No matter how March Madness is being covered, it's impossible not to miss too much.
Usually, the few games I miss happen while I'm in the scene of a concurrent game. For those days when there are no games played on the site I am visiting, I always make sure to find the most convenient sports bar with access to all the games shown.
This time, though, it was the night between games in the NCAA South Region in New Orleans, the day before Butler played Florida for the right to compete in the 2011 Final Four. Normally that Friday night, He would have been watching all four games in the East and Midwest regions, but had other obligations.
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No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky, Eastern Region, 2011
Why I missed it: Sporting News was working with a video partner, CineSport, and we were filming preliminary previews outside of the arenas. It was necessary to record during the game window on Friday night, and there was some kind of delay that ended up eating much longer than anticipated. I returned to my hotel with just a little bit left in the game. That night I saw little more than the exterior of the New Orleans Arena.
What I was missing: One of the most underrated tournament games, with Kentucky beating the nation's best team and No. 1 in the NCAA.
Date: March 25, 2011
Site: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
Rules at the moment: 35-second shot clock; 3-point line set at 20 feet, 9 inches; no "free zone,quot;
Coaches: John Calipari (Kentucky); Thad Matta (Ohio State)
Announcers: Jim Nantz, voice of the tournament since 1991, and Clark Kellogg, a 2009-14 Final Four announcer
What people remember most about 2011 was Butler shooting 18.8 percent in the NCAA championship game and Connecticut winning while shooting 34.5 percent. That Final Four is considered, to put it mildly, a stray dog.
If Kentucky-Ohio State had been the final, or at least played last weekend, people would still be talking about it as one of the best games ever. Nor was it a work of offensive beauty. Ohio State shot 32.8 percent from the field, the Buckeyes had entered as the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency, with 125 points for every 100 possessions, and the Wildcats had only two players who reached double figures.
However, it was as fiercely competitive as a tournament game could be.
This game should probably have been played later in the tournament. It's still surprising how the NCAA selection committee ranked Kentucky – 25-8 and SEC Tournament champions – as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Region and North Carolina – 26-7 and ACC regular season champion – in the same group as the state of Ohio. The Buckeyes won both Big Ten titles and entered the NCAA 32-2.
RPI was the metric of choice at the time. OSU was ranked n. 2, with Kentucky at n. ° 6 and Carolina n. ° 7. For those who had taken over KenPom, their ratings had Kentucky at n. ° 7. How did the Buckeyes end up with such a stacked support? The really strange thing is that its athletic director, Gene Smith, was the chairman of the selection committee.
The result was a showdown between the UK and OSU at Sweet 16, and it was magnificent. The lead was exchanged 14 times in the second half. It is not the game, the second half.
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Kentucky center Josh Harrellson was determined to fight Ohio State freshman star Jared Sullinger with as little help as possible, but the Wildcats brought in a double team to annoy Sullinger every time point guard Aaron Craft, that he was a great defense disruptor, but not an elite marksman, the post feed delivered.
It is a measure of how great Sullinger was, in that season and that night, that Harrellson arguably performed exceptionally well while Sullinger had 21 points and 16 rebounds. Harrellson allowed him to shoot just 7 of 14, and the UK's big man shot 7 of 9 for 17 points. The 10 rebounds that Harrellson mustered tended to be massive, perhaps because most of all were contested and consequential.
The Kentucky defense was especially stellar during a stretch of the second half in which OSU missed nine consecutive shots, which included two consecutive fast breaks. A 36-32 Buckeyes lead turned into a 44-42 deficit within the last twelve minutes. The teams changed the lead for the rest of the game.
It is practically impossible to single out a play like one that turned the game in the UK's favor, except the obvious one at the end.
A triple from forward Terrence Jones when defender David Lighty fell put the United Kingdom 50-49, but Lighty responded with a jump jump to make it 51-50. Craft tried to charge Harrellson, but was late and gave up one and one. Craft made two free throws to tie the 53-all. A handsome DeAndre Liggins drive-and-kick gave Brandon Knight a 3-pointer on the right for a 56-53 lead, but the Buckeyes scored two quick cubes, including a Lighty drive on the left-hand side configured by four screens configured in the top of the key, to make it 57-56.
It was like this until the last half minute, when the United Kingdom had the ball in a draw of 60 and trusted Knight, even with Craft protecting him, to conjure a winner of the game. He drove to the right corner of the foul line, stopped, and, with Craft in his face, nailed down a bridge with five seconds to put the UK on top.
Ohio State had two wait times but didn't call either, and Craft ran the ball up while ignoring Lighty, sniper Jon Diebler and Sullinger to his right. He slipped a rebound pass to wing William Buford, who was 2-for-15 from the field. His attempt to win a Game 3, with two Wildcats defenders surrounding him, caught the leading edge. Make 2 of 16.
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Calipari was then asked where the game was, with all of his leadership changes, ranked among the best he had ever been involved in.
"Right now, the best of all time," said Calipari. "At this time."
Nine years later, it's still pretty good.