Basketball is a unique sport in many ways, both good and bad. Unfathomable athleticism leads to rim-shaking dunks. Quick hands and deception lead to professional athletes looking like fools. Players reach unconscionable levels of accuracy shooting the ball. But many sports fans, even diehard basketball fans, hate how the last few minutes of a game can take what seems like an eternity.
This feeling isn’t far from the truth. A study of the 2014 NCAA tournament showed that the average total time for the final minute of a game was five minutes and 57 seconds; the longest final “minute” (Oregon versus Wisconsin) took 15 minutes and seven seconds, which equated to 10% of the entire game. The ironic part about this issue is that basketball has one of the highest percentages of game plan actually relating to action. In comparison to the MLB and NFL, which only average about 17 minutes and 11 minutes of actual gameplay respectively, the NBA is a high action game. But the frustration stems from the seeming inaction at the end of the game, when the outcome appears inevitable. While baseball and football have less action overall, the end of games are less frustrating. There is no clock in baseball; you still have to pitch to every hitter until the final out is recorded. In the NFL, you can run out the clock, but outside of your three allotted timeouts, cannot extend the game. But in Basketball, one team typically resorts to excessive fouling and time outs to try and stay close in a game it is losing. This strategy would not be so popular were it not for famous examples like Duke’s Miracle Minute comeback versus Maryland, or Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 9 seconds in the NBA playoffs. But ultimately, teams do so hoping that they can put themselves in a situation to achieve the most exhilarating moment in sports: the buzzer beater.
No second in sports feels longer than the second a potential buzzer beater takes flight. Two players rise up. The ball heads for the hoop. The clock expires. The buzzer sounds. Yet there is this moment where everything two teams have battled to achieve for 40 or more minutes, laying everything on the line physically, mentally and emotionally, is still undecided. All that remains is deciding whom experiences jubilation and whom falls to utter devastation.
Never do these moments come with higher stakes than they do in March Madness. For years, players and coaches chase the dream of becoming an NCAA champion, in a cruel tournament where 67 teams go home after one chance against their opponent. It truly is the best spectacle in sports, and its history shows why; some of the tournament’s biggest games have ended famously on buzzer beating makes and misses, and we’ve already seen one buzzer-beating winner this March.
Yes, that last minute drags on. But enjoy it; there are just 15 games remaining in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, and you never know which game will be the next great one.