Kill the ref! Kill the ref!
Many WVU fans were thinking that, if not saying it, following WVU's double overtime loss to Louisville in the quarter-finals of the Big East Basketball tournament last Thursday. The Mountaineers overcame sluggish play and a 17 point second half deficit to catch the Cards and eventually lead late in the game.
With the game tied at 56, WVU point guard Darris Nichols drove to the block and arched a high bank shot over a Louisville defender to give WVU a 58-56 lead with 4.3 seconds to play. Still plenty of time for Louisville to get off a shot, but good defense would make that shot a low percentage one. For a moment it seemed WVU may have pulled off the upset and punched its ticket into the field of 65.
That was before Louisville quickly inbounded to Edgar Sosa who raced to the top of the key, where he did not pull up for a game winner, but drove by and between WVU's Jamie Smalligan and Frank Young and scored a layup to tie the game.
Talk about bizarre. Initially, WVU players thought time had expired before Sosa's shot and almost began to celebrate, but the referees said the shot counted.
As a viewer on the couch I didn't really know what had just happened. When Sosa, who had briefly lost control of the ball on his way down the floor, passed on the jumper and went all the way to the hoop, I thought time had to have expired, 4.3 seconds just isn't enough time to do what Sosa did, I thought.
Then we got to see the replays. Over and over we saw them and after a while a few things became clear.
The only thing that was clear to me on the first replay was that time was indeed left on the clock when Sosa's shot left his hand. Worse was that West Virginia's players pretty much let Sosa go all the way to the hoop with Young and Smalligan, the final line of defense, seemingly stepping aside so as not to foul the streaking guard.
In retrospect, a foul would have been the play, but like me, the players had to think time was out.
The second replay showed the game clock did not start until Sosa had taken about two steps with the ball. Hard to determine if that gaffe was enough to make the difference, but it very well could have.
Worse than the two steps Sosa took when time stood still were the final three to four steps he took to the basket without dribbling the ball. That's right, the replay showed he walked with the ball as well.
All that obviously got Mountaineer fans in an uproar with the officials and timekeeper, and rightfully so, but I've tried to take a different view of such things as I age. The referees cannot be controlled, so it is up to WVU to control what they can in that situation which, in this case, was playing the ball and Sosa.
That loss effectively ended any chance the Mountaineers had of making a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, though there was still hope as the selections were presented Sunday evening. As the selection process went on it not only became clear the Mountaineers were not getting in, but one had to wonder if a win over Louisville would have been enough to get WVU in.
At least the National Invitation Tournament has retooled its format to make the event more fan friendly. In the past, teams were selected and paired without any apparent purpose. Most of the time second and even third round matchups weren't announced until the results of the previous round were known.
All that has changed this year. The NCAA has taken more interest and formed a selection committee to actually fill out a 32 team bracket, seeds and all. All games will be hosted by the higher seeded team until four teams reach the semi-finals in New York. West Virginia made out well in this new look NIT as the Mountaineers were accorded the top seed in the East Region.
If WVU can win three games at home they will get to the semi-finals. It all started last night with Delaware State. The winner plays Thursday against the winner of The UMASS - Alabama game. The East Region final is tentatively set for next Tuesday, possibly in Morgantown.