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March Madness endings usually suck

Despite what Kentucky-UNC led you to believe, the NCAA tournament has been plagued by terrible endings.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Kentucky vs Wichita State Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

Every close ending to a March Madness game isn’t going to be as wonderful as UNC and Kentucky’s was on Sunday. It’s unreasonable to hope so.

Few players are as fearless as Malik Monk, and even he has to be amazed that he drained a tying three-pointer over two defenders with less than seven seconds left in the game. Few coaches are as trusting as Roy Williams, who didn’t call a timeout but, instead, let his kids play. Theo Pinson then drove into the lane with time running out and, while Kentucky players and fans were still euphoric, passed the ball off to Luke Maye to crush that joy with an effortless jumper.

While we can’t expect all endings to be that good, they should at least be sensible. Most are not, and this consistent failure is one of the sharpest reminders that this is still amateur basketball.

A week earlier, Wichita State’s last two possessions against Kentucky created the type of ending that would make that one awful movie director, who we shall not name, envious. That director, who somehow manages to rope us all in with perfectly edited trailers and the promise of a thrilling film, caused one handsome sportswriter to grit his teeth through an entire movie shot in an elevator and the desecration of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Down one point and with eight seconds to shoot, Wichita State’s Markis McDuffie took a dribble and tried to shoot a three. His dribble didn’t give him any separation from his defender. It was like he tried to send a breakup text and accidentally reconciled with his clingy partner. That partner was Monk, who swatted the shot away.

Monk was fouled afterwards and made two free throws. Down came Wichita State again, and this time, the Shockers really needed a three-pointer. They had a timeout to think about what to do, to come together as a team, to draw from the creative well of the players and coaching staff, to design a play that would at least — at least! — give them an opportunity to tie the game. We have to imagine they would have come up with something great that we never witnessed, that somewhere out there, there’s a lost play that would have won the game, just floating around in the ether — lonely, untouched, and unused.

Because what did happen was that Landry Shamet dribbled around the perimeter until the clock ran all the way down, then pump-faked and tried to shoot a fadeaway three over two defenders. Even Kobe Bryant cringed at that shot selection. He did this while Conner Frankamp, a 44 percent shooter from deep, was open on his right. Frankamp just stood there with his hands open, waiting for someone to notice him, and questioning whether he is a real person or a figment of Gregg Marshall’s imagination.

Then there was West Virginia.

Unlike Wichita State, the Mountaineers had little choice but to shoot a three to tie the game. This made it easier for Gonzaga to defend the last few possessions, as there was no need to even be in the paint. The Mountaineers would have had time to try for a two-for-one situation if they had scored early, but the option disappeared after they wasted 12 seconds passively passing the ball around. West Virginia’s task was going to be hard, both because of circumstance and the Mountaineers’ own unawareness.

So we could be a little sympathetic to guard Jevon Carter in that situation given the tough decision he was facing. Then he decided that dribbling into a defender on the right wing and then trying a step-back three with that same defender right in his face was a good idea. He air-balled, but as every student-athlete will tell you, something something hard work something you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take something protein shake rise and grind sunshine God is the greatest.

Daxter Miles Jr. rebounded and kicked it out to the perimeter. Carter caught it, did more things that didn’t shake his defender and then shot a deep three with a defender so close that the two should have been cited for public indecency. This one grazed the rim. Progress! Never look back! Break your limits!

Nathan Adrian rebounded and got it to Carter again. Then the fun began. In a sequence that perfectly captures the rhetorical nature of the question “Who’s mans is this?” Carter dribbled around at the top of the key, not really going anywhere but dancing in the same spot like the guy who doesn’t know anyone at the party, before jumping and passing the ball off to Miles with just a second left to shoot. It was a cowardly act that Francesco Schettino would have been proud of.

Carter’s cowardice was just a little more embarrassing than Josh Hart’s recklessness against Wisconsin. In his last year and with the chance to potentially win what had been a great game, the Villanova star couldn’t resist plowing right into the Wisconsin defense to try to become a hero. But before he could shoot his shot at a fairy tale ending, Vitto Brown ripped the ball from his hands like a father banning his child from playing basketball until he gets his grades up.

That’s how Villanova’s season ended. With Hart lying on his back.

Sometimes it’s not even the players and coaches who are at fault. Northwestern’s season ended after referees missed what the NCAA later admitted should have been a Gonzaga goaltending call. Wildcats coach Chris Collins earned a technical foul for protesting, and what should have been a three-point deficit became seven. Northwestern never recovered.

North Carolina managed to survive against Arkansas only because referees refused to call both a travel and a charge on Joel Berry on a shot that would lead to a Kennedy Meeks tip-in. UNC was up by one point at that time. Of course, Anton Beard of Arkansas would race down to the other end and take a transition three with a defender right in his face to end the game. There was still time to actually look for a good shot, but that’s a minor detail.

My personal favorite bad ending is still that of Princeton and Notre Dame, when Devin Cannady felt compelled by a divine power to shoot a deep three with his team down just one point and more four seconds left on the clock. It was so ridiculous that I have to believe he was possessed, and thus incapable of making the conscious decision to take that shot.

March Madness is marketed as a tournament in which the unexpected can happen.

Where heroes are born, and personal will and genius can overpower tactical planning. That happens sometimes, like with UNC and Kentucky, but often the bright lights and the possibility of being celebrated are too intoxicating for the coaches, players, and even the referees. Instead of a great endings, we get let-downs.