’T run the baseline.  If an athletic 6’7” or taller Houston defender is on the ball and just jumps up and down, it could have caused the inbounder to make a mistake and move left or right which leads to a turnover right there. Or, at a minimum, it would be MUCH harder to throw a 35-40 foot pass than it was since the inbounds was uncontested at the base line.

ONE MORE EXPERT INTO THE FRAY

The next day, none other than Kenny Smith had an interesting take on that final play.  He said, “It’s not always bad plays that lose games.  It’s great plays that win games.”  He also said, “the defense was perfect in that instance.”

Well, again, not exactly.  There’s no chance the defense was perfect.  To not put a guy on the ball at the baseline was a huge mistake.  To not realize that the guy taking the ball out couldn’t move along the baseline (i.e., different and much harder to make a long pass than if he could move along the baseline after a made basket) is a huge mistake.  While Corey Davis did a good job of contesting the shot from where he had been playing, it could have been better had he been closer to the play.

So, a great play was made by Michigan.  But it was by no means perfect defense by Houston.

Sometimes, bad plays on defense allow great plays to be made on offense.

And that’s precisely what happened as Michigan stole one from Houston in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

© Copyright 2018 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.

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