A few nights ago one of the wildest comebacks I’ve ever seen in college sports occurred in the Horizon League conference tournament when 8th-seeded Milwaukee rallied back and defeated 2nd-seeded Wright State in overtime in the semifinals after falling behind by 24 points with 6:26 left in the game.
None of what you just read is a typo.
That’s right (wright?). In six minutes and twenty-six seconds one of the best teams in the Horizon League, who was widely dubbed to win the Horizon League tournament, blew the largest lead of the entire 2021 college basketball season to 9-11 (8-10) Milwaukee.
I’m sure there have been great writeups about the game, but you have to see it to believe it:
I think I said "how did they lose this game?" out-loud three different times during this six minute video. https://t.co/nmstSakWwt— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) March 3, 2021
I can’t stop watching that nor can I figure out how it happened. And one of the even crazier things about Milwaukee is that they were already the title holders for “vest comeback of the entire season” when they came back 13 points to beat Cleveland State with 1:59 left. They never give up. Which is what makes what the Panthers did over the closing six minutes so incredible. But when you overcome an enormous deficit like that, as many Louisville fans are all too familiar with, it doesn’t happen without a little help from the other team.
Which is why this tweet caught my eye:
I need some math nerd to do the numbers on whether Wright State could’ve won or not had it just taken a shot clock violation on every remaining possession— Cameron Newton (@morrisoncrying) March 3, 2021
Thank you for the inspiration, Cameron Newton, who is our good friend over at midmajormadness.com.
Now, I am not a mathematician, nor did I ever pay that much attention in my probability and statistics course in college, but I wanted to try in my own terrible ways to see if it was possible:
Could Wright State have won had they taken a shot clock on every possession for the rest of the game?
Before we get down to the nitty gritty let’s lay some ground rules.
This exercise is to see how much time Wright State could really waste to eat the clock and basically sit on the ball regardless of repercussions for the rest of the game. So, in the spirit of wasting time, I wanted to implement what I call the “Virginia Maneuver.” If you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching a Virginia game, you probably understand that the goal of Virginia basketball is to play as little basketball as humanly possible. You often see their players slowly walking to pick up the ball after an opposing team makes a shot so that more time runs off the clock before they even put their hands on the ball and begin play. Then, once the ball is finally inbounded after what feels like an eternity, they slowly job up the floor so that they can waste more time only to shoot the ball late in the clock.
Because it takes Virginia players usually 2-3 full seconds to even pick up the ball off the ground before taking just as long to inbound the ball, aka the Virginia Maneuver, I wanted to add an additional 5 seconds to each of the possible 30-second shot clock violations that Wright State could have had whenever there was a live ball. You’ll understand it better once you see it implemented.
The only other rules I stuck to were that I did not calculate 30-second shot clock violations for Wright State whenever they committed a turnover. Basic logic for this is even if they were trying to run the clock off, who’s to say Milwaukee still wouldn’t have been able to force a turnover? So, we’ll leave those in there.
Lastly, it’s virtually impossible to say when Milwaukee would have just started fouling like crazy to get Wright State to stop committing shot clock violations. So, I’m just going to run through the sequence of plays and see if we even reach the point of the game (0:53 seconds) when Wright State officially begins garbage time with their first immediate foul. This is probably going to be the most hotly contested point of this exercise, because any coach would just tell their players to start fouling away, but it’s my dream now and I’m doing what I want.
Now, the exercise:
With 6:26 in regulation, Wright State’s Grant Basile makes a jumper to put his team ahead 72-48. Wright state then commits a foul against Te’Jon Lucas with 6:15 to go. Lucas buries both free throws to make it 72-50. On the following possession, Basile takes the ball into the lane and commits an offensive foul.
In real life, Basile ran off about 23 seconds before committing an offensive foul. But in my dream scenario, Basile has no interest in driving down the lane so he holds the ball for a full 30 seconds and gets called for a shot clock violation.
Real life: 72-50, Wright State. 5:52 left.
Dream scenario: 72-50, Wright State. 5:45 left.
After inbounding the ball, Lucas hits a jumper 12 seconds later to pull Milwaukee within 20 points. Wright State then inbounds the ball within 2 seconds only to turn the ball over just 10 seconds later.
Had Wright State pulled the Virginia Maneuver, they could have eaten roughly 3 more seconds of clock rather than inbounding quickly and turning the ball almost as quickly. Let’s take away those 3 seconds from the clock that Wright State should have taken with a Virginia Maneuver.
Real life: 72-52, Wright State. 5:28 left.
Dream scenario: 72-52, Wright State. 5:18 left.
Milwaukee takes the ball and Lucas scores 5 seconds later.
Real life: 72-54, Wright State. 5:23 left.
Dream scenario: 72-54, Wright State. 5:13 left.
Wright State then takes their time bringing the ball in, but only 20 seconds have expired by the time Basile goes in and misses a layup.
This was a great time after a live ball for Wright State to use the Virginia Maneuver and then eat an additional 30 seconds. We’ll pretend they did a full Virginia Maneuver (5 seconds) and then committed a shot clock violation, making the grand total 35 seconds eaten. Either way, Milwaukee gets the ball back.
Real life: 72-54, Wright State. 5:03 left.
Dream scenario: 72-54, Wright State. 4:38 left.
Milwaukee regains possession and then scores 5 seconds later on a dunk from Josh Thomas to make the score 72-56, Wright State. Milwaukee then commits foul 16 seconds later. Basile makes just one free throw. 6 seconds later Lucas makes a 3 to make the score 73-59.
Wright State did a fine job of the Virginia Maneuver following the dunk, so no added time is needed.
Real life: 73-59, Wright State. 4:37 left.
Dream scenario: 73-59, Wright State. 4:15 left.
36 seconds expire as teams go back and forth turning the ball over until Wright State regains possession at 4:01.
Real life: 73-59, Wright State. 4:01 left.
Dream scenario: 73-59, Wright State. 3:39 left.
After Wright State grabs a rebound, Tim Finke misses a three only 9 seconds into the shot clock.
This is Wright State’s first real chance in a while to get a shot clock violation and they blow it. Let’s subtract the additional 21 seconds they should have taken.
Real life: 73-59, Wright State. 3:52 left.
Dream scenario: 73-59, Wright State. 3:09 left.
Milwaukee then scores 13 seconds later to make it 73-61, Wright State. But then Wright State struggles to inbound the ball only for Te’Jon Lucas to deflect the ball off of a Wright State player’s leg. Milwaukee ball. 10 seconds later Wright State steals the ball, but then misses shot with 4 seconds left on shot clock.
Stay with me here. In reality 50 seconds expired between the tmie Tim Finke misses a three and the time Wright State misses another three. We’re going to take away the additional 4 seconds Wright State should have waited for in order to receive a shot clock violation.
Real life: 73-61, Wright State. 3:02 left.
Dream scenario: 73-61, Wright State. 2:16 left.
Wright State rebounds the three but then misses again, this time Milwaukee comes away with the ball. They score 13 seconds later on a layup to make it a ten-point game.
Real life: 73-63, Wright State. 2:41 left.
Dream scenario: 73-63, Wright State. 1:55 left.
Wright State then inbounds the ball in just 2 seconds and follows up that idiotic decision with missing a three-pointer just 21 seconds after Milwaukee had scored.
*Insert Virginia Maneuver and shot clock violation they should have done (35 seconds)*
Real life: 73-63, Wright State. 2:20 left.
Dream scenario: 73-63, Wright State. 1:20 left.
Milwaukee then rebounds the three and draws a foul from Grant Basile. They go to the line and knock down both free throws to make it 73-65. After the dead ball, Wright state shoots 23 seconds into the shot clock and misses.
Should have taken the full 30 there, too. Let’s take back those 7 seconds they left out there.
Real life: 73-65, Wright State. 1:39 left.
Dream scenario: 73-65, Wright State. 0:32 left.
Milwaukee gathers the rebound and in 7 seconds draw a foul from Grant Basile. Milwaukee’s Josh Thomas then knocks down both free throws to make it 73-67, Wright State. 24 seconds later Tim Finke misses another three for Wright State, but Grant Basile rebounds the ball and scores a layup to push the lead back to 8.
This is where things get really juicy. In real life Grant Basile scores a layup only because Tim Finke didn’t hold the ball for a shot clock violation. So in our dream scenario, we’re going to pretend that second chance opportunity never came and that Tim Fink runs the clock out and Wright State escapes fairly comfortably.
Real life: 75-67, Wright State. 1:02 left.
Dream scenario: 75-67, Wright State. 0:00 left.
So, there you have it. My model is obviously perfect and cannot be disputed in any way. But really, as you see, we didn’t even reach the garbage time point of the game in real time (0:53 seconds), so that’s obviously the biggest caveat in this exercise. But even so, Wright State really could have possibly nothing for the rest of the game, played defense just as they did in real life, and taken shot clock violation after shot clock violation and won the game. That’s bonkers.
Of course in real life, don’t ask me how, Wright State finds a way to lose this game in dramatic fashion. It’s glorious. Do yourself a favor and watch the full video.
Happy March, y’all.