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Horrendous officiating mars the NCAA tournament first round

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The tournament was amazing fun to watch, as always, but the officiating was astoundingly bad.

Northwestern v Gonzaga
An apoplectic Chris Collins asks when the rules of basketball changed.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There has been basketball outside Xavier this weekend. Outside of that second half against Maryland where Trevon Bluiett grabbed the game away from Melo Trimble. Outside, even, of Xavier entering the Florida State game as massive underdogs and ended with Xavier boatracing the Seminoles and blasting into the Sweet 16 on the back of a 25 point, still hard to believe, win. While things for Xavier fans have been nothing but sunshine and roses (and banked three pointers and commemorative t shirts) two other stories have come to the fore that challenge the rose colored outlook of even the most positive of college basketball fans.

The officiating has been appalling:

If officials are evaluated during the season it must be on something other than how well they know the rules. The most glaring example is, of course, the Northwestern game. Storming back against Gonzaga, the Wildcats were about to cut the lead to a single possession when a Bulldgos player jumped up and stuck his hand through the rim to block a shot. The officials ignored that and then doubled down by giving rightfully livid Northwestern coach Chris Collins a technical foul. It was gross incompetence at its game-changing finest. That was Jeff Clark, Brent Hampton, and Chris Rastatter.

Somewhat less obvious but no less ignominious was the officiating in the Arkansas-UNC game last night. You may recognize that as the game where the very popular and higher seeded team playing a home game rode Bo Boroski, Lamont Simpson, and Darron George to a win. Trailing 65-60 with less than three minutes to play, the Tar Heels came back for a seven point win without making a single jumper. How? Because the officials simply sent them to the line every time the touched the ball in those last three minutes.

That’s only a slight exaggeration. From 4:10 on the team trying to erase a deficit was called for one foul and was awarded foul shots on every possession in which they didn’t dunk the ball. UNC ended up shooting one fewer free throw in the last three minutes than Arkansas shot all game. The final tally was 25 free throws for UNC, eight for the Razorbacks. I’m very well aware of all the reasons that free throw count doesn’t mean a thing about refereeing, but they don’t apply here. Arkansas shot only three fewer times inside the arc than the Heels did and took more shots on the game. They threw the ball inside and attacked the rim aggressively all night and still watched as their opponents got called for half as many fouls. It got so bad that Westwood One’s radio crew led by John Sadak felt compelled to note that the officials were “making horrible calls.”

Michigan, Oregon, Seton Hall, and many others have been victimized by the officials to the point that Yahoo compiled a post ranking the bad calls so far. This is without mentioning the 13 seconds it took Xavier to advance the ball across half court without being assessed a ten second violation. It has been bad.

Conference affiliation doesn’t matter:

Not now, it doesn’t. In the regular season it absolutely matters if you play your games in the Big East or in a mid-major conference like the Atlantic 10, Mountain West, or American. Now, though, it doesn’t. The fact that there are two Big East teams still playing and only one from the ACC does not mean the ACC was overhyped, that the Big East is twice as good, or that one conference or the other didn’t get the right amount of teams in the tournament. What it means is that on one given day, one team beat another. The tournament is all about matchups, who gets hot, and who plays well on in their time slot on their day.

There are hundreds of gotcha screenshots circling on Twitter where national sportswriters have pimped their favorite conference, only to watch it crash and burn. Sure, Jon Rothstein is obsessed with the ACC and yes, Mike DeCourcy loves the Big Ten. That doesn’t mean that because Michigan St couldn’t beat Kansas and their violent criminal Josh Jackson the Big Ten is somehow a lesser conference. This holds the other way as well. That the SEC has three Sweet 16 teams has no bearing on how good a conference it is. It’s still fifth with a gap to the big four. One weekend of basketball doesn’t change that. This narrative that it tells us anything about a conference is, frankly, stupid.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled Xavier programming, already in progress.