Posted: Tuesday February 15, 2005 10:10AM; Updated: Tuesday February 15, 2005 11:40AM
Pitt's Carl Krauser celebrates his game-winning shot over the Irish.
"Get a T.O., baby!"
Ah, the timeout. For college-basketball coaches, the T.O. is mother's little helper. It's designed to stop the bleeding if things are going poorly, or to allow a coach to exert a little control late in the game. Not that college-hoops coaches are control freaks or anything.
But do timeouts really benefit the coaches -- and by extension, their teams -- that call them?
"Oh, it's a vital part of the game," says ESPN's Dick Vitale, who exhorts coaches to "Get a T.O!" every game. "It stops runs. It stops momentum."
Certainly the timeout,stops the momentum for the viewer.
Parents, like coaches, call timeouts, and for the same reason: The parent doesn't know what to do with his or her kid next. Better to sit them down for a minute or two and plot strategy with your spouse (i.e., assistant coach) under the guise of punishing the child for their improper behavior (i.e., failure to box out, poor shot selection, lethargic defense, etc.)
Sometimes when you watch a game it seems as if coaches spend timeouts recklessly, as if they have an inexhaustible reserve of T.O.s in their pockets (Who do they think they are, boosters?). In truth, Heather Perry of the NCAA, said each team is allowed four 30-second and one 60-second timeout per game (but you must use one 30 in the first half or forfeit it). Plus, there are four "media timeouts" each half, on the first whistle after the 16-, 12-, eight- and four-minute marks. All this timeout calling is not a new phenomenon, as T.O.s have been a part of the game since 1905.
That's a possible total of 18 timeouts per game. And yet the Domino's guy always seems to ring your doorbell during live action. What's up with that?
Anyway, I understand why a coach calls a timeout after his team has just allowed a nine-point run: He wants to alter strategy but, more importantly, he wants the athletic director to see that he, the coach, is worth $850,000 (plus shoe deal, plus coach's show) per year. If he didn't call the timeout, he's no more useful than you or I. (Seriously, imagine if you could call a timeout when a date was going bad? Actually, you can: It's called getting up to use the restroom).
But what about that final-minute timeout? Is it good or bad, or does the result justify the decision in each particular case?
"Late in the game," says Dickie V., "players don't comprehend time, score and strategy. Sometimes you just need to sit them down and get their head in the game. And, of course, it allows a coach to set up a defense,a final offensive play. It's essential."
Of course, if you've called a timeout and are sitting on a stool in front of your bench drawing up a final offensive play for your five, well, you've just given the opposing coach a chance to draw up a defensive play. It's Spy vs. Spy all over again.
In last Saturday's Notre Dame-Pittsburgh game, the score was tied at 65 when Pitt coach Jamie Dixon called timeout. ESPN's Len Elmore speculated that Notre Dame would come out in a 2-3 zone defense to nullify the driving ability of the Panthers' Carl Krauser. Maybe Notre Dame coach Mike Brey thought, "Ah-ha, that's exactly what they're expecting us to do. Let's stay in man."
So the Irish came out in man. Krauser drove past his defender and hit the game-winning layup. Great coaching by Dixon? Poor coaching by Brey? Or just a nice shot by Krauser?
Travel back in time a few nights earlier. North Carolina at Duke. Tar Heel coach Roy Williams calls a timeout with 20 or so ticks left and UNC trailing by one. I imagine Williams provided somewhat more guidance in the huddle than Shooter (Dennis Hopper) did in Hoosiers. And yet, given all that time, plus a designed play, the Heels never advanced the ball beyond the 3-point arc in their final possession. They never got a shot off.
Would they have been better off not calling a timeout? Every situation is different (think about Grant Hill-to-Christian Laettner, if you don't believe me) and as Dickie V. acknowledges, sometimes it's better for a coach to be lucky than dumb.
"When I was coaching [University of Detroit], we'd won 20 in a row and we were playing at Marquette," Vitale says. "This was Marquette's national-championship season. Late in the game, we're down by one, one of our guys pops the ball out of their hands with eight seconds left. I'm jumping up and down [Dickie V? Animated?] trying to get his attention for a timeout. Kid never saw me. Went down and hit the game-winning shot.
"I couldn't have drawn it up better myself," he says.