Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Officials once more the "sixth man" in too many games

Having spent my formative years in Wisconsin, my sports team loyalties are defined by being immersed with the local sentiment. So although I am disappointed that the Washington Huskies did not defeat North Carolina in the NCAA tournament, and Gonzaga failed to shut-down BYU and the latest Great White Basketball Hope, Jimmer Fredette (to follow a trail of pick’em Duke players), the teams I am really rooting for—Wisconsin and Marquette—surprised some people by advancing to the Sweet 16. Belmont was a sexy pick for an upset special in the first (or is it second now?), but the Badgers not only handled them but wrecked other brackets by beating Kansas State. Marquette, despite being an 11-seed, actually had the easier route to the next level; they were evenly-matched with Xavier, and it was just a matter of who made the shots they were given. Although Marquette was only 9-9 in Big East play, they had wins over Notre Dame, Connecticut, and Syracuse; when they played the later in the second (I mean third) round on a neutral floor, it was just another pick’em game.

Against North Carolina, the Huskies had to overcome the distinctly non-neutral court factor, and the whole set-up seemed designed to insure that NC and Duke advanced—and both needed every bit of unfair leverage they could get to win their second (I mean third) round games. UW had their problems handling the ball down the stretch, but they had to overcome not just the home crowd, but the disparity in fouls that seemed to come at opportune times to keep the Carolina in the game. In the Duke-Michigan game, the disparity in fouls was not as great as in UW-NC game, but the number of foul shots taken was. Combined, NC and Duke had 48 foul shots compared to only 18 for UW and Michigan. UW and Michigan were also much more likely to be called for shooting fouls than Duke and NC. Furthermore, it was clear that UW coach Lorenzo Romar was held in less esteem than his opposite, since he was deliberately lied to by officials when he requested the time clock be reviewed at the end; officials had allegedly already “checked” the time after a NC player touched a ball that went out-of-bounds. Normally, officials at the end of close games will automatically take sufficient time to check the monitor (sometimes several minutes) to insure the correct time, but this time they didn’t feel it “necessary” to make certain the time was right. The .5 seconds that should have been tacked on the clock would have allowed Isaiah Thomas the critical moment he needed to make a clean catch-and-shoot. Again, officials would not have been so cavalier if Roy Williams had “requested” a monitor check. Later, an NCAA official tried to explain the decision by bumbling something about “lag time.” At any rate, in the Sweet 16 North Carolina will be playing in Big East territory against Marquette, and Duke against Arizona in Pac-10 country, so it will be interesting to see how those games play out.

I also listened to the Pitt-Butler game on the radio, so what transpired in the final seconds seemed even more surreal than it must have been on television. It seemed to me that judging from what the announcers were saying and the crescendo of booing, that many thought that the number one seed was receiving a gift. There was almost no chance that Gilbert Brown would have made a last-second shot when he was fouled, which was why it was viewed with disdain at first glance, especially in that it probably would not have been called if the favored team was on the defensive side. The booing and cat-calling was such that the subsequent foul against Pitt was almost certainly called because the officials felt they had to “atone”; if the first foul had been accepted as legitimate by the fans, there would not have been the second foul—which was even less justified under the circumstances.

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