Well, the officiating crew from that infamous St. John's-Rutgers Big East Tournament game can breathe a sigh of relief.
For just when you thought nothing could top that blunder reel at Madison Square Garden, Butler takes down a No. 1 seed on arguably the worst call in NCAA Tournament history. Yes, calling a foul 92 feet from the basket with 0.8 seconds left in a game that should have been allowed to go into overtime isn't as technically inaccurate as the Big East debacle, but it's in many ways even more egregious.
Because of the senselessness of the call. Because of what was on line.
When Butler forward Matt Howard grabbed a rebound of a missed free throw that could have given No. 1-seed Pittsburgh the lead with less than a second left Saturday night, he was only thinking of securing the ball to set up overtime. So when the Panthers Nasir Robinson made contact with his arm, the game wasn't being changed in any significant, or even minor, way. It's the classic no-call situation.
Only the referee in Washington D.C. made the call and Howard trotted all the way down the court to the other end to hit the winning free throw for a 71-70 Butler victory. Say hello to the sourest Sweet 16 berth ever. It's like America's favorite underdog won by tripping an old lady walking with a cane.
And even Butler coach Brad Stevens knows it.
"That's a hard way for the game to end," Stevens said in his postgame on-court TV interview. "To be honest as a competitive guy, I feel bad for Pittsburgh."
How can you make that call? The one before it when Butler guard Shelvin Mack inexplicably bumped Pittsburgh's Gilbert Brown 45 feet from the basket with under two seconds left was debatable enough, but at least justifiable. After all, Mack's dumb, over-aggressive play on Brown could have impacted Pitt's ability to get off a good last-second shot. A reason can be laid out for making that call. Mack impacted the game.
The one on Robinson under the hoop with under a second left and everyone on the floor bracing for overtime? An group of MIT scientists could be given 20 years and an unlimited budget and still not find a plausible reason for that foul to be called.
It's not like Pittsburgh didn't deserve to lose. The Panthers were by far the shakiest of the four No. 1 seeds in the field (as I wrote on Thursday). But the way it happened is a basketball crime. You almost have to feel bad for Butler, for its NCAA Tournament run is now forever marred too. No matter how far the eighth-seed Bulldogs go now in the follow up to 2010's championship game run, there's a whistle of doubt hovering over it.
Even the classy Stevens knew. The refs made everyone lose.