Basketball games are won and lost on the margins, especially during March Madness. An errant pass, an impossible three, or a timely steal can usually spell the difference between victory and defeat. It's part of why we love that time of year, and also part of why we're so quick to forget the pain of a loss in the tourney. That can hurt us in the long run, though. By leaving the causes of a loss unexamined, we set ourselves up for future failure, and I know that Jared Sullinger and company never want to know the kind of pain they felt after an early exit by means of a 62-60 loss against the Kentucky Wildcats.
With this in mind, I sat down and rewatched that crucial game with an open mind; the outcome no longer in doubt, I began to pick up on things that I had not noticed before, and I was shocked at what I found. A dilapidated and tiny Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Two opposing coaches collaborating for one of the most egregious violations of NCAA code I've ever seen. And finally, a late game substitute that completely broke the game with his utter contempt for any sort of established rules and regulations.
There was foul play afoot, my Buckeye brethren. And I have the images to prove it, which will expose the Sweet Sixteen matchup between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the University of Kentucky Wildcats for the fraud it was. Screenshots and video to follow after the jump.
The Prudential Center bills itself as an arena that will "usher in a new era in sports and entertainment." After viewing footage of the game, I can't say that I agree with that particular sentiment.
Upon further review, the Prudential Center appears to be little more than a middle school gym, with attendance well below the reported 18,343. Box seating appeared to be almost nonexistent (unless one counts sitting in an actual cardboard box as valid), and the vendors were nowhere to be found. One thing that can be said for the arena is how close the fans were to the action, but overall it proved to be a spectacular failure as the host for such an important game, and maybe only one or two steps above a game at St. John Arena.
I still think that Tubby Smith being allowed to coach for his former team represents a serious error in judgment on the part of the NCAA. Yes, he is a terrific coach, and yes, when you beat someone, you want to beat the best, but just because John Calipari was on a recruiting trip does not give UK carte blanche to pick and choose whatever coach they want to strategize and direct their team. As we shall see shortly, Tubby made several game changing decisions that likely sealed the deal for the Wildcats. Maybe not as infuriating as some of the other issues that follow, but it is still maddening that we could've been up against John C, who was instead crossing the midwest of the United States, seen here in his trademark "Recruitin' Mobile" from this user submitted photo:
EXTRA PLAYER BENEFITS
It's no secret that Kentucky players have often reaped the rewards of having a very well connected coach, and now, investigative video and a frame by frame viewing of the game tape rings those extra (and highly illegal) benefits given to Wildcat players.
Remember Josh Harrellson? The 6-10 senior Forward was the leading scorer for the Wildcats, and gave Ohio State defenders fits all night long. So how did this relatively unheralded role player step up to become the hero who slayed the mighty Buckeye dragon? Hard work? Sheer dumb luck? Or maybe, just maybe, good ol' Josh had some autographed illegal inspiration from an NBA legend...
That's right. THE Aurthur Chaney, from the New York Nicks. "Play from the heart" indeed. Other benefits included the liberal use of orange wedges during the game:
Orange wedges, of course, are a banned substance by the NCAA. To wit:
1. Orange wedges are not permitted to be eaten during games, as well as all related orange-type fruits, including tangerines, tangelos, grapefruit, lemons, limes, etc.
a. Even if the mother of a player provides them.
b. Juice boxes are still okay.
The dog. THE DOG!
Thad Matta really dropped the ball on this one. We all knew Tubby would pull out all the stops to beat Ohio State, and for Thad to not come prepared with a packet of jerky or a can of Vienna sausages is completely inexcusable. Still, once the substitution was made, it was a combination of horrible officiating, on the court intimidation, and questionable plays disguised as canine genius that made Kentucky victory all but a certainty. Whatever Matta's failings as a coach, nothing could prepare anyone for the unprecedented assault on the integrity of the fine sport of basketball that was about to take place.
A thorough examination of the game tape shows "Buddy," as he's known to his teammates, brazenly using every dirty trick at his disposal, as his coach looks on bemusedly. Indulgently. Approvingly. It makes me sick to document Buddy's disregard for the rules, which spits in the eye of every professional and nonprofessional sports animal (be it dog, dolphin, or chimpanzee wearing human clothes) who makes an effort to play fair, but for posterity's sake I must. And so I shall.
First, the blatant intimidation of our players was borderline criminal. Watch this restart at the beginning of the second half, as Dallas Lauderdale becomes unnerved by Buddy's extreme and callous antics (and possibly the fact that one of the referees insisted on speaking Italian for the duration of the game):
Buddy also got a slew of questionable calls in his favor. This, for instance, was NEVER a jump ball, primarily because Buddy lacks the opposable thumbs necessary to obtain proper possession:
And finally, and perhaps most egregious, was Buddy's behavior while guarding Jon Diebler on the perimeter. As this screencap shows, his harassment was reason enough to be removed from the game, and warranted a technical foul at the very least:
In post game interviews, Buddy, speaking through an interpreter, would shrug off the incident by saying "I just have an affinity for groins, I guess." And speaking as a non-dog, maybe that is true. Maybe Buddy is just your typical, groin loving dog. But as we've seen, Buddy showed no reluctance to use intimidation during the game. This was no standard canine greeting of "Oh! Hello! Hey! Hi! Well, while I have my nose in your groin, wanna be friends? Okay! Hey! Let's play catch! Is that food?! Hey! Hello!"
No. The message Buddy was sending here was loud and clear:
"Post up for three, and I swear I will bite your testicles off."
This game was a fiasco from the very beginning all the way through till the end. For Buddy's part, he vanished shortly after UK was eliminated from the tourney. Some say he's been trying his hand at other sports, such as football and soccer. I can't speak to that. But one thing I do know: for the sake of our seniors, Lighty, Lauderdale, Diebler, and kind of Kecman, I will not rest until this outlaw athlete is brought to justice. Mark my words.