WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — The whistle sounds. The horn blows. And the madness grinds to a halt.
Another stoppage in play. Another lengthy timeout. Another chance for folks at home to grab something from the fridge or be subjected to the 50th iteration of Samuel, Charles and Spike’s geography fail across the U.S. on their way to the Final Four.
If it seems like time stands still during the NCAA Tournament, maybe that’s because it does.
The television breaks are stretched to a seemingly interminable 2 minutes and 30 seconds, a good half-minute longer than the regular season. And that doesn’t include the 20-minute halftimes — five minutes longer than usual — or the additional 15 seconds or so the guys in the TV truck occasionally request to fit in one more commercial that helps CBS recoup the billions the company invested to televise the magic of March.
What you don’t see at home? Coaches milling about talking among themselves. Players trying to stay focused. Benchwarmers taking in the band or the crowd when they’re not serving as de facto student managers.
Yeah, for nearly all involved, the tournament is the biggest moment of their athletic lives. And during those all-too-frequent lulls, it’s kind of a drag.
“Sometimes coach just kind of sits there and looks at us and we don’t really know what to say,” Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker said.
North Carolina’s Roy Williams is in the Hall of Fame and has a pair of national title rings at home. He’s an expert motivator and an in-game tactician. That doesn’t mean he’s going to fill up the extra time with another homespun tale or a reminder about assignments.
“Don’t just speak to hear yourself talk,” Williams said. “I start it, and then I end it, and we get rid of them because I really do tell them all the time, ‘We just had a timeout two minutes ago, I don’t have anything else to say to you.’”
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall tries to keep the routine the same as the regular season. As his players plop down on the stool or grab a swig of water, he huddles with his assistants while his players collect themselves.
The lengthier breathers are a boon to guys like Shockers assistant Steve Forbes, though. He’s in charge of keeping track of substitutions then pointing out new defensive assignments before the team heads back on the floor.
Rather than rat-a-tatting names and numbers, he can actually grab players and offer a bit of instruction.
“You try to time it so where as you’re finishing up the first buzzer is going off,” Forbes said.
When exactly that buzzer comes, though, depends.
Can the network fit in one more ad or promo the local news or next week’s episode of “CSI?”
The NCAA encourages coaches to keep their teams seated until the producer that lets officials know the commercial is over drops his hand and signals ready for play. West Virginia has given up trying to keep up appearances. When coach Bob Huggins is done, the Mountaineers pop up and start stretching.
“He says what he has to say, tells us to fix what we need to fix and after that we just kind of wait around,” freshman forward Elijah Macon said. “He makes sure everybody gets up and gets loose because you get stiff sitting around too long.”
At least, that’s the danger for those actually playing. For the benchwarmers, the timeouts bring their own set of challenges.
NCAA regulations limit the number of seats on the bench, forcing some teams to thrust rarely used reserves into the unusual position of equipment managers. Kentucky senior guard Sam Malone may not get much run — he’s been on the floor a total of 26 minutes in four years for the unbeaten Wildcats — but he’s a deft assist guy when he shuttles his teammates toward the bench.
“You’ve got get out before the team gets back to the bench for sure, then it’s a quick whip,” Malone said with a laugh, mimicking the motion of opening a stool. “You have to make sure it’s in the right space, make sure the chairs are set up in a circle. The last thing you want is to open up the stool the wrong way and have them fall.”
It’s not the One Shining Moment that Malone has in mind.
In their own way, the respites can help fuel the bracket-shredding upsets that make the tournament so alluring.
Wichita State regularly has four players log at least 30 minutes a night. Another handful of seconds here or there can help, though as Forbes points out, it was Kansas coach Bill Self who burned all of his timeouts during the Shockers’ 78-65 win in the round of 32 last weekend.
“He needed to,” Forbes said with a laugh.
Nothing could blunt Wichita State’s momentum, though if given the choice, the Shockers — like every other team — would prefer to just get back on the floor when they have it rolling. Frequent whistles and potentially mojo-deadening conferences on the middle of the floor with coaches running out of things to talk about can make putting away an opponent difficult.
The way Macon figures it, though, the game is the final arbiter. Do whatever you can to take some of the juice out of West Virginia’s frenetic full-court defense. Eventually the ball is going to go live and you’re on your own.
“As soon as that timeout is over, the press is going to come back,” Macon said. “You’re really going to get tired. You’re going to feel it.”
AP Sports Writers Beth Harris in Los Angeles, Tom Withers in Cleveland, Aaron Beard in Raleigh, N.C., and Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.
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