Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Fixing of the NCAA Championship Game

Michigan lost the national championship game despite having five legitimate NBA propspects in the starting lineup and being led by one of the top coaches in the game. With Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson and Mitch McGary all rated in the top 15 of NBA prospects and Tim Hardaway a cinch to be drafted in the second round, the Wolverines should have won that game easily. And they would have if they hadn't been forced to take a dive.

(Editor's note: As of February 2015, all five starters from the Michigan team that lost to Louisville in the 2013 Championship Game were playing in the NBA: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson.)

Louisville didn't have a single player rated in the Top 15. Not that talent guarantees success on the basketball court, as basketball is a team game. But this Michigan team was well-coached and cool under pressure when it was allowed to give 100 percent, such as the Big Ten opener at Northwestern, which the Wolverines won 94-66 while shooting 59.6 percent from the field, and the following game against Iowa, which they won 95-67.

When they were allowed to play their A game, they were very proficient at working the ball around for an open shot, and they rarely committed turnovers. There were many games in which they committed less than 10, and a few in which they committed 6 or fewer. That's saying something for a team that played at breakneck speed.

Unfortunately, the championship game was fixed, like so many other games in the tournament, year after year. The Michigan team that showed up in the second half was not the real Michigan team -- it was a team that was ordered to throw the game and allow Louisville to walk away with the trophy.

It was clear from the start that the game was fixed because the officiating was so obviously crooked. In the opening minutes with Michigan ahead 5-3, Hardaway drove in for a layup and was denied a basket when the officials refused to make an obvious goaltending call against Gorgui Dieng.

On the ensuing fast break, Peyton Siva plowed into Burke, and Burke was called for a foul despite the fact that he was backpedaling at the time. In basketball, you can't just plow into the opposing players when they've moving away from you. That's called charging, and the officials refused to make that call as well, because the plan was to take Burke out of the game early with foul trouble.

A few minutes later, Siva got away with another charging foul when Robinson stepped in front of him and took a charge. Again, Robinson was mistakenly charged with the foul. Then, with Michigan leading 20-15 and 11 minutes remaining in the first half, Burke was charged with a second questionable foul as he tried to block Luke Hancock's three-point attempt. There did not appear to be much contact on the play, if any.

As a result or those two crooked foul calls, the national Player of the Year had to sit out the next 11 minutes. That in itself is highly suspicious, because if anything, the refs usually tend to show favoritism toward the game's marquee players, especially in a nationally televised NCAA championship game. Instead, on this occasion, the game's top player was singled out to be railroaded to the bench. You'd have to be pretty naive to believe it was all just an accident.

I counted at least six blatant officiating mistakes that went against Michigan in the first half, but despite the officials' best efforts to sabotage the Wolverines, Spike Albrecht ruined their plan by scoring 17 points in the first half and leading the Wolverines  to a 35-23 lead with 3:10 left in the first half. That's when the process of throwing the game kicked into high gear.

Keep in mind, Michigan is skilled in this endeavor and has lots of experience, having thrown seven other games this season and having shaved points in many others that they could easily have won by a more decisive margin.

With three minutes left in the half, the Michigan team that had played so well in the opening minutes could suddenly do nothing right. They started missing easy baskets, fumbling away loose balls, throwing the ball away, leaving opposing players wide open for easy baskets and failing to block out on the boards, among other things. Very uncharacteristic for a well-coached team that's cool under pressure when not required to throw a game.

After going on a 15-6 run with Burke on the bench, they allowed Louisville to get back in the game with a 14-1 run of their own, including 12 points by Hancock, who was deliberately left wide open for several three-pointers, despite being an obviously capable outside shooter. Do you really find nothing suspicious about this meltdown? Michigan's 12-point lead was down to one by halftime, 38-37, and the fix was in for the entire second half.

The second half was more of the same, as the previously smooth and composed Michigan players continued to run around the basketball court like chickens with their heads cut off. The only possible explanation is that it was all in the (Louisville) Cards, so to speak.

See, Louisville has been forced to throw its share of games through the years, and sometimes programs are rewarded for their previous cooperation. Michigan's long run in the NCAA Tournament this season was probably a reward for cooperating by throwing their first-round game to Ohio University last season in what has to go down as one of the most suspicious "upsets" of that corrupt affair, and believe me, that's saying a lot.

Michigan even benefits sometimes from all the fraud that's going on. An example from this season would be the "miraculous comeback" against Kansas, in which the Jayhawks cooperated by giving away the game. Of course, if Michigan hadn't been forced to give it away in the first place, Kansas never would have had to give it back to them.

But back to the Louisville game. In addition to all the the usual mistakes that comprise the typical meltdown, such as missing easy baskets, making senseless turnovers and silly fouls, leaving players wide open, deliberately dribbling into traffic, making forced passes, missing free throws, failing to block out on the boards and so on, the second half also featured more corrupt officiating.

Burke was called for another foul when he made a clean block on Siva with 5:09 left in the game and Michigan down 67-64. Later, Hancock was left wide open for the three-pointer that put Louisville ahead 76-66 with 3:25 left and pretty much sealed the deal.

The Wolverines still had a chance when they trailed just 78-74 with 50 seconds left. But Caris LeVert stepped out of bounds with a crucial rebound that would have given them the ball and a chance to narrow the lead, making no effort to stay inbounds or pass the ball to a teammate on his way out.

You have to feel sorry for the players and coaches. Imagine what it must be like to be forced to lose the NCAA championship game on purpose and then to be sworn to secrecy about the entire disgraceful affair.

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