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Officiating By the Book Sinks Illini; More Thoughts as 2010 Closes

Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor


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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers serves as an impenetrable wall between the interpretations of what exactly constitutes "intent to harm."

Illinois and Missouri were locked in one of those typical Tiger thrillers -- games bred by a fast-and-furious style of maximized possessions and end-to-end action. Each team landed fast jabs, but nary was a knockout punch thrown into the final minute.

When all appeared lost for the Illini, Missouri's Michael Dixon was stripped of the ball in the aptly termed "coffin corner", and D.J. Richardson stepped into an open three-pointer to draw the Orange and Blue within one at 62-61.

However, in a scrambling situation, a quick inbounds and hit-ahead passes left streaking Laurence Bowers with a clear path to the rim for the go-ahead layup. Mike Tisdale, in full damage control, simultaneously hit Bowers with a braced two-hand push to the back. Bowers converted the layup despite the contact, and a three-point play would have given the Tigers the 65-61 advantage with approximately 40 seconds to play.

Bowers didn't hit the floor. The wide-shouldered forward wasn't in physical danger near the basket support or camera row. Tisdale didn't follow through with excessive force or lunge forward in an attempt to hurt Bowers. He was just trying to foul the Missouri player without allowing the basket, an intention he failed to achieve.

Yet, according to official John Higgins, he also failed at what is deemed a "foul" in the NCAA rulebook. Higgins immediately raised his arms in an "X" shape, indicating an intentional foul and awarding two further free throws and the basketball in Missouri.

In the process, Higgins also awarded the Tigers the game.

Before choosing which side of the great river to stand on, review the definitive declaration of what the NCAA terms an "intentional foul."

Section 4. Intentional Personal Fouling Guidelines for calling the intentional personal foul are:

A. Any personal foul that is not a legitimate attempt to directly play the ball or a player is an intentional personal foul.

B. Running into the back of a player who has the ball, wrapping the arm(s) around a player and grabbing a player around the torso or legs are intentional personal fouls.

C. Grabbing a player's arm or body while initially attempting to gain control by playing the ball directly is an intentional personal foul.

D. Grabbing, holding or pushing a player away from the ball is an intentional personal foul.

E. Undue roughness used to stop the game clock is an intentional personal foul and, if severe, should be called a flagrant personal foul.

F. It is an intentional personal foul when, while playing the ball, a player causes excessive contact with an opponent.

I can omit the final four guidelines because they didn't apply in this situation. Guideline B can be interpreted loosely, yet Tisdale did not push AND wrap his arms around Bower's torso nor take his legs out from under him.

This argument focuses on Guideline A: "...not a legitimate attempt to directly play the ball or a player." When reading this guideline by the book, there is little wiggle room in Higgins' determination. Tisdale did not make a legitimate attempt to directly play the basketball because he didn't have the time in Bower's race to the rim.

However, an addendum to the guideline states: "The intentional personal foul must be called within the spirit and intent of the intentional-foul rule."

To which Higgins' holiday response was: "Bah, humbug."

Turning the compelling conclusion of the Braggin' Rights clash into a six- point possession was neither exercising the spirit of the game nor was it fulfilling my golden officiating credo: time and place determine discretion.

Without flagrant malice, Tisdale was just trying to prolong the game and give his team an opportunity to respond. Higgins took that opportunity away, using his whistle as the Holy Grail and influencing Missouri's 75-64 victory.

Higgins could have -- and I vehemently argue SHOULD have -- whistled Tisdale for the foul he committed and let the 10 players on the floor decide the game in the closing 40 seconds. It was still a game Missouri led, and one the Tigers likely would have still won.

Yet, Illinois' Demetri McCamey didn't get the chance for late-game heroics. Illinois head coach Bruce Weber was furious during the game, resulting in a technical foul that just tied a bow around Higgins' gift wrap.

He was still justly perturbed after the game in speaking with the press, suggesting the "spirit of the game" rule was broached by the authoritative actions of a man neither fan base came to see play a deciding factor.

"I don't like the intentional foul call," Weber exasperatedly stated. "You can't have that play be the (difference in the game). In essence, he probably made the right call. But there's a thousand of them in the game and they don't call it."

Those last two lines illustrate the rule's grey area. In this case, Higgins leaned on rule of law instead of interpretation of law. I wouldn't make a strong case for his inclusion on the Supreme Court, and I have sound advice for the next time he has the direct responsibility to make such a decision.

When any doubt exists, swallow your whistle. Let two NCAA tournament teams decide the outcome on the floor.

WHAT WE LEARNED THIS WEEK:

1. Baylor has failed every test this season. First, star guard LaceDarius Dunn created an off-court headache with issues involving a domestic dispute allegedly gone physical with a girlfriend. Then, the Bears beat up on Texas' finest second-rate programs before finally get tested against Gonzaga. They failed. Next came a bounce-back statement versus Washington State. They lost. And finally a very winnable game against Florida State. Apparently not that winnable. In-between the three losses was a 33-point thumping of San Diego, but that does not mask Baylor's major flaw. It can't make shots against defenses that match up systematically or athletically. Dunn needed 22 shots to score his 29 points against the Cougars then went 5-of-15 against Florida State's lanky defensive unit. The Bears didn't shoot better than 36.7 percent in any of the three defeats and are still looking for a consistent third scorer behind Dunn and Quincy Acy.

2. Kansas State's off-court troubles have started to affect its on-court play. The Wildcats walked a tight rope of bad statistical measurables for weeks then the ceiling fell down with the suspensions levied against Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly for receiving impermissible benefits in connection with the purchase of clothing at a local retail store. The Wildcats looked poor with both in the lineup in a 57-44 loss to Florida, shooting just 27.3 percent from the floor. Pullen needed 17 shots to score 19 points and Kelly was held without a field goal. Then, in the hours after the suspension was announced, the Wildcats made just 14-of-26 free throws and turned the basketball over 23 times in a 63-59 loss to UNLV. Pullen's three-game suspension ends on New Year's Eve against North Florida, but the totality of Kelly's absence has not yet been determined. Maybe the three-game respite will heal Pullen's tired legs and psyche. No matter the outcome, Kansas State still has not rectified its woeful foul shooting and turnover problems.

FINE 15

1. Duke (11-0): Maybe the most noticeable ripple affect I didn't discuss in the aftermath of Kyrie Irving's injury was Kyle Singler's move back to his more comfortable small forward position. He is averaging over five points more per game and his three-point shooting has jumped by over 10 percent in Irving's absence.

2. Ohio State (12-0): Impressive and balanced in 92-63 rout of highly- discussed Oakland Golden Grizzlies. The more Jared Sullinger shines, the more open looks Jon Diebler and David Lighty will see as conference play commences.

3. Kansas (11-0): Josh Selby was as advertised again in 15- point win over California. Not only does he give the Jayhawks another legitimate scorer, but he takes offensive pressure off Tyrel Reed and the Morris twins.

4. Connecticut (10-0): Huskies have been riding Maui wave for a while now. The fact remains this team MUST increase its defensive efficiency or a stark plummet to the middle of the pack could result once the Big East gauntlet begins.

5. Syracuse (13-0): So Fab Melo has been a flop. Who cares! Syracuse is playing with such confidence offensively, illustrated by its 11- of-12 start to the second half against defensively-sound Drexel.

6. Pittsburgh (12-1): Ashton Gibbs toe-to-toe with UConn's Kemba Walker is the matchup of the week. Brad Wanamaker will have plenty of opportunities against less skilled defenders. His success rate in those advantageous situations will be the difference.

7. San Diego State (14-0): Looked lethargic in victories over San Francisco and IUPUI. Another yawner before conference play starts with road trips to TCU and Utah.

8. Georgetown (11-1): Hoyas looked really good at Memphis. The difference was the 15-point, 10-rebound stat line put up by Julian Vaughn. He and Hollis Thompson are the difference between a Sweet 16 club and a Final Four contender.

9. Missouri (11-1): Sent a Christmas card to John Huggins. Be careful of that December 30th tilt with Old Dominion.

10. Villanova (10-1): Corey Fisher needs to penetrate more and use his strong upper body in December 30th matchup with Temple's Juan Fernandez.

11. Purdue (11-1): A bunch of routs since impressive December 4th thumping of Alabama. The Boilermakers have not found a third scoring option through this easy slate, which could spell trouble in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten.

12. Kentucky (9-2): New Year's Eve tilt with Louisville shouldn't serve as a distraction for John Calipari's kids. None of the big playmakers are old enough to drink...legally.

13. Texas (10-2): The young Longhorns have quickly become Kansas' most formidable conference competition with Kansas State in flux. Don't agree? Play back a tape of their systematic beat down of Michigan State in East Lansing.

14. Central Florida (11-0): Still undefeated. Still not respected. Conjuring images of his flu-ridden father in the NBA Finals against Utah, Marcus Jordan (NOT slated to play according to head coach Donnie Jones) hobbled on to the court in the second half against UMass, making 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch and leading his Golden Knights back to Orlando with another victory.

15. Cincinnati (12-0): In a week where many top teams bit the dust, I highlight one of the nation's eight remaining unbeatens. Bearcats best out-of- conference win came against Dayton, where they held the Flyers to 34 points. That defensive calling card should produce two conference victories on home turf before border war with Xavier gives us a peek at Cincinnati's staying power.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEK:

The Big East will have many great games this season. It all begins with Connecticut and Pittsburgh on Monday night at the Petersen Events Center. Two keys to watch for: Connecticut's on-ball defense and Pittsburgh's success in guarding Alex Oriakhi in the post.


Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jared Trexler at jtt128@comcast.net.

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