Putting in long hours
Lopresti: Overtime all the rage so far this season on the hardwood
INDIANAPOLIS -- The rules of college basketball call for 40 minutes to decide the issue. Notice how often lately that 40 haven’t been enough?
The game has seen more overtime work recently than H&R Block in tax season. There were 11 overtime games in Division I men’s basketball this past Saturday. There were 27 the week before that. There have been 153 this season, involving 230 schools. Eight required three extra periods.
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Arkansas’ past three games have gone overtime, the first time that has happened in school history. Prior to that, the Razorbacks had three OT games out of their last 101.
Mercer has had four games go overtime and won them all, including 117-108 against Valparaiso; a marathon which went through 15 extra minutes, 23 lead changes and 17 ties.
Michigan State breezed to a 13-1 start with mostly comfortable margins, then needed to survive two Big Ten overtime games in five days. Wichita State’s unbeaten record was in overtime jeopardy at Missouri State. UMBC became the first school in 25 years to play four consecutive games with extra periods. Later on, the Retrievers added a fifth. As UMBC coach Aki Thomas said, “We’re used to overtime. It’s part of our culture now.”
Sounds like an earthquake of overtimes. And at the epicenter: Butler.
The Bulldogs have played 10 home games so far. Five of them – including all four in the Big East -- were tied at the end of regulation. So was one on the road. That makes six, with Butler losing four of them. The Bulldogs have not had a home game go your garden variety 40 minutes since Dec. 28.
“I don’t know where we rank nationally for most overtime games,” coach Brandon Miller was wondering Saturday, after his 11-7 team beat Marquette. In overtime, of course.
Well, Coach, you’re No. 1.
“We need to try to get out of that.”
Maybe it just comes with the name on the conference letterhead. The old Big East was the hotbed of overtime games. Connecticut had seven of them last year, while Notre Dame beat Louisville 104-101 in five overtimes. That would be the last game the Cardinals lost, taking their next 16 on the way to a national championship.
And it was a Thursday night in the Big East tournament in 2009 when Syracuse and Connecticut combined for a game for the ages; six overtimes, four hours, with Syracuse finally winning 127-117, just past 1 a.m. ET. The two teams combined to score 102 points after regulation.
No such epic yet this season, but lots of extra minutes. The coach who has seen the most of them was asked why.
“I guess the buzzword is parity in college basketball,” Miller said. “We’re in conference play now. When you’re in conference play, you have a lot of teams that are similar and competitive.
“Our margin for error is so small, every game we’re going to have to battle, we’re going to have to play close games. That’s just who we are.”
So it would seem. Butler began life in the new Big East by losing in overtime at home against Villanova, DePaul and Georgetown. When Marquette hit two free throws to tie in the last seconds of regulation Saturday, a here-we-go-again air threatened to sap the Bulldogs’ huddle.
“Our guys had a look in their eye that wasn’t good,’ Miller said. “But at the same time, we responded.”
These are the first 18 games in Miller’s career as a head coach, but he has already earned his advanced degree in the mentality of overtime games.
“It’s different when you’re up and the other team comes back,” he said. “To have that put it in overtime, I think there’s a different mindset than sometimes when you’re down and you make a run. I do think there’s something psychological.
“And we’ve had both situations.”
Against Marquette, Miller went to work on his players’ heads before overtime, reminding them they had dominated most of the game’s closing minutes, and not to let the previous 30 seconds derail them. They didn’t, and the 69-57 victory was relatively stress free at the end. The Bulldogs seem to be getting the hang of this overtime business.
“To say this is a regular win is probably a little bit of a stretch,” forward Kameron Woods said afterward. “We’ve been talking about getting over the hump.”
The overtime fad comes and goes. After seven OT games last year, Connecticut has had none so far this season. There has been but one overtime result in each of the past two NCAA tournaments. That’s two in 134 games. Then again, in 2005 three of the four regional championship games needed overtime.
But it seems to be all the rage at the moment. Especially in Hinkle Fieldhouse.