THE NCAA must change the way it handles close calls down the stretch of tournament games.
If officials can go over to the replay monitor to determine whether a player had a toe on the line while shooting what was ruled a 3-pointer, then why can’t they do the same when a critical possession is at stake?
In what was otherwise an incredible weekend of basketball, a couple of bad calls were instrumental in sending teams home for the season.
The first came in Dayton, where Iowa State was denied a chance to go up three, possibly four points when Will Clyburn was whistled for an offensive foul after colliding with Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, whose foot hovered over the arc that helps determine if a play is a block or a charge. The play came with 1 minute, 41 seconds remaining.
The gaffe in Sunday night’s Miami-Illinois was more egregious. I was sitting 10 feet away from Miami forward Kenny Kadji when he clearly deflected the ball out of bounds in the final minute. The ref working the baseline blew the call, no doubt, and cost the Illini a chance to either tie the game or go ahead with a 3-pointer.
A group of Illinois fans sitting behind us at press row — apparently there were a couple of coaches’ wives in the section — made no secret of their displeasure, especially after the scoreboard replay showed that the call was a no-brainer. What really hurt is that Illinois coach John Groce, who had a great view of the play from the bench, was powerless to do anything about the call.
I understand that the human element is part of the game, but the NCAA should make a provision that calls made within the last three minutes can be subject to review. Craft’s play should have been ruled a charge, and Illinois lost a crucial possession in the biggest game of the year for both teams. Those calls played significant roles in the outcomes of those games.
Livelihoods are on the line, and if science can ensure that the games are cleaner, then use that science. Give the coaches a challenge if you have to. Let’s just make sure the teams decide these games down the stretch, not the refs.
AS for Kadji, I wondered after the game if had seen the TV commercial in which the young basketball player admits during a timeout that he touched the ball before it went out of bounds at a key moment.
“Come on, Alex. It’s the championship game,” one teammate says to the kid, who holds his ground and insists on doing what’s right. The coach encourages him to inform the ref that he indeed touched the ball.
Honesty: Pass it on.
It appears that Kadji passed on honesty, not that anyone would have come clean in his position.
After the game, Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press asked Kadji whether he had touched the ball, and the answer went like this: “I mean, I don’t know. It was so many hands, you know, I don’t know who touched it last. I just tried to make a play on the ball, and everybody was getting out there, and there were a couple hands. So I really don’t know.”
What followed spoke volumes. I’m not sure Kadji eats grits for breakfast, but if he does, the look he gave his teammates after answering the question would qualify as a grit-eating grin.
TWO coaches were fired after losing their final game at the Erwin Center. And neither one of them was named Rick Barnes. UCLA’s Ben Howland and Minnesota’s Tubby Smith actually won an NCAA tournament game each this weekend and were still shown the door; Barnes has won only one in the past three years.
Howland and Smith were whacked because their programs had grown stale. Imagine how happy some in Austin would be had Barnes’ program — as stale as any program whose coach makes in excess of $2 million per year — won a game in the 2013 tourney, let alone qualified for the 2013 tourney?
It’s all about expectations in some programs and a lack of expectations in others.
BY now, you’ve heard your friends all complain about how bad their bracket looks after the first three rounds. I lost my dark horse Final Four pick, Kansas State, and qualified only eight teams in the Sweet 16. With that said, I still have Miami to beat Louisville in the title game. The good news ends there.
One interesting note from ESPN.com. Had you gone with a bracket picking all the favored seeds, you would still have 11 teams in the Sweet 16 and three Final Four teams still alive in the tourney. You would also be sitting in the 89.8 percentile, which qualifies as excellent in one of the toughest tournaments in recent memory.