The final minute of a college basketball game can be the most exciting or excruciating hour in all of sports.
Everyone knows that time gets all timey-wimey at the end of a basketball game, when fouls, timeouts and official reviews slow the passage of time to a crawl. The situation appears to have gotten worse in recent years, when college coaches decided that fans come to watch them and not the players, and the advent of official reviews allow referees to perform frame-by-frame Zapruder analysis of shots and plays, only to get the call wrong anyway as often as not.
But just how long is the final minute of a college basketball game? It is metaphorically referred to as an hour or a lifetime, and when your favorite team is clinging to a one-point lead you may age a few years, but the exact duration of that minute is rarely measured. With Championship Week and the NCAA tournament looming, this is crucial information: If there is a minute left a tie game, what do you have time to do before the final buzzer? Use the bathroom? Drive home from the sports bar? Build a birdhouse? Copulate?
As a public service, Sports on Earth timed the exact lengths of the final minute of several recent close games to determine their exact duration. The results: That final minute takes anywhere from 8 to more than 12 minutes, plenty of time to do many of the activities listed above -- you can decide which ones.
Here are the games used in the study, with a detailed breakdown of what forces shredded the very fabric of time in those games:
Duke 79, Miami 76 (March 2)
Final Minute: 7:22
Final minute as percent of total game length: 5.8 percent
Official Reviews: 1
Discussion: While the final minute of this gem was not particularly long, Miami went into quantum strategy mode earl. The "foul immediately" tactics began around the 90-second mark, bringing the length of the final minute-and-a-half to a whopping 12:50. By front-loading more than five minutes of tedium into the 30 seconds before the final minute, Duke and Miami set the stage for a relatively tight, entertaining seven-minute final minute. (If you understood that last sentence, you are either a physicist, Doctor Who, or watch far too much college basketball.)
Much of the holdup in the final minute came because of a paradox known as Cameron Time: The clock never started during one brief Miami possession, so the obliging clock keeper just let it run for about four seconds after the whistle, figuring that no one would miss a second or two, particularly the home team, which happened to be leading.
Once Cameron Time was straightened out, Duke kept the final minute short by beating the Miami press and putting the ball in the hands of its best foul shooters, players the Hurricanes did not want at the line. Miami coach Jim Larranaga, to his eternal credit, did not use his last timeout on the Hurricanes' final possession, opting to let his players play basketball instead. Shane Larkin got a great look for a three-pointer but missed. Durand Scott grabbed the rebound, dribbled out and found Rion Brown in the left corner. Brown fired off an open three of his own, but missed. A great ending to a great game.
Had Miami fouled Duke more quickly, and/or had Larranaga called a timeout, the final minute would easily have surpassed 10 minutes, and we would have witnessed some (probably doomed) Miami set play instead of 15 seconds of frenetic, heads-up basketball. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes lost, so no coach will ever leave a timeout in his pocket when down by three again.
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North Carolina A&T 59, Savannah State 57 (March 4)
Final minute: 11:58
Final minute as a percentage of game length: 8.9 percent
Official Reviews: 1
Discussion: Big programs and tournament-bound teams are not the only ones who can melt the clock; in fact, fast-foul strategies (the leading cause of slow-minute temporal distortions) are more appealing at lower competition levels, where free throws are less automatic.
The lasting image from the one-fifth of an hour spent deciding this MEAC upset was of North Carolina A&T forward Lamont Middleton standing at the free-throw line. Middleton finished the game 8-of-12 from the line, with six of those attempts in the final minute. The officials used a lengthy review to determine whether an elbow to the face of Savannah State guard Khiry White merited a flagrant foul. It didn't, and White was called for tripping instead.
Trailing for most of the final minute, Savannah State kept opting for two-pointers to cut the deficit and fouling, instead of attempting three-pointers to tie the game and, you know, keep things moving. Tactics like that won't get Savannah State past Norfolk State in the MEAC tournament, but they could turn the MEAC tournament into a month-long event.
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Kansas State 64, Baylor 61 (March 2)
Final minute: 12: 24
Final minute as a percentage of game length: 9.4 percent
Official Reviews: 2
Discussion: This game was a true roller coaster: It had a wild finish, but you had to wait in line forever to get there. At one point, the officials dickered for several minutes, after a timeout, about whether the game clock should read 7.7 or 7.0 seconds. A few minutes later, a one-second differential between game clock and shot clock caused end-of-game confusion, and the officials had to put one tick back on the clock. Both instances of second-splitting turned out to have real game ramifications, but with the game tied 61-61 and nothing to look at but Baylor's intensely ugly yellow-green neon uniforms, it was tempting to channel-surf away and return for overtime.
That would have been a mistake. Jacob Neubert's long inbounds pass looked like it was fired out of a T-shirt cannon. It crossed the court and sailed out-of-bounds, so the Wildcats used one last timeout to set a play for Rodney McGruder, who executed a gorgeous three-pointer at the buzzer. Was it worth the wait? If the wait were less than 10 minutes, absolutely.
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Boston College 53, Virginia 52 (March 3)
Final minute: 8:48
Final minute as a percentage of game length: 7.3 percent
Official reviews: 0
Discussion: The ACC's stingiest defense faced its orneriest spoilers away from the national spotlight on Sunday, but even when a bubble team like Virginia battles an also-ran like Boston College, the final minute can extend to non-Newtonian durations. The back-and-forth timeout-and-foul tournament was punctuated by moments of brilliance, mainly freshman Joe Rahon's three-pointer-plus-a-foul with 8.2 seconds left. Rahon missed his free throw, but Virginia's Jontel Evans turned the ball over after taking the rebound the length of the court by stepping on the end line with 0.4 seconds left.
Then, Boston College coach Steve Donahue called timeout. Hey, a lot can go wrong when you have the ball, a one-point lead, and four-tenths of a second left. For example, Akil Mitchell could steal the long inbounds pass for the Cavs, hoist a half-court prayer and watch it swish through! In fact, that is precisely what happened, but Mitchell could not get the shot off before the buzzer, because there is almost nothing that can actually go wrong in four-tenths of a second, and whatever can go wrong cannot be prevented by teaching the players things they should have learned in practice, high school, biddy basketball, etc.
Had there been 0.6 left on the clock, on the other hand, Mitchell's shot would have made this an ending for the ages. Maybe the officials should have spent five minutes reviewing the timekeeping to make sure it was accurate. On second thought, no thanks.
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Control Game: Kansas 79, Texas Tech 42 (March 4)
Final minute: 1:42
Final minute as a percentage of game length: 1.4 percent
Official reviews: 0
Discussion: This bludgeoning of the Red Raiders at the hands of Kansas represents the control group of this sample: a not-close-at-all game that proves that a college basketball minute can resemble an actual minute under some circumstances. In this case, the circumstances involve a beating so brutal that the Kansas coaches let their walk-on sons (and Danny Manning's walk-on son) play the final two minutes. The only foul was the inevitable result of backups playing sloppy basketball, and the only drama was watching to see if Bill Self had a coronary when Tyler Self took a jumper.
It is interesting to note that even when the game is completely decided and referees are disinclined to call anything more flagrant than an on-court grenade launch, the final minute of a college basketball game is still 70 percent longer than an actual minute. Still, two boring minutes cannot match the interest value of 12 dramatic minutes. But it would be great to have a third option somewhere in between.
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When a close college basketball game reaches the one-minute mark, you have at least eight minutes, and possibly as many as 12 minutes, before the game's actual conclusion. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that the most exciting moments -- inbounds pass misadventures, buzzer-beaters that don't beat the buzzer -- will come at the very end of that 8-12 minute window. Slip off to the potty or surf to another game during the first stoppage after the one-minute mark, and you will probably only miss some free throws, a little coach preening or the officials arguing about imperceptible units of time, even if you are indisposed for as long as five minutes. Ten minutes are not really an eternity, but they can feel that way when you have to go to the bathroom, or are watching a pair of MEAC also-rans.