In the wake of what was a very interesting weekend of basketball, I got into a discussion on Twitter with various basketball media regarding refereeing.
If you watched any of the weekend's NCAA offerings, you know why.
There were numerous questionable calls that "decided" games in the Tourney this year, the culmination of these in my opinion being the Texas Longhorns losing to the Arizona Wildcats thanks to a rather rapid 5-second count that went against the Steers, on an out-of-bounds play.
Unable to find an outlet under his own basket with only seconds left in the game, Canadian Cory Joseph signaled for a time-out to re-group his teammates and draw up a new play. Only when he went to call time-out, the referee signaled that he had called it too late, and therefore the possession went back to Arizona.
Zona promptly ran a well-designed pick-and-roll, scored, got fouled, and hit the "and 1" to take the lead.
Texas had one more shot, but failed to score as time expired, and Zona moved on.
Immediately the social media sphere exploded with cries of outrage with the overriding theme being, "Texas Got Screwed."
And well, on that call, indeed they did.
But as SI's Seth Davis pointed out after, there was far too much criticism of the refereeing in this tournament, and not on the teams themselves for the way they played.
And he's right.
Texas frankly displayed a terrible game-plan outside of neutralizing Derrick Williams, and had it not been for the exploits of J'Covan Brown, would have been blown out.
So was the call a blown one?
But my point here is that Texas shouldn't have been allowing Arizona to hang around, never mind depending on a call like that that could go either way. The Longhorns failed to execute when it mattered and the loss was much more thanks to a culmination of their errors than the one call.
Of course the one call is hard to stomach in this situation because the game was so close, and thus the error is exacerbated under the "March Madness Spotlight." But make no mistake about it, Texas was out-coached and out-gunned and their lack of execution did them in.
Same goes for my Duke squad who earlier in the afternoon did an even worse job executing down the stretch, nearly allowing a very composed and well-coached Michigan squad to upset them. Faced with a rather nasty 1-3-1 zone defense the Blue Devils decided that instead of attacking it, they would grind the clock down, safe with the lead they had previously accumulated.
That was not the case, and the Wolverines ended up being a Darius Morris runner away from sending the game to OT.
As I watched the Toronto Raptors steal one from the Oklahoma City Thunder, I thought of both of these matches from earlier in the day. The Raps did indeed steal this W, their 20th of the season, and it was thanks to approaching the game in the opposite fashion of Texas and Duke. (And one could argue Washington and PITT as well.)
The Raps ran two very succinct plays with under a minute left, first a nice pin-down play freeing up Leandro Barbosa for a 3, then a seal for Amir Johnson in the post against Kevin Durant, and as a result, head off to Denver winners of two straight.
Yes, I'm supposed to be cheering for this club to get a top 3 lottery pick, but this win was frankly a breath of fresh air.
Here was an energized and composed Raptors' squad fighting what I consider to be the West's second-best team, tooth and nail.
They got into it with Kendrick Perkins, forced Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook into 13 for 40 shooting, limited the Thunder to only 40 per cent shooting, and even played OKC to a near draw on the glass.
It was simply a great all out effort, punctuated by five double figure scorers from Toronto, and yes, execution when it mattered. Toronto found themselves on the wrong side of the zebras for a stretch of calls in the fourth quarter, allowing OKC to cut into a 10 point deficit, but the Raps didn't quit. After a few bad possessions which saw the the team settle for jumpers (something Andrea Bargnani admitted he and DeRozan fell victim to due to fatigue), Triano got his club back on track and suddenly DD was attacking the rim, James Johnson was too, and Reggie Evans was all over the place.
Now TO turns around and takes on the Denver Nuggets tonight, a very tough match considering not only the altitude and back-to-back status, but also because of how well the Nuggs are playing.
Post-Melo the team has been one of the best in the West surprisingly, and have won seven of their last 10.
However if Toronto can display the same sort of execution tonight as they did the night before, this could very well be win number three in a row. The club simply moved in synch in last night's win, with everyone playing their role to perfection, and Jay Triano doing a great job of moving guys in and out at appropriate times.
It was a sight for sore eyes and really THE key going into tonight.
Sure, there are various ins and outs we could discuss in terms of strategy against the Nuggs, but to me the biggest difference between last night and the vast majority of Toronto's games this season was how cohesive the club looked, and it was that cohesion that provided the win.
Need a big basket, go to Andrea or Leandro.
Need a big rebound, look to Reggie.
Need someone to create something out of nothing on offense, look to DeMar or Jose.
And on and on.
This was true on D too where at various points I counted three Raptors going up to block or alter Thunder shots, something that brought a smile to my face and again, something that must occur tonight against a very potent offensive club in Denver.
And of course, flowing from that cohesion at both ends was the team's execution, and if the club can keep running on all cylinders, another win should be within their grasp.
As well, I don't want to jump the gun but last night's game (and even the Washington win to a lesser extent) looked to be one of those "aha" moments young teams have. It was as if the team looked around when the game was coming to a close and said "hey, we can do this, we can beat these guys!"
Then they went out and proved it.
That to me is definitely worth giving up a lottery ball or two, as regardless of who Toronto drafts, the club will still have to rely very heavily on most of the current team
So the sooner they figure things out, the better.