March Madness: Final Two Minutes

How long does the last two minutes of a March Madness game actually take?

Basketball is not one of my favorite sports. Generally speaking, the season is too long, teams don’t really play defense, scoring is too easy, and, when games are close at the end, the losing team constantly fouls the winning team to try and preserve clock time – what could be the most exciting part of the game is reduced to abject drudgery.

The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, also known as “March Madness”, can be very exciting due to its single-elimination format, however, the way they play the last few minutes of close games mars an otherwise enjoyable experience.

I know the strategy works once in a while, but that doesn’t make it fun to watch.

As the NCAA tournament got closer this year, I began to wonder just how long, on average, the last two minutes of a game actually takes to play, and if the closeness of the score matters. So, during the tournament, I got out my trusty stopwatch (last seen during Super Bowl XLIV) and timed the last two minutes of as many games as I could.

Thanks to the NCAA tournament app on my iPad, I was able to watch a lot of the second-round games played on Thursday and Friday that I normally would have missed due to work. Out of the 63 total games (I’m not counting the new first round of four “play-in” games), I was able to get data for 41 of them, which is just about two-thirds. One game went to overtime so I was able to get the last two minutes of regulation and overtime.

From viewing the games with an eye on the clock, I can tell you that the biggest time sink in close games is TV timeouts, followed by referees using instant replay to determine the correct time left on the clock and if someone’s foot was on the 3-point line, out of bounds, etc.

Results

The average time it took to play the the last two minutes of the games was 9:22.

If the point differential was 4 points or less (11 games), they took an average of 13:10. The maximum was 22:36; the minimum was 8:56.

If the point differential was between 5 and 9 points (10 games), they took an average of 13:32. The maximum was 18:19; the minimum was 8:40.

If the point differential was between 10 and 14 points (8 games), they took an average of 7:16. The maximum was 14:28; the minimum was 3:07.

If the point differential was between 15 and 19 points (7 games), they took an average of 4:50. The maximum was 6:58; the minimum was 2:35.

If the point differential was over 20 points (6 games), they took an average of 3:31. The maximum was 4:57; the minimum was 2:21.

The shortest final 2:00 was 2:21 during UCLA vs Minn in round 2, which was a 20 point blowout at the 2:00 mark.

The longest final 2:00 was 22:36 during Creighton vs. Cincinatti in round 2, which was a 2 point difference at the 2:00 mark.

Raw Data

Date Round Teams (Score) at 2:00 Point Diff. Final Score Total Time
March 21 2 6. Butler (53) vs 11. Bucknell (45) 8 68-56 Butler 12:50
March 21 2 6. Memphis (49) vs 11. St. Mary's (42) 7 54-52 Memphis 16:14
March 21 2 4. Michigan (69) vs 13. Dakota St. (52) 17 71-56 Michigan 3:14
March 21 2 1. Louisville (75) vs 16. NC A&T (44) 31 79-58 Louisville 4:35
March 21 2 6. Arizona (78) vs 11. Belmont (62) 16 81-64 Arizona 5:58
March 21 2 5. UNLV (52) vs 12. California (58) 6 64-61 California 18:19
March 22 2 1. Duke (70) vs 16. Albany (59) 11 73-61 Duke 8:30
March 22 2 5. Winconsin (44) vs 12. Ole Miss (50) 6 57-46 Ole Miss 10:59
March 22 2 9. Temple (65) vs 8. NC State (62) 3 76-72 Temple 16:36
March 22 2 7. Creighton (56) vs 10. Cincinnati (54) 2 67-63 Creighton 22:36
March 22 2 2. Georgetown (58) vs 15. Florida GC (65) 7 78-68 Florida GC 15:10
March 22 2 8. North Carolina (70) vs 9. Villanova (66) 4 78-71 UNC 12:18
March 22 2 2. Ohio St. (93) vs 15. Iona (65) 28 95-70 Ohio St 4:57
March 22 2 3. Florida (74) vs 14. NW State (47) 27 79-47 Florida 2:56
March 22 2 7. San Diego St. (63) vs 10. Oklahoma (51) 12 70-55 San Diego St. 6:18
March 22 2 6. UCLA (63) vs 11. Minnesota (83) 20 83-63 Minnesota 2:21
March 23 3 1. Louisville (77) vs 8. Colorado St. (56) 21 82-56 Louisville 2:48
March 23 3 3. Marquette (66) vs 6. Butler (67) 1 74-72 Marquette 13:28
March 23 3 1. Gonzaga (65) vs 9. Wichita St (67) 2 76-70 Wichita St 15:06
March 23 3 4. Syracuse (58) vs 12 California (48) 10 66-60 Syracuse 14:28
March 24 3 2. Ohio St (74) vs 10. Iowa St (75) 1 78-75 Ohio St 9:36
March 24 3 1. Kansas (63) vs 8. UNC (52) 11 70-58 Kansas 9:03
March 24 3 3. Florida (74) vs 11. Minnesota (59) 15 78-64 Florida 5:33
March 24 3 7. San Diego St. (62) vs 15. Florida GC (77) 15 81-71 Florida GC 5:35
March 24 3 12. Ole Miss (73) vs 13. La Salle (72) 1 76-74 La Salle 8:56
March 24 3 2. Miami (54) vs 7. Illinois (54) 0 63-59 miami 12:40
March 24 3 2. Duke (61) vs 7. Creighton (47) 14 66-50 Duke 5:08
March 28 Sweet 16 2. Miami (50) vs 4. Marquette (69) 19 71-61 Marquette 6:58
March 28 Sweet 16 2. Ohio St. (67) vs 6. Arizona (63) 4 73-70 Ohio St. 9:37
March 28 Sweet 16 1. Indiana (46) vs 4. Syracuse (58) 12 61-50 Syracuse 4:43
March 28 Sweet 16 9. Wichita St. (70) vs 13. La Salle (53) 17 72-58 Wichita St 2:35
March 29 Sweet 16 1. Louisville (76) vs 12. Oregon (64) 12 77-69 Louisville 6:57
March 29 Sweet 16 1. Kansas (72) vs 4. Michigan (64) 8 76-76 (regulation) 11:59
March 29 Sweet 16 1. Kansas (82) vs 4. Michigan (83) 1 87-85 Michigan (OT) 12:18
March 29 Sweet 16 2. Duke (63) vs 3. Michigan St. (56) 7 71-61 Duke 8:40
March 30 Elite 8 3. Marquette (36) vs 4. Syracuse (50) 14 55-39 Syracuse 3:07
March 30 Elite 8 2. Ohio St. (61) vs 9. Wichita St. (65) 4 70-66 Wichita St. 11:43
March 31 Elite 8 3. Florida (54) vs 4. Michigan (76) 22 79-59 Michigan 3:29
March 31 Elite 8 1. Louisville (78) vs 2. Duke (61) 17 85-63 Louisville 4:01
April 6 Final 4 1. Louisville (65) vs 9. Wichita St (60) 5 72-68 Louisville 12:18
April 6 Final 4 4. Syracuse (47) vs 4. Michigan (53) 6 61-56 Michigan 17:49
April 8 Champ 1. Louisville (76) vs 4. Michigan (70) 6 82-76 Louisville 11:39