Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Tar Heels Claim Controversial Championship
St. Louis, MO – North Carolina defeated Illinois last night, 75-70, to claim the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championship, their first since 1993.
For UNC coach Roy Williams, the Tar Heels’ stirring 75-70 victory over Illinois on Monday night was the culmination of the two-year revival of his alma mater and his first national title.
The victory gave North Carolina (33-4) its fourth N.C.A.A. championship, and denied Illinois its first. It also ended a string of four empty trips to the Final Four for Williams, who had lost in two national semifinals and two championship games while coaching at Kansas.
The victory did not come, however, without a measure of controversy. Within hours of the conclusion of the title game, USCountShots.org, a Utah non-profit organization of statisticians and researchers, published a mathematical analysis of the game’s final minutes which seemed to show that the Fighting Illini had actually scored more points than the Tar Heels.
“There’s no way the Illini wound up with 70 points,” agreed Clint Curtis, an independent researcher. “Look again at the final two minutes. Deron Williams misses an open three with the score tied at 70? And then Luther Head misses an open three with the Illini down 72-70, then Williams misses a two, then Head misses a three with twenty seconds left and the score 73-70? That’s not even remotely plausible. All of these were open shots with good looks at the basket. But you’ve got an electronic scoreboard with no paper trail, and that’s open to all kinds of abuse.”
A spokesman for USCountShots.org noted, more tentatively, that it was possible the Tar Heels had outscored Illinois, but that the odds of Head and Williams missing all four shots down the stretch were “nearly a million to one.”
According to the group’s press release, USCountShots’ analysis of the game suggests that after the Illini had erased a 15-point deficit in the second half, the Tar Heels began to play tentatively, getting only one tip-in field goal over the final five minutes. “Once you factor in the game’s final exit polls, which were taken during those crucial five minutes,” said the group’s spokesman, “you wind up with the Illini outscoring the Tar Heels by 3%, or roughly 77-75.”
Illini coach Bruce Weber declined to comment on the controversy, and most fans seemed to shrug off the discrepancy between the exit polls and the final outcome. A handful of Illinois faithful, however, did question whether any championship in N.C.A.A. history had involved one team shooting only six free throws over the course of an entire game, and some asked N.C.A.A. officials whether Tar Heel standout Sean May had filed the appropriate pre-game paperwork that would entitle him to the “Shaq Exemption” under which big men are permitted to back into hapless defenders down low.