INDIANAPOLIS — Their names are Doug Morris and John Lacheta. You haven’t heard of them, but the Butler University facilities workers are improbably important cogs in the machinery of this chaotic college basketball season.
They are the two men who got up on the catwalk at the top of Hinkle Fieldhouse Wednesday night, some 80 feet above the court, and confronted a ceiling leak that was dripping rainwater on the playing surface and threatening to halt the Big East game between Butler and Villanova. Armed with a red bucket, towels, rope and hope, Morris and Lacheta heroically stopped the leak that was coming in along one of the beams in the nearly 100-year-old basketball cathedral. The game resumed after a 19-minute delay and became an instant classic.
Butler senior Kamar Baldwin swished a contested, step-back three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Villanova 79-76. It was one of the best games of the season nationally. It also was the Bulldogs’ biggest win in what already has been a very good season, elevating them to 18-5 overall and a tie for third place in the league at 6-4.
And it might not have happened without Morris and Lacheta climbing into the rafters and stopping that leak.
“We have a saying—great teams have great teammates,” said Butler coach LaVall Jordan. “The guy up top holding the bucket so we could actually play the game is an unbelievable teammate.”
This is all an apt metaphor for the most random and unpredictable season in recent memory. In a year when the worst team in the Missouri Valley Conference can win in Rupp Arena and Stephen F. Austin can win in Cameron Indoor Stadium and seven different teams can be ranked No. 1 in 14 weeks, why not create a @HinkleBucket Twitter account to celebrate the maintenance magic of two anonymous guys doing work on the ceiling of an old gym?
If Morris and Lacheta don’t stop that leak, this game isn’t completed. And if it isn’t completed, Butler misses out on a signature win. And that signature win could solidify a spot in the early NCAA tournament top 16 seeding, which will be revealed Saturday by the tourney selection committee, five weeks ahead of the actual Selection Sunday.
Many of the committee members were in attendance at Hinkle Wednesday night, taking a break from their bracket work a few miles away here at NCAA headquarters. Six hours before tipoff of Villanova-Butler, selection committee chairman Kevin White (the Duke athletic director) and NCAA vice president of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt sat down with Sports Illustrated to discuss the season to date.
Basically, they see it like we all see it—this thing is wide open.
“The number of quality teams that have a legitimate chance to advance to the Final Four and win the national championship is greater than in recent years,” Gavitt said. “In general, you usually have six to eight teams with a chance (to win it all). You can easily double that this year.”
Which means this: in the eyes of the committee, just about every team they put on the board Saturday could become the national champion.
In recent years, the champ has been pretty easy to identify early—a No. 1 seed has won the last three NCAA tournaments and four of the last five. The lone outlier in that time was a No. 2 seed, Villanova, in 2016. Not since Connecticut won as a No. 7 seed in 2014 have we had a true long-shot champion.
This is the fourth season the NCAA has done the early look at the tourney seeding, and it has largely held up come Selection Sunday. In 2017, 15 of the 16 teams retained their top-four seeding. In 2018 it was 13 of 16, and last year it was 11 of 16.
This year, who knows? A lot of moving could still take place. The difference between, say, a No. 3 seed and a No. 10 has never seemed so narrow.
Bracket junkies may detect one difference Saturday, and an even more notable difference five weeks hence—the migration of the sport is reversed. For years, the lack of quality out West has meant shipping teams in from the Eastern half of the country to populate that section of the bracket. This year, with perhaps two No. 1 seeds from the Pacific Time Zone (San Diego State and Gonzaga) and 10 or more teams from the Pac-12, Mountain West and West Coast conferences in the field, there could be multiple squads going from West to East to balance the field.
“It’s always great when you have geographic diversity,” White said.
Diversity doesn’t equal excellence, though. The muddle in the middle still will be hard to prioritize.
One of the long-held arbiters of at-large tourney consideration is a record of .500 or better in power conference play. As of Thursday morning, there are 36 teams from the Power-6 leagues (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) within a range of two games over or under .500. That parity might be driven by a lack of overall quality in the game, but White isn’t going there.
“I’m not stepping in that pothole of people saying the field isn’t what it has been in the past,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of tremendous teams.”
The coach at White’s school, a fellow by the name of Mike Krzyzewski, was sharply critical of the leadership of college basketball Tuesday night after Duke’s ugly win at Boston College. It was a vague scattershot of complaints aimed everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and notably lacking in concrete solutions. While paying deference to Krzyzewski, White subtly disagreed.
“I’ve had many a late-night discussion with lots of people (about the state of college basketball and college athletics in general),” White said. “There is nobody whose opinion I respect more than my esteemed coach. … But with that said, I am pretty darn familiar with this tournament—this thing is an enormous enterprise, a billion-dollar tournament … and we have an incredible leader in Danny (Gavitt) and a phenomenal team at the NCAA.
“We have a lot of people who come at this thing for the right reasons. It is a magical enterprise, with a lot of good things—if not great things.”
And, this season, a lot of randomly unpredictable things. You never know, for example, when one of the best games of the year may hinge on stopping a ceiling leak.